How to get the most out of a conversation with another

1. Quotable quote

"You must realise that a conversation only takes place when each person understands and is understood by the other. That means the listener has to put in as much effort as the speaker. When you speak, you concentrate on speaking in a way the listener can understand. When you listen, you concentrate on understanding all that the other person is telling you. That dimension alone - to focus on understanding, not reacting or preparing to speak - will start the conversation ball bouncing between you."

Cheryl Reimold, Being a Boss, Dell, NY, 1984, p. 120.

2. Viewpoint

"Thinking up openers in a conversation is simple. Basically, you only have three topics to choose from:

  1. The situation
  2. The other person
  3. Yourself

And only three ways to begin:

  1. Asking a question
  2. Giving an opinion
  3. Stating a fact.

The best way to begin is usually to ask a question. Stating an opinion works well, certainly better than just stating a fact."

Allan Pease in Talk Language.

3. Smile & ponder

Dale Carnegie, author of the classic bestseller 'How to Win Friends and Influence People', was once invited to a party at which he knew few people. During the course of the evening, relates success-trainer Tom Hopkins, he spoke with several new acquaintances. The following day, the host of the party received several compliments on the new guest - specifically, that he was a wonderful conversationalist.

Now you probably picture Dale Carnegie in the middle of a group of people, spouting hilarious stories and imparting interesting facts. Not so, says Hopkins.

All Carnegie did was invest a little time with several people one on one. When introduced to them, he asked them each a question about their backgrounds. The guests, of course, obliged with discourses in varying lengths about their lives. Whenever they paused, Carnegie asked another question or encouraged them simply by saying, ‘Go on’.

Carnegie actually spoke very little the entire evening, yet he was thought of highly by the others as a great ‘conversationalist’.

4. Accentuating the positive

Michael Thomsett in 'The Little Black Book of Business Etiquette' advises that we should avoid negative and absolute statements when talking with staff. He provides the following examples:

Negative: 'Why can't you…'

Positive: 'What if we…'

Negative: 'I hate it when…'

Positive: 'Wouldn't it be better if…'

Absolute: 'She always says…'

Non-absolute: ''I've heard her say…'

Absolute: 'Nothing ever gets done right around here.'

Non-absolute: 'At times we've had problems getting things done right.'

Absolute: 'We must do it this way.'

Non-absolute: 'Here's an idea we might consider.'

5. "Sidle" to communicate more effectively

Communication consultant Kate Anderson tells managers that people are more prone to like each other, remember more of what they discuss, and agree with each other when they sidle - that is, when they stand or sit side-by-side rather than facing each other. She says that two men, when they talk, instinctively sidle; two women, however, or a man and a woman, are more likely to face each other.

6. Anyone, anywhere, any time

Larry King is one of the world's best known talk-show hosts. When it comes to talking, Larry advises:

  • Develop and retain the right attitude.
  • Careful listening makes you a better talker.
  • Broaden your horizons and you'll find it easier to conduct a conversation.
  • Keep it light.
  • Be the genuine you.

7. Keeping it going

In 'Confident Conversation', communications expert Lillian Glass provides these seven tips to help you prolong a good conversation:

  • Be aware of your own body and facial language - be expressive without being excessive.
  • Don't gossip - it makes you look small and it could be a friend of this person you're gossiping about.
  • Cultivate a wide range of topics - be well informed and well read.
  • Have a sense of humour.
  • Don't interrupt - 90 per cent of people don't like being interrupted.
  • Be enthusiastic and upbeat.
  • Be flexible in your point of view. See things from the other person's perspective and don't be hostile, defensive or offensive.

8. Refrain from biting comments

Contemplate for a moment the case of Australian sea rescue officer John Tupper. The court was told that any conversations between Tupper and his mother-in-law usually erupted into as full-scale row - which is exactly what happened in May 1968.

Tupper became so irate trying to get a word in with his fast-talking relative that he lost his temper, called her every name in the book, and finally ordered his cattle dog to bite her ankle!

But Tupper completely underestimated the speed of his mother-in-law's reflexes. She side-stepped the dog and with lightning reaction sank her teeth into Tupper's thigh, creating a wound that required hospital treatment. The mother-in-law was fined $50. The dog later recovered from the shock of it all.

9. Watch how you talk to them

A breakdown in human relations can so easily result from careless communication practices - and it pays to be aware of them. Put simply:

  • Don't order your staff around.
  • Don't threaten people.
  • Don't use vague language.
  • Don't withhold information.
  • Don't call people names.
  • Don't patronise.
  • Don't play psychologist (e.g. "Your problem is that you're…")
  • Don't use sarcasm.