How To Be a Great Conversationalist

People love to talk about themselves.

If you want people to think you’re a good conversationalist, don’t talk about yourself.  Talk about them.

It’s not a manipulative technique, though it can be used that way.

HandshakeMy friend Jeremy was a trainee at a large bank a number of years ago.  As part of his training, they taught him the subtleties of conversation with customers.

For example, he was taught how to read a person’s handshake.  They said that if you shake hands and the other person’s hand is on top of yours, it shows that they want to have control of the conversation.  If your hand ends up on top, it means they’re expecting you to take the initiative.  They were taught how to make conversation based on what they observed.

Jeremy expressed his frustration with the process.  “They’re teaching us how to pretend we care about our clients.”

There’s an easier way to show them you care: genuinely care about them.

Have you ever had a conversation where the other person did 90% of the talking, and you did 90% of the listening?  Yet they go away and tell other people what a great conversationalist you were!

It’s human nature.  It’s a basic need we all have to be recognized.

Most people think that to be a good conversationalist, they have to have lots of knowledge about lots of topics and show others how interesting they are.

But when they do that, they’re perceived as arrogant, not interesting.

So, what does it take to be a good conversationalist?

  • Listening.
  • Take a genuine interest in the other person.
  • Find out what’s important to them, and explore from there.
  • Make the conversation about them.

You can’t pretend.  You have to genuinely want to know what’s inside their heads and hearts.

I heard someone say that everyone carries a sign around their neck that says, “Make me feel important.”

How would it change your relationships if you took that perspective?  Instead of trying to impress them, you listen carefully until they’ve impressed you?

How would you feel if someone did that to you?

It’s not difficult.  It just the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  • Think about the conversations that make you feel important.
  • Think about what happens in those conversations.
  • Decide how you can do that for someone else.

You might be the only person they encounter all day that gives them what they really need.

Try it with someone close to you.  You’ll refresh them inside and out.

And they’ll tell everyone what a great conversationalist you are.

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"