Advice for a great conversation?
August 20, 2021 11:50 PM   Subscribe

What’s your best advice to have a great conversation?
posted by jumanjinight to Human Relations (20 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Listen fully and deeply. Respond and build upon what has been said. Be open.
posted by profreader at 11:57 PM on August 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Build upon what has been said. Exactly right. It always helps me (when I feel the pressure to regale some remarkable story about, say, the time I found a parking spot right! in! front! of! our! house!,) to recognise the feeling that I _must_ regale, put the feeling to the side and then wait, listen and decide if it really will bring the conversation further.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:15 AM on August 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

Yes and.
posted by danceswithlight at 12:18 AM on August 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

Research who you're meeting with - If it's not just being friends but coming away with (and/or imparting) information, and achieving some level of rapport. Be somewhere neutral, or better, somewhere comfortable for the other.
posted by unearthed at 12:48 AM on August 21, 2021

One way to approach it is to assume that the person you're talking to is more interesting than you. A different way of phrasing that: you already know most of the things you could say -- whether it's on the surface or somewhere deeper or even something you haven't thought about in forever -- and you don't know what you'll hear or learn from the other person. To phrase it another way: cultivate an interest in other people. You should want to take something away that adds to your experience. But a good conversation also reminds you of bits of yourself that haven't been out for a walk in a while. You have to create space for that to happen.

I think the "prefer I-statements over you-statements (or we-statements)" thing from therapy is helpful. Experience and feelings and beliefs are valuable but I feel as though they belong to a person: one shouldn't be shy of expressing them but they should be held close and not projected onto the other person or the world in general.

I spent a decent amount of time in academic settings working hard to not be a "this is more a comment than a question" person. The way I did that was to listen, listen, listen and if a question popped into my head I'd ask myself "is this really a question?" and "is this a question worth asking?" and "what additional thing would I learn from asking that question?" If I couldn't get past that checklist I kept my mouth shut.
posted by holgate at 12:52 AM on August 21, 2021 [13 favorites]

It depends - for what reason and in what context you're having a conversation in the first place!

If I have to spend an hour or so talking socially, then my thing is: I try to find out what it really feels like to be them.
What kind of person are they? What do they enjoy and why? Are they happy? What bothers them? If they have a job, what is it like doing that job? If they have family, what's it like being with their family? If the topic is holidays, what did they like best - the adventurous bits, the beach lazing?

Just, every conversational thing they tell you about themselves, try and get a feel for what it's like for them.

The second thing is, reciprocate! If you talk about vacation, tell them what you liked about it ("I really needed a few days of lazing about" or "I love adventure"). Tell them your family is close, which can be exhausting but is generally a good thing.

Tell them not just about what you do, tell them what it feels like to be you, doing it!

People usually enjoy talking with me, so it's a strategy that works for me. But it sort of depends on you wanting to know people and having the emotional energy for it - it's work.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:08 AM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Couple of beers
posted by runincircles at 2:25 AM on August 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

You can find quite a lot of good advice on how to have good conversations in etiquette guides. For example here - which recommends the superiority of “what would be your role in a zombie apocalypse?” over “how was school?” - in general trying to behave selflessly in the interests of the group and all it members- is the mark of a great conversation host.
posted by rongorongo at 3:02 AM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Of Ed Ricketts in Steinbeck's Log from the Sea of Cortez:
In conversation you found yourself telling him things – thoughts, hypotheses, conjectures – and you found a pleased surprise at yourself for having arrived at something you were not aware that you could think or know. It gave you such a good sense of participation with him that you could present him with this wonder.
Then Ed would say, “Yes, that’s so. That’s the way it might be and besides -- “ and he would illuminate it but not so that he took it away from you. He simply accepted it.
Although his creativeness lay in receiving, that does not mean that he kept things as property. When you had something from him it was not something that was his that he tore away from himself. When you had a thought from him, or a piece of music or twenty dollars or a steak dinner, it was not his – it was yours already, and his was only the head and hand that steadied it in position towards you. Association with him was deep participation with him, never competition.

posted by BobTheScientist at 3:41 AM on August 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

I once had to share a hospital room with a retired veterinarian. I'm a big animal-lover, so we had a common interest. My roommate was very talkative. But he talked at length on mundane topics, like the process he went through when he chose the last car he purchased (he talked about researching all the features, visiting car dealerships, going for test drives, etc.). He didn't talk at all about his experiences as a vet, and he had very little interest in anything I had to say.

