Ten Ways to Become a Better Conversationalist

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen (Photo credit: Kraemer Family Library)

Doesn’t it seem like some people have lots of friends and others have very few.  You might say that it’s unfair.  However, you may have found some people are more fun to hang around with than others.  Why is that?  Well, it may be personal chemistry or the fact that they’re positive, upbeat people.  There may be many other reasons for this, but the one factor that I would like to zero in on is conversation skills.  Conversation skills often make or break potential relationships and may help or harm existing ones.

Why?  One who is fluent with words and can confidently express their feelings or insights on a specific topic and at the same time, entertain their audience, is a good conversationalist.  Such a person attracts people and makes friends easily.  Not only are they interesting to listen to, but knowledgeable on what subject they speak about.  Also, once one realizes they are good listeners, she is likely to turn to this person again and again for advice or feedback.  People will seek out that great conversationalist time and time again.

Before we can understand what makes a great conversationalist great, we must focus in on the poor conversationalists.  I would like to categorize poor conversationalists into two groups: the quiet and the blabbermouths.

Quiet People

The quiet person typically has nothing to say.  He just sits there silently and may or may not pay attention to what is being said.  Rarely, if ever does he have anything worthwhile to contribute to a conversation and when he speaks, his responses are usually monosyllabic in nature (“yeah” or “no”) or single sentences.  They usually speak in a monotone voice.

Getting this person to speak is a big challenge.  He’s like the “are we having fun yet?” type of person.  He appears to be apathetic and may be thought to lack intelligence.  It seems like he has no opinion about anything.    He often annoys people in one-on-one situations because he leaves it up to the other person to make all the effort in keeping the conversation going.  Such an individual is often a loner with few, if any, friends.

Usually, the quiet type is not too sociable.  If they see someone they don’t know or care for, they won’t stop and say “hello.”  Many of them are introverted.  Since they lack self-confidence, they feel it’s best just to remain quiet.  Some are shy and unwilling to volunteer to help others in need.  Likewise, if they see something that is going wrong in a public environment (such as a mechanical failure in the workplace), instead of reporting the problem to authorized personnel, they assume someone else will.

Blabbermouths

Then there are the blabbermouths.  Blabbermouths dominate conversations.  They are dying to get noticed by others.  Likewise, they don’t like to listen and may not care how you feel.  They talk and talk and talk whether you care what they’re saying or not.  At the same time, they go into great detail on subjects sometimes to the point where you want to tell them to shut up.  Some go on and on and don’t care if you get a word in edgewise.  Once you finally respond back, they interrupt you before you can finish.  Most of them can’t seem to express all of their thoughts fast enough.

Usually these people are extroverted and are rarely, if ever afraid to say what’s on their mind.  Such people are typically sociable and crave attention from others.

Blabbermouths can be subcategorized:

First are the whiners/complainers.  They just have to complain about something and in the meantime, assume you want to hear their personal beefs.  Most likely, they want you to feel sorry for them.

Second are the know-it-alls.  These are people with overinflated egos who want to convince you that whatever you know about any particular subject, they know even more.  Any experience you have lived through, they lived through a worse one.   Any place you’ve been, they’ve been there too and seen more than you did.

Third are the gossipers.  In order to gain recognition and approval by personal acquaintances, they put others down.  I cover them more in my article: Gossiping Is Annoying and Immature.   Unlike the other blabbermouths, they are willing to listen, hoping they’ll learn more about the people around them.

Fourth are the self-lovers (for lack of a better term).  Like the know-it-alls, they have false, overinflated egos.  While they like to go on and on bragging about themselves,  but deep down inside they feel insecure or unhappy.  They must justify that by trying to get others to notice them.  They are often annoying and don’t want to hear about others.

My Social Anxiety as a Poor Conversationalist

Up to my late 30s, I have been the quiet type.  Trying to find things to say was typically next to impossible.  Afraid of making a fool of myself, I remained motionless and quiet.  In social situations I seldom contributed to conversations.  Although I dreaded personal gatherings, felt too antisocial if I missed them.

While sitting at a table with others I was usually the only one with nothing to say.  This was especially true when coworkers would go out for lunch or drinks after work.  Work meetings were unpleasant for me as well.  I would listen to others and noticed everyone there had things to say, but not me.  As a result, I would become sweaty and shaky and turn red in the face.

