How to Become an Intoxicating Conversationalist (Without Saying Much)

Jonah Malin

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Crisped by the sun and salt of the ocean, I sat in an 80s style diner booth on the outskirts of Los Angeles and had one of the best conversations of my life.

It wasn’t two people being seduced by the sound of their own voice, exchanging barely related sentences in the same place. We had a real connection. We listened to each other.

As I walked away feeling inspired, confident, and buzzing with creative energy, one thought crossed my mind — why can’t every interaction be like this?

Since then, I've worked to make sure those moments aren’t one-off coincidences. The ability to sustain coherent, confident conversation is a lost art. But, like any skill, it can be improved with a little practice and self-awareness.

So, if you want to become an intoxicating conversationalist, here are a few tips you can start applying right now.

Don’t Start a Conversation Multitasking

The single most effective way to lose someone in a conversation is to multi-task. Texting. Scrolling through social media. Watching TV. Writing an email.

We’ve all done it — and it sets the tone for a disengaged interaction.

Studies show humans don’t have the ability to do more than one thing simultaneously. What you’re actually doing is “switch tasking,” or stopping and switching from task to task. Each time we do that, our brain has to refocus on the new activity.

In relationships, partners who experience disengaged (or multitasking) conversations have more conflict and unhappiness in both their lives and their relationships.

My girlfriend and I have a simple “no technology at the dinner table” rule. It sounds elementary, but it really works. Knowing you’re going to sit down with someone and converse absent from a phone is refreshing.

Beyond physical distractions, being present means you’re not thinking about anything else either. If your mind wanders to the project you have to finish at work, you’re not paying attention.

How you walk into a conversation matters.

Expand Your Breadth of Experience

The most charismatic people I’ve talked to always have short, engaging stories to accompany a topic of conversation.

Last year I interviewed Sean Conlon for an article. I was instantly struck by how interesting and relatable his experiences were.

When I asked him about education, he responded with an anecdote on the local library complaining to his mother that he was reading too much as a child. When we got on the subject of “being yourself,” Sean talked about his wildlife foundation and passion for conversation.

Sean was quick to answer but thoughtful in response— and his ability to articulate experiences had me eagerly asking for fifteen more minutes when our time was up.

Common speaking advice suggests expanding your depth of knowledge. While important, I’d take it one step further and say to become knowledgeable through your experiences.

The more diverse your life has been, the more people you can connect with on a personal level. The more interesting you become.

Communicate to Connect

My neighbor and I have some variation of this conversation in front of the elevator every week:

“Hey man, how are you?”

“Good, how are you?”

“Good…”

It’s the same one I have with our apartment concierge, the guy I always see at the gym, and our local coffee shop barista.

We’ve normalized saying things like “how’s your day going?” without caring if someone tells us. Social convention has turned us into awkward, conversational robots with the same dozen or so outputs.

Instead, show interest in others. Encourage questions that don’t promote dead-end answers.

In Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends and Influence People, he says “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.”

Try asking things like, “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response.

Don’t Equate Your Experiences with Others

Last year, a good friend of mine was struggling with a career crossroads.

I was also going through a tumultuous time at work, so we’d talk on the phone while driving home.

After a few weeks, I realized I barely knew the details of his situation. Every time we started talking, I took control of the conversation. I was taking up 70% of the time trying to equate his experience with my own.

But two experiences are never the same. And, more importantly, those phone calls weren’t about me. I went into those conversations wanting to relate, without realizing that in doing so, I was undermining the very reason for them.

I was supposed to be helping a friend by listening.

So, moving forward I just listened. If he asked for advice, I gave it to him.

Once I stopped forcing a personal monologue, I could remember everything he told me and actually think about it.

Another simple but actionable line from Dale Carnegie: “The easiest way to become a good conversationalist is to become a good listener.”

Conversation is an Ultra-High Level Skill

We all know someone who makes us feel heard and engaged in conversation. We look forward to interactions with those interesting, empathic individuals.

Remember, to get on that level, it takes practice, self-discipline, and a layer of awareness.

To become an intoxicating conversationalist, don’t multitask. Be interested in others. Explore new and different experiences. Most importantly, work to be a better listener.

It’s that simple. Now, go out and meet people.

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I am a content strategist, career advice author, and contributing writer based in Washington, DC. Join me as I explore health & wellness, productivity, philosophy, and life. Find me @Beyond Definition // Medium // Ladders // jonahmalin.com/barelyweekly

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