The point is this: Don't be like my tiresome roommate. Find a common interest and focus on it. Don't bore people with the banal details of your daily life. Don't dominate the conversation. If the other person is speaking, listen attentively.
posted by alex1965 at 3:43 AM on August 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

My husband is a great conversationalist (a skill that wins him adoring fans everywhere he goes), and one thing he'll always do is find something to circle back to that someone said and ask some kind of "why" or "what" question around it. For example, a friend of ours mentioned in a conversation that he changes hobbies frequently. A few minutes later my husband asked him "So what are some of the past hobbies you had that you lost interest in?" which opened up lots of interesting rabbit holes.

Remembering some kind of detail about acquaintance or casual friends also helps a lot to build connections. Like "last time we talked you were applying for new jobs. How's that going?" In my experience people will often forgive memory lapses like never remembering their kids names if you remember to ask about the challenges that seem to be weighing on their lives.
posted by mostly vowels at 6:05 AM on August 21, 2021 [12 favorites]

Delight in others’ delight.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:53 AM on August 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

Debrett's advice on conversation - comes from a British cultural perspective - but might interest you. If you are the sort of person who has been to a Swiss finishing school or been trained in how to properly introduce a marquis to a bishop (whose name you have forgotten) at an embassy party.

The emphasis is on being a socially graceful host, however, and these are skills that work everywhere. They mention a few things that other lists of this sort leave out: for example the notion that you need to master the are of small-talk rather than seek to avoid it, that you likewise need to skilled in the narrow parameters of how to be a great gossip - should you wish to go there, or that you really must break off deep and interesting conversation with A should B wander over to join your group.
posted by rongorongo at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

Don't drone on & on -- let the other one interrupt you. Your story may be boring, or irrelevant.
posted by Rash at 8:11 AM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say next—just listen to the other person. Charm is about being interested, not interesting.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:18 AM on August 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

As others have mentioned, it depends on the person, the relationship, and the purpose of the conversation But in general, I suggest that you always “read the room.” Make sure that the person wants to have a conversation and is comfortable with the conversation. I find that far too often, people impose conversation on you when you don’t want to talk, or keep a conversation going for longer than it needs to, or talk about things that are either not of interest (and sometimes offensive). It happens more often than it should because the talker fails to read body language, pay attention to responsiveness/lack of it, etc. No matter how interesting you may be, or funny, or's ok if someone is not up for conversation.
posted by fies at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

This anecdote (possibly apocryphal) about Benjamin Disraeli seems relevant here:
A young lady was taken to dinner one evening by [William] Gladstone and the following evening by [Benjamin] Disraeli. Asked what impressions these two celebrated men had made upon her, she replied, “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.”
posted by alex1965 at 11:16 AM on August 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

Remember that the point of having a conversation is not to win it. So, don't constantly try to "top" something someone else says. Don't be afraid to ask clarifying questions, but do so in an interrogative way, not a challenging way. Don't assume that the person with whom you're conversing is thinking about things exactly as you do, even if your general POV about the thing you're discussin is the same or similar.
posted by pdb at 5:01 PM on August 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is more for people whom you see often but: remember what people tell you and particularly what you've told them. It's so nice to feel like people care enough about their interactions with you that they don't just repeat the same stories on autopilot every time you get together.
posted by ferret branca at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2021

Good listening.
Good questions.
Good eye contact.
Ongoing verbal and visual feedback.
Paying attention.
Sincere interest.
posted by Dansaman at 10:37 PM on August 23, 2021

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