I later realized I had a form of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD).  Not only did I feel inferior in front of groups of people, but also felt that if I did one little thing wrong, I would be adversely judged by them.  I had a low self-esteem because it seemed like I had very few if any friends.  I have had jobs working in offices where I noticed coworkers stopping at each others’ desks and talking, but never stopping to talk to me. I was worried that people thought I was a boring person.

I remember going out on dates in my mid 20s.  On some dates, making conversation was difficult.  It’s like I let some potentially great women slide through my hands because neither one of us knew what to say to each other.  One woman even constantly fidgeted with her straw wrapper because she became bored.  Needless to say, we had only one meeting and that was it.

How to Improve Your Conversation Skills

Being a good conversationalist is a valuable personal art indeed.  This is one component of humanity that makes a person popular and successful.  Still, no matter how prosperous and well-liked people are, most everyone has room for improvement.

Making great conversation isn’t always easy because people have different lifestyles and interests.  Why some may be extremely compassionate about a particular subject, say astrology, others will find it absolutely boring.  Hence, there is no one formula for making great conversation, but there are tactics that can make a discussion more fulfilling.

Imagine that you see someone you don’t know but would like to get acquainted with.  How do you approach him or her?   Say you see someone of the opposite sex you might want to take out on a date, how do you strike up a conversation?   Or when you’re alone with someone you know and want to pass the time away talking.

As you already know, strangers are not willing to talk to others unless they have to.  Making small-talk or chatting about the weather never leads anywhere (unless perhaps, there was a bona fide storm in your community).

Here are additional tactics:

  1. Speak with emotion – Have some vocal variety in your voice.  Speaking in a dull monotone voice will never get you anywhere.
  2. Talk about something you have a genuine interest in – The more knowledgeable you are about a specific topic, the more prepared you are to talk about it.  Don’t pretend you know about something you don’t and don’t make assumptions.   After all, you don’t know who you’re talking to.  If you make a guess on how something works and the other person realizes that you’re “dead wrong”, you’ll look like a big horse’s ass.  For example, when CDs first came out, I guessed how sounds were transmitted by the players.  Though the signals are composed of only 0s and 1s, I thought every digit from 0 to 9 was used.   Little did I know, I was talking to a computer engineer.
  3. Present an object – If you have something in hand that people like to look at such as magazines, photographs or souvenirs, this is a good place to begin.  People love touching and looking at things, even the not-so-talkative folks.  If you do present an object to a stranger, keep it in good taste.
  4. Tell a story – People love to hear stories about tragedies, mishaps, or controversial subjects.  Likewise, they love to talk about things pertaining to their personal interests.  Nobody wants to hear about matters they can’t relate to or ordinary life stories.  They love to hear about setbacks or troubles one has experienced.  Such examples may be traffic accidents, run-ins with the law, or terrible mistakes one has made.  Subjects as politics and sports are great providing the other person has an interest in them and you remain neutral.
  5. Ask questions — By asking a question, you can solicit a response from the other person.  Such questions may start out with: “How do you feel about…?”, “Did you know that….?”, or “What if…?”   Ask only open-ended questions.  Yes or no questions drop a conversation dead in its tracks.  If you have trouble coming up with a question, ask someone something that you already know just to hear what they have to say.  If you want to know more about something, ask questions, but not unless you “get the ball rolling.”
  6. Follow the topic — If the person starts talking about another aspect of the subject, talk about that aspect too.  If you don’t know much about it, gently sway them back to the original subject.
  7. Be polite – Talk as if you’re talking to someone at a formal occasion such as a wedding or funeral.  Don’t use profanity or make sexist, racist, or any other negatively opinionated remarks.  Even though a subject may upset you, don’t get emotional, especially if they say something you strongly disagree with.  If you already know the person, you are free to them in their own language.  Don’t get sarcastic or run down people in other walks of life.
  8. Stay positive – People would much rather talk to an optimist rather than a pessimist.  By bringing up the positive side of an aspect, you give them a better impression of you.
  9. Don’t interrupt — Never, ever cut a person off before she is done talking.  After all, they would like to get their point across to you just as much as you would like to get your point across to them.  Interrupting them is a sure sign that shows you don’t care about what they have to say.  Also, never try to dominate the conversation.
  10. 10. Keep them entertained – Don’t bore a person with long, uninteresting details or technical jargon they’re not familiar with.  Talk only about things that are likely to affect them directly.  Use some humor, but keep it in good taste.

