Nine Little Things to Improve Conversation
In serious conversation, and also in social small talk, little things can have a big impact.
As the song lyricist Kitty Kallen wrote in the romantic tune, “Little Things Mean a Lot,” “say I look nice when I'm not” and “send me the warmth of a secret smile . . .” because “little things mean a lot.”
Here are nine little things you can add to enhance the quality of your conversations:
1. Use the other person's name from time to time during the talking. Such as “I agree with you, Betty, and will support your proposal.” Our names are precious to us, and nearly everyone has a feel-good experience when being addressed by name. “Gary, would you call me tomorrow with the quote?”
2. Instead of asking general questions such as “How's it going?” ask specific personal questions like “How does your son like Dental School?” Being specific shows that you remember details about matters important to the other person, such as the family, special interests, certain challenges. Routine and general questions usually elicit only routine responses like “Fine, thanks.”
3. Lighten up the talk with a smile. Even with serious topics, a friendly smile can be appropriate and can add a measure of good will that is helpful in advancing understanding. (Being serious tends to suppress feelings and makes the tone of our conversation seem flat.) Relax, drop your shoulders, breathe.
4. Respect people's time for talking so that you don't hold them hostage. If you're uncertain, ask “Do you have a few minutes to talk now?” This is especially useful for telephone conversation.
5. Give the other converser their turn to talk. You can do this by talking in paragraphs, not chapters, and then signaling it's their turn with a question like “What are your thoughts?”
6. Adjust your voice controls for easy listening. These include speed, volume, pitch, and tone of voice so that listening to you can actually be pleasurable.
7. Share some information of value to the other, perhaps a tip like “I just found a great car mechanic, does good work and is really reasonable.” Or “I know you like history, Fred, so you might enjoy that new film June and I saw last week. It's about the Civil War.”
8. When you're with someone, give your full attention. The gift of your presence and attention is quietly powerful and strengthens relationships. Fully engaged listening is rare in our multi-tasking worlds of work and home. When you listen, just listen. Don't wander.
9. End your conversation gracefully and not abruptly. When appropriate, thank or compliment the other person when you are ending. “I really enjoyed talking with you and understand the situation much better now. Thanks a lot.”
These little things add a quality of civility and care to any conversation. Ultimately, they mean a lot because your attitudes tend to be reciprocated. When you pay attention and include these little things, others will often do these same things for you, and that makes for a satisfying talk.