Many people avoid social gatherings because they find it difficult to make “small talk.” Others wish they could improve their networking and conversational skills.  Here are five rules for having a successful and rewarding conversation.

1. Regulate Speaking. Don’t talk too much or too little. A rule of thumb in a two person conversation is 50-50. It is also important to regulate the topics discussed.  Don’t jump around quickly from topic to topic, but a one-topic conversation can quickly become boring.

2. Use Effective and Active Listening. Look at the speaker. Use nonverbal cues to demonstrate interest in what the speaker is saying and use supportive responses such as nods. Briefly reflect back important comments (“You must have been worried about that” “That IS funny”), and ask questions that will encourage the speaker and improve conversation clarity (“Can you tell me more about that?”).

3. Use Reciprocal Disclosure. Developing a meaningful conversation involves learning about one another. Disclose some personal information, particularly after your conversational partner does, but avoid disclosing too much (or too little) personal information. 

4. Be Positive. Demonstrate some enthusiasm and enjoyment of the conversation (if it is going nowhere, or is not rewarding, break it off politely, and on a positive note). Don’t allow a disagreement to run the conversation “off the rails.” Change the subject, or politely end the conversation.

5. Regulate the Flow of Conversation Through Synchronization. Use pauses as an opportunity to take the floor, and hand over the conversation to others after you have made your point.

As in many things, it’s all about give and take and regulating the interaction.

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