Join Toastmasters

If you’re an extremely poor conversationalist or you just want to improve your speaking skills, you may want to join Toastmasters International.  For those of you not familiar with this organization, they are simply a group of members who get together once a week to sharpen their skills on speaking in public.  This club helps its members overcome their fear of speaking in front of audiences while helping participants further excel in their professional careers.

Here you will give five to ten minute speeches, evaluate other speakers, or participate in table topics.  Table topics are random subjects each member speaks on for about one minute, but nobody knows what their topic will be until they are given it.  This teaches members to speak effectively “on their toes.”  Sometimes, you’ll be assigned to evaluate a speaker.  Best of all, people learn to speak by watching others and learning from their mistakes.  This is a great club and everyone has fun attending it including myself.  It has helped me sharpen my conversation skills.

Toastmasters Int. is a worldwide organization with clubs in most all major cities and suburban areas.  With a little research, you can find one in your community.  There is a fee to joining, but it is about $50 a year or less.

Learn, Learn, Learn

The more you learn about life and the world you live in, the more you’ll know.  The more you know, the better a conversationalist you will be.  Keep up on the news in your town and current events.  If you want to know more about a particular subject, research it or seek advice from those who know it well.  It goes without saying, the internet is a great source of information with social media sites (as Facebook) and libraries of articles.  Finally, listen to how good conversationalists talk and try to follow their examples.

Other Articles:

Gossiping is Annoying and Immature

Speaking In Front of an Audience/Brave Rooney

The Damaging Remark

Thou Shalt Not Compare

Small Ways to A Happy Life

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People That Eat Too Fast

A typical fast food stand on Blackpool promena...

A typical fast food stand on Blackpool promenade. Ohhhhh this picture was used in one of my fave blogs – the ever lovely lifehacker! 🙂 lifehacker.com/5332352/what-to-eat-and-avoid-at-chain-res… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us eat too fast.  How many?  That’s hard to say, unless you can find a study done on the subject, but there isn’t any as far as I am aware.  However, the total percentage of all people may be far greater than you might think.   In this post, I would like to alert my readers the dangers of wolfing down your food.  I feel like a hypocrite writing such an article, because I’ve done it all of my life.  I don’t know!  Maybe I was born with this habit.

Why Do We Eat So Fast?

Eating fast is a bad habit and one that many of us have developed over time.  But why do we do it?  Since I’ve done it for so many years, perhaps I could tell you.  There are several reasons:

  • We’re constantly busy –  That goes without saying.  Nowadays, most everyone is busy, especially parents that raise children, attend college, and work full time.  We’re constantly on the go and are trying to juggle multiple duties at once.  Even those that only do one or two of the above three things experience stress in their everyday lives.  If it isn’t our basic responsibilities, it could be activities we engage in outside our homes.  Say if we belong to clubs, like bowling leagues, this adds to our busy schedules, leaving us even less time to relax.  This is especially true for business men on the go who work long hours each day.
  • We’re activity-oriented –  Whether we raise families, go to school, or work over 40 hours a week, or perhaps do none of these things, many of us are still workaholics.  Whatever it is, we have something that we feel is extremely important to do.  This may mean maintaining our homes, building an online presence for ourselves (like blogging or making YouTube videos, etc), operating a home-based business, keeping up on the latest video games, etc, these things make us workaholics as well.  Anything we feel is an absolute must for us, it is our number one priority to make the time for it, even if we must skimp on our feeding time.
  • We must fit in a meal while running errands –  While this might overlap with the first two reasons, that is not always the case.  At times when we must do two or more errands under tight time restrictions, we may lack time to sit down and eat a decent meal.  This may be true for those who try to fit in scheduled appointments as getting a haircut, seeing a doctor, shopping for urgently needed items, picking the kids up from school, or any combination of duties requiring one to keep preset appointments or get things done by a certain time.  Although skipping lunch may seem like the thing to do, some of us can’t function so well when we’re hungry.  This is when we fit a meal in on-the-fly.  This is especially true when we’re running behind schedule.
  • We’re doing something else in the meantime –  Many of us eat while watching TV.  Other eat while driving, playing video games, solving puzzles, reading the news, etc.  During such activities, there are moments that require us to be extra alert and act quickly.  We might get cut off in traffic or some dramatic thing happens on TV.  Such events may make us want to quickly swallow that last bite so we can respond appropriately.  By finishing our food quickly, we can attend to our activities with clear minds.
  • We find eating too cumbersome or time consuming –  Those who eat fast aren’t always necessarily busy.  They just don’t have the patience to sit and chew food for minutes between bites.  Eating slowly seems so boring or a real big waste of time.  It’s like they believe they have something better to do, not always knowing what that is.  This is true for me.  Even though I’m not under any time restraints, I fool myself into thinking I am.
  • We anticipate what’s next –   Maybe it’s been several hours since we last had something to eat.  Possibly, it’s a particular food they have long anticipated to receive such as the arrival of a pizza they ordered over the phone.  Being in an environment where great varieties of appetizing foods are offered as a buffet or picnic brings great anticipation to big eaters.  Some can’t wait to finish what’s on their plate so they can move onto something else.  This may be true during food-sampling events.  It’s like: “Once I chomp down my steak, I want to try some of those desserts!”
  • We fear our food will get cold –  Just like coffee, food gets cold in a hurry.  Well it seems to anyway.  For some of us, there is nothing worse than eating cold food.  Yuck!   By gulping down our food, we can minimize the chances that it will.  Better yet, if your food gets cold, reheat it.  Most every house these days has a microwave.  Even if you’re eating at someone else’s house with a large group of people, it is much more polite to ask to use their microwave than to gulp down your food in front of them.
  • It’s a “learned behavior” –   Eating fast isn’t always associated with being busy.  Sometimes we just don’t have the patience to eat slowly.  This is especially true for those who live and/or work alone.  Since nobody sees them eat most of the time, they are free to eat in whatever manner they’re comfortable with.  After doing this for so many years, it’s become a habit and hence, we do it unconsciously.  It’s just like being a “led foot” on the accelerator of your car.  Remember, bad habits have a nasty way of hanging on.

