Top 12 Tips on How to Improve Conversation Skills
Have you ever longed for deeper more connected conversations? Those are the best! Verbal communication is the primary type of communication most people use, therefore conversation skills are paramount to connect with your people. Because conversational skills are necessary to achieve emotional connection, we are going to talk about practical ways to develop core skills in conversation. When you are done with this article, you will be ready to go into any social event, workplace interaction and relationship ready to connect! The first thing we will cover is what not to do when engaging in conversations with others. Then, we are gonna discuss levels of communication, which will cause you to look at relationships and conversation in a whole new way. Finally, I promised you practical tips and strategies for better dialogue.
Since verbal communication is an especially important factor in connection it is very important to develop this method of communicating. People who have great conversational skills are able to engage in richer and deeper conversation. One of the most influential women in my life was a woman who spoke few words, but when she did it was powerful, insightful and even drew people into the conversation with great questions. Great communication skills point to a high level of emotional intelligence, emotional health and self awareness. Before we go onto the good stuff, I want you to pause and consider the relationships in your life. Are they deep or more surface level? Next, I want you to consider what kind of relationships you would like to have? How would you like people to feel when they interact with you?
There is no such thing as a perfect conversation. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth, or inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. Conversations can sometimes feel awkward and boring. Other times we might walk away realizing that we dominated the entire conversation without realizing it. None of us are perfect and perfect conversations are hard to come by. As I go onto list some of the conversation “don’ts”, give yourself grace. Consider this an opportunity for growth. We are all a work in progress, constantly transforming and growing. Conversely, you may find yourself reflecting on someone in your life that has poor communication skills. They too, are growing and transforming, so we can offer them grace, as well.
Let’s dive into some of the poor conversation skills we want to avoid...
First, be mindful to avoid dominating the conversation. Think about how you feel when someone does not express and interest in your life. But only focus on their own interests. A great conversation is like a game of catch. You throw the ball to someone, then they catch it and throw it back. The game is no fun and lack interest if one person holds the ball the entire time.
Next, be mindful of filling the conversation with irrelevant details. When we go on about things that don’t matter, the person we are talking to will zone out and miss the stuff that does matter. You will likely walk away feeling unheard and they may feel the same since your side of the conversation was going long. Third, it’s important to respond. Remember- it’s like a game of catch. If someone throws you the ball be ready to throw the ball back. We do this by asking questions, validating their thoughts and adding onto what they are sharing. Have you ever shared a part of yourself and were met with no response. Just crickets. It doesn’t feel good.
Fourth, be mindful of only focusing on negative thoughts or bad news. Negativity takes much more energy than positive and uplifting things. This doesn’t mean you don’t share your difficult times or conceal what you are going through. It simply means, choose the right time and the right people to share your struggles with. There are other more obvious conversation killers, such as rudeness and lack of paying attention, scrolling social media and body language that expresses disinterest, but those will be a bit more addressed as we get into practical tips for better conversation skills.
5 Levels of Communication
Gary Smalley wrote a book for couples called, Secret to Lasting Love, that discusses the 5 levels of communication. While the book is intended for couples, it is completely relatable for every relationship. Work relationships, marriage relationships, friendships, ministry, parent/child and any other relationship that comes to mind! As we outline each part of the conversation and levels of depth, keep in mind how you currently engage in your relationships. And, be aware that you won’t choose to go deeper with some of the people in your life simply because you don’t have that type of relationship or the other person is not safe to do so with. This guideline is more for your self awareness, boundary awareness and relationship awareness.
Level 1: Cliche
Cliche is defined as, a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. In other words, it’s a conversation you can have with anybody. You can make small talk, with questions like, “How are you doing?” and respond with “Fine”. Or, “Crazy weather we are having.” Responding with, “Yep, sure is.” See how the conversation is super surfacey? We have many of these conversations filled with unnecessary words. Perfectly appropriate for strangers or even acquaintances. However, not perfectly fine for significant relationships that are intended to have more depth.
