20 Ways to Have Better Conversations

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Does anyone even care about what you say?

You may have something very important to share but if your message is lost in the delivery, it’s as if it was never spoken.

Effective communication is fundamental to our human experience. It’s the way we connect with others, share our ideas, and learn new things. It’s how we draw closer to one another, deepen our relationships, solidify our reputation, and at times avoid war (both personal and global).

Unfortunately, many of us are poor communicators. We know enough to exchange information but we leave the potential for so much more on the table. By stumbling along with elementary communication skills we run the risk of our messages being misinterpreted if they’re even heard at all. At the same time, we miss the richness of what others have to share.

Following are 20 communication tips that will help anyone become a better communicator in the workplace or through their social relationships including their most intimate ones.

Consider this a menu of sorts. Pick and choose what would resonate with your communication style. Or rotate a few and see what feels natural. As with anything, these suggestions on how to be a more effective communicator take practice. But because we communicate all day, every day there are plenty of opportunities.

1 - Listen well. No, really listen.

Stephen Covey once said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” How true. When someone is speaking try to hang on their every word as if they were going to reveal the secrets to true happiness. You’d listen intently to that.

2 - Be Clear and Articulate in What You Want to Say

Speaking well requires some planning. It may be advance preparation prior to a formal presentation or it may be a few moments to gather your thoughts before opening your mouth. Gather your thoughts and organize them in a simple and logical format before you utter a word.

3 - Speak in Consideration of the Audience

All day long we mix with different people. From our ornery kids in the morning to the charismatic CEO in the afternoon and our exhausted spouse in the evening. Consider your audience’s point of view, what they care about, and what they know. Meet them where they are and speak in terms of what they would both understand and respond well to.

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4 - Use Open-Ended Questions to Engage Others

Oftentimes getting another person to open up is the spark needed to get the momentum of a conversation going. Instead of asking questions that could easily be answered with yes or no, ask bigger, broader, and more interesting questions. These are the questions that usually elicit a story which makes for fun listening. Ask questions like How? Why? What do you think about...?

5 - Make Sure Your Body Language Matches Your Message

Upwards of 90% of communication is nonverbal. So really what you say is of little importance if your body language doesn’t support your message. Be mindful of how you present your body (facial expressions, use of arms/hands, posture) and your voice (tempo, pitch, volume) when communicating. Like it or not, this will leave the biggest impression.

6 - Don't Talk Excessively

Every conversation needs balance. Each person usually wishes both to understand and to be understood. Be conscious of how much airtime you are taking. When finished your point, counter with a question to encourage balanced participation. And don’t drone on about yourself. You’re the only one that finds yourself that interesting.

7 - Communicate in Person Whenever Possible

We rely so much on technology to communicate these days because it’s fast and easy. But with the convenience, there is a lot that can be lost including the subtleties of body language, tone, and disguised meanings. It’s when we communicate in live exchanges there is less chance of messages being lost in translation. But more importantly, it enriches our souls when we connect with other human beings.

8 - Be Mindful of What You Are Saying

Don’t talk just to talk. Sometimes silence is okay, even welcome. Don’t say what doesn’t need to be said especially if it’s going to be hurtful or embarrassing. How would you feel if that email was published for everyone to see? Follow the wisdom of the poet Rumi: “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

9 - Search for Commonalities

How many times have you been introduced to someone new and the conversation can’t get past small talk? So boring! Chances are we all have much more in common than we realize if only we took the extra effort to ask. By asking some thoughtful yet probing questions in no time you will be bonding over shared or similar experiences. That makes the exchange instantly more fun and comfortable.

10 - Clarify What You Think You Heard

We all come to our conversations with biases. These play a part in both how we communicate and how we interpret others’ communication. There’s so much opportunity for misinterpretation! Be safe instead of sorry by asking for clarification. I just want to clarify, this is what I hear you saying. This can make a huge difference in an important client presentation or an argument with your partner. Save yourself by double-checking.

11 - Use Storytelling to be More Memorable

Telling a good story is a lost art form especially in our age of emoji communication. If you want to have people not only remember you but the points you make, be sure to share a good story. Remember every good story has the proper background and buildup, emotion, and a rewarding climax. You’ll know you’ve done it right when they’re hanging on your every word.

12 - Rely on Humor

Conversations are so much more fun and memorable when everyone’s laughing. Laughter triggers an endorphin release that facilitates social bonding. It’s why the funny guy always is the life of the party. Whatever your style—dry humor, anecdotal, or even self-deprecating, use humor to lighten up the mood and each other.

13 - Use Manners

These are fundamental. If you want to be taken seriously, extend social graces to everyone. From the new client to your long-term spouse. Manners are the social contract we all should abide by to stay civilized. Say please, thank you, excuse me; be considerate of other people including their time; make eye contact when communicating; avoid distractions (including technology) when people are speaking with you. There are others. You know what they are.

14 - Honor Confidentiality

Part of the importance of communication is it gives us the means to share our thoughts and feelings with others especially during difficult times. Sometimes these revelations need an environment of discretion. When another trusts you enough to confide in you, make a commitment to preserve this integrity. As this is a rare courtesy, you will stand out by proving yourself trustworthy and a decent human being.

15 - Keep Your Emotions in Check

Not every conversation will be pleasant. Emotions can’t be denied but they can be managed. Especially when we’re having a dialogue with others. This takes discipline and mindfulness. Keep strong emotions under control to keep the exchange productive. This might mean taking a break from the conversation, switching topics, or disguising your true feelings. Like as the old advertising saying goes: Never let them see you sweat. The newer apt version may be Never let them get a rise out of you.

16 - Don’t Offer TMI

We live in an age where sharing is encouraged and rewarded but it can easily go overboard. When conversing with others, regulate how much information you share. For workplace communication, too many facts and figures (and PowerPoint slides) will zap your audience's attention. And in your personal life, use some discretion. Not everyone needs to know your dirty laundry nor wishes to hear about it.

17 - Don't Offer Advice Unsolicited

Our lives have no shortage of problems to solve. Big and small. Often the details of our problems become reliable content for conversations. It’s an opportunity to lament, complain or simply let off steam. If you are ever on the receiving end of such bemoaning, know it isn’t necessarily your job to solve their problems. Instead, your listening ear may be serving simply as a sounding board. Don’t offer up advice unless directly asked. Who’s to say your solution would be the right one anyway?

18 - Ask How You Can Help

Everyone needs help from time to time. But as we go about our days, our petitions usually stay within our heads. So when talking with others, acknowledge this and try to draw out your conversation partner’s pressing needs. Perhaps you have a solution. It could be a resource, a suggestion, an introduction. It may be no skin off your back but an enormous relief to them. If you still aren’t sure, ask them directly. How can I help you with this problem?

19 - Don't be Baited into Negativity

Negative Nancies and Debbie Downers are everywhere! They suck the life out of a room and a perfectly enjoyable conversation. Steer clear and don’t be baited to join them. Countering with positivity usually doesn’t work. Be mindful of your own reputation (misery loves company) and your state of mind before devoting too much time and attention to these energy vampires.

20 - Be Curious

There’s an expansive and fascinating world out there. Have a burning desire to know about all things. The fastest and most interesting route to accomplish this is by asking the people in your life. All around you are dormant ideas that will educate you, interest you, and maybe even inspire you. For people you’ve just met, ask: So, tell me about yourself. For those you’ve known for years, ask: Tell me something I don’t know about you.

What other suggestions do you have to make conversations more enjoyable and productive?

Let us know in the comments below.