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     Volume 4 Issue 46 | May 13, 2005 |

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How to be a Better Conversationalist

Chowdhury Abd-Allah Quaseed

Every situation where two or more people are talking to one another is a "conversation" and those who are "conversing" may be regarded as "conversationalists"! Though we may not pay much attention to how well we converse, since it comes spontaneously and we do it almost the entire time that we are awake, one has to realise that this is also a form of "communication" and is something that one must make conscious efforts to get better at. Much of the suggestions are derived from common sense, research and experience. Most readers are expected to know these in their subconscious but reading may help to bring the latent knowledge to the surface where it can work wonders.

Being a better conversationalist is not only improving one's own way of talking but also improving ways of receiving what is being said and responding to that. You could try some of the suggestions here, as trivial as they may seem and you may be startled to find just how much more pleasant your interactions become.
*Appear to be giving full attention: Lean a bit forward and sweep everything aside in your mind other than what is being talked about. Try looking at the others' faces without staring blankly! Allow spontaneous gestures to come into play at the appropriate places.

*Let your expressions change in accordance with what is being discussed: Don't keep the same expression throughout the conversation. Let your face reflect the tone and the mood. Do not laugh when discussing a tragedy. Let your expressions change as the topics change.

*Display the right gestures and movements: Let your hands and fingers speak along with you. It always makes what you say more effective if you signal the same thing with your hands and fingers.

*Actually listen well, don't just act it: Actually pay attention to what your counterpart says and try to understand and remember it. Request your counterpart to repeat or rephrase it for your better understanding at times to make the conversation a two way street and to ensure that you respond correctly if the other person suddenly throws a question at you. Uttering small "ummm" sounds and nodding the head signals the speaker that you are following.

*Don't show erratic movements: In trying to embrace the habit of gesturing, don't flail your arms like a windmill, nor fidget about in your chair. Don't keep on shifting positions, jumping up suddenly, changing positions with drastic jerks, fiddling with pens, tapping fingers or clasping and unclasping your hands and certainly don't click your finger joints.

*Take notes: In negotiations or business settings where you would like to remember a lot, feel free to take notes in a small notebook. It shows that you are paying importance and making the effort to remember. Notes are especially important if the other person is giving lists of things and helps you to target specific points in later conversations that the other person may have stated, which otherwise you may have forgotten.

*Avoid performing "distractions": One should not do things that distract the other person which could include doing anything peculiar continuously such as shaking legs vigorously, picking one's nose or ears, scratching or itching, or producing convulsive facial expressions. Playing with key rings, mobile phones or ashtrays are also common "distractors".

*Let the person finish a sentence before you interrupt: It's a good idea to increase your patience and hold yourself back from cutting anyone off from the middle of what he/she may be trying to say. Letting the other person at least complete a sentence before seizing away the floor improves the total conversation.

*Give a signal that you would like to interrupt before you actually do: Nodding your head in disagreement showing impatience or showing expressions of vexation, raising your hand or a pen, or opening your mouth as if about to speak, are all good ways of showing that you would like your turn to speak. It's best to do all this and wait for the opportunity to be given!

*Take the same signals from the other person and give the floor to others: Similarly as above, watch out for expressions that indicate that the other person would like to speak as well. If you feel you can allow an interruption at the stage you are in, please pause and give the floor. If you feel that it is essential for you to continue, take a moment to ask the person to give you a moment.

The moment you try these techniques and actually find a difference, you will have begun the process of bettering your conversation skills and you may join us next week for more tips on conversation techniques improvement.

The writer is a Corporate Trainer and Management Consultant

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