Level 2: Facts
Facts are necessary information that you may share with someone you do life with. My husband and I discuss the facts as we determine who will take what responsibilities in the upcoming week when we make plans. Logistics are an important part of life. There will be times to discuss the facts. Pause for a moment and consider if you tend to stay in the facts with significant people in your life. If this is the case, reflect on why facts are the depth of your relationship. Staying in the facts protects us from vulnerability. Are you having a hard time going deeper in your relationships? Are you lacking emotional connection? How is fact based conversation causing feelings of disconnectedness?
Level 3: Opinion
Opinion is defined as, a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. This is a bit deeper than the facts, however not by much. Sharing an opinion is a little bit deeper than facts, but not as deep as feelings and desires.
Level 4: Feelings
Feelings are where it starts to get more vulnerable. This is where we begin to share our own feelings, our heart. Sharing at this level of communication is likely with someone you trust. Sharing feelings and desires and being met with love is where authenticity and intimacy exist. It’s being fully known and fully loved.
Level 5: Desires
A desire is a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. Sharing our desires is the most vulnerable thing we can share because we risk not having our desires come to fruition. We risk disappointment when we speak our desires. However, it’s also where we are authentic, transparent and seen.
As you reflect on the levels of communication, what surprised you? What goals would you like to set with yourself and your relationships with the words to articulate deeper relationships?
12 Tips to Improve Conversation Skills
1. Be Present
Being present is great place to start in a conversation. I will likely not walk up to someone who has their face in their phone or some other activity and strike up a conversation. And once a conversation has begun, being present is how we convey that we are listening and focusing on the other person. It’s communicating the message that we care about them and what they have to say.
2. Demonstrate Care
We have an opportunity in conversations to demonstrate care for others. Our own non verbal communications are just as important as our verbal communciation. When we use our non verbal communication we want to make eye contact, turn toward the person we are talking to and be inviting. Being approachable is an important way to demonstrate care. People don’t care what we know until they know that we care.
People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.
3. Mind Your Manners
I know this may seem obvious to some, but it is still worth mentioning. We want to be mindful to avoid multi tasking while we are engaging in a conversation. Don’t interrupt- it’s easy to get excited about a topic and begin to speak before the other person has finished what they are saying. Don’t talk over someone as they are speaking. Listen quietly until they finish their thought- there will be time for you to have a turn. Listening to them as they complete their thoughts conveys care and consideration. Word choice is another thing we want to consider when we are conversing. Demonstrating consideration includes wisely choosing our words.
4. Maintaining Integrity
Integrity is being honest and demonstrating strong moral principles. Our words are very powerful and people evaluate us by our words. As a result, when we choose to gossip or share information about others, we don’t build trust. Our inability to keep confidence will not help us cultivate safe relationships with deeper dives. Maintaining integrity means we are sharing our own heart and listening to the heart of the other person. This is of utmost importance.
5. Speaker versus Listener
Earlier I mentioned conversations being like playing catch. One person throws the ball and the other person catches the ball and throws it back. In a game of catch, when one person throws the ball and the other lets it drop, then the conversation becomes challening and laborious. A conversation will include good listening, clarifying questions or questions to gain more understanding. It will also include validation or a demonstration of understanding. One person is speaking and the other person is listening. It’s a constant switching back and forth of roles in order to keep the conversation going. If both people are the same role, then there is no conversation.
6. Active Listening
Listening well is a vital form of communication. VeryWellMind.com perfectly outlines the purpose and goal of active listening: Active listening helps you build trust and understand other people’s situations and feelings. In turn, this empowers you to offer support and empathy. Unlike critical listening, active listening seeks to understand rather than reply. The goal is for the other person to be heard, validated, and inspired to solve their problems. My favorite part of the definition was that active listening is seeking to understand rather than to reply. When you are sharing your heart, how does it feel to know someone is seeking to understand you? It feels good. We want to offer that to people in our lives and especially those that we have deeper relationships with.
7. Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal cues are ways we communicate ourselves without words. Some examples of non verbal communication include facial expressions, making eye contact (or lack thereof), posture and how we express interest with our body such as nodding. Positive body language would be facing the person you are talking with, maintaining eye contact and leaning in. Your posture conveys your are paying close attention to what they are saying.
8. Open Ended Questions
Open ended questions are questions that require more than a one word answer. For example, we won’t be asking a question when a simple yes or no could be the reply. When I pick my kids up for school, I never ask, “How was your day?” The answer is ALWAYS “fine”. Instead, I ask questions like what was the most challening part of your day? What do you wish you could do over today? What was the best part of your day? These questions help you to be curious.
Questions like these seek to understand rather than reply. My kiddos would not naturally offer up this type of dialogue, but my questions offer suggestions. Do you have someone in your life that you would like to engage a bit more with? You can’t control how they respond or if they ask you the same curious questions, but you can do it. And sometimes the demonstration is enought to get the game of catch going!
9. Clarifying Questions
I think clarifying questions are the best way to get the conversation going. It takes the information someone is offering and draws out additional information. We just gotta ask relevant questions! Here are 10 examples of clarifying questions to help you engage in a more meaningful way:
- How does this situation impact you?
- What are you learning from this?
- What are you feeling?
- What are your choices?
- What do you want to see happen?
- Can you tell me more about that?
- What do you need right now?
- What concerns you the most right now?
- What are your priorities in this situation?
- Would you start from the beginning?
When we ask more questions, we are also conveying care and concern. If someone asks you to say more about a topic you have shared about, how do you feel?
10. Validating Statements
Validation means that we are acknowledging another person’s emotions, thoughts, experiences, values, and beliefs. And guess what? You don’t have to agree with someone to validate what their experience is in any given situation. Validation expresses that you understand what they have shared in some way. It is the perfect way toward deeper connection. Check out 50 Examples of Validating Statements. Let’s do a list of 10, too:
- That makes sense to me.
- You are between a rock and a hard place.
- You must feel so….
- That would make me feel…
- I wish you didn’t have to go through that.
- What a horrible feeling that must be.
- I can see why you would be frustrated.
- What did you want to see happen?
- Tell me what you’re most concerned about.
- I think you are being very clear- go on.
11. Be an Encourager
When we encourage someone with our words, we are offering support and hope. It is a blessing for them and us. A spoken word of encouragement is like honey to the soul. When someone is sharing their heart or a difficult time, words of encouragement can be the right thing in that moment!
12. Practice Conversation Skills
There were a lot of tips covered, but here is the good news…you don’t have to have it all down perfectly. Practice one conversation skill at a time. As you step into new ways of communicating, it may feel awkward and challenging at first, but it gets better. I promise! Always focus on progress over perfection.
Conversation Skills Wrap Up
Effective communication skills play a vital role in deeper conversations. Deeper conversations lead to greater feelings of love and belonging and that leads to greater connection. When practicing your conversation skills, remember the 5 levels of communication: cliche, fact, opinion, feelings and desires. Determine the level of communication you would like to have in your relationships. Choose one of the tips to improve your conversation skills and just start there- you don’t need to be a communcation expert to have more meaningful conversations!
Hello Sunshyne! You have shared a great deal of useful information in this post. I recognized myself with more than a little embarrassment since I already know that I tend to hog the conversation! my problem is that I live alone, am the ‘wrong side’ of 90 & normally don’t see anyone for days on end! Therefore I guess I get ‘carried away’ & don’t realize it at the time! Stating all the foregoing might serve to alleviate another persons feelings! You are not alone!
Thanks for sharing John:) I too, have to work on pausing my excitement to share all the things and wait for others to share their heart!
You sound like a person that not only would be great to talk to but also full of wisdom!! The wrong side of 90… love it that you’re still wanting to learn about relationships!! I wonder if I could borrow a little of your tenacity for life!! Bless you.
Thank you for taking the time to leave such an encouraging comment, Robin!
i am hoping this advice will help save my marriage…and sanity.