 

I’ve Always Been a Fast Eater

Yes, I’ve developed a bad habit of eating fast since my early childhood.  Most everyone that I would come in contact with would be surprised or shocked because I would eat so fast.  They’re like: “How can you do that?”  I’m like: “You really think I ate that piece of food fast?  I don’t think so!  That’s my normal eating speed.”  My mother would always say, “You eat like you’re going to a fire?”

Why I eat so fast?  I don’t always know.  For me, it’s become a “learned behavior.”  It’s just the way I’ve always consumed food and I see nothing wrong with it.  A great deal of the time I can attribute it to all of the reasons above, but always making excuses for doing it becomes a cop-out and a way to convince myself that it’s OK and I need not change.   Still, a few people have complained about me eating too fast.

Finishing my food before others wasn’t so pleasant either.  All I could do is just sit at the table until everyone else was done.  In some cases I could excuse myself early, but I feel doing that all the time is uncouth.

I have a strong urge to wash my hands immediately after I eat.  That means, I pick up a piece of food and gulp it down so I could get rid of the wrapper or container it’s in right away and rush off to the nearest sink to wash up.  I hate eating and then handling something like a remote control or computer keyboard while my fingers are oily or soiled with food.  It’s just not sanitary.  Hence, instead of sitting down to eat something, I just make it a part of my walk around the house.

Bad Impressions Fast Eaters Create

However, eating too fast is just plainly uncouth.  “Inhaling” your food is bad manners and might give other the impression that you’re a pig.   Those who live with you may not think too much about it since they’re used to seeing you do that.  On the other hand, eating too fast in front of a perfect stranger might scare a potential friend away.

Whenever you want to win the approval of someone you don’t know (such as a date or business client) and you decide to discuss matters at a restaurant, you must not eat fast.  If your potential acquaintance observes that you gulp down your food without chewing it, they’ll get the impression that you only care about stuffing your face and are not concerned so much about them.   As a result, they’ll lose interest in you and will want to put a quick end to the meeting.

Eating fast might lead to sloppiness.  By shoving too much food into your mouth at once, you may end up dribbling it down your chin or spilling it on your shirt.  Neglecting to cut your food into bite sized pieces may cause bits of food to hang out of your mouth while trying to chew.  Not only are you being sloppy and gross: your attention is suddenly diverted away from the person who’s speaking to you.  If you happen to make a mess of yourself, as spilling food down the front of your shirt, you are suddenly under fire to clean it up.  As you do, you ignore what that person said and they’ll realize that you just weren’t listening.

If you want a second meeting with your new acquaintance, please, don’t eat so fast!  Not only will you gross them out, but you may shock them as well.  They might think you’re unscrupulous, selfish, and childish.  It’s like “Hey, this guy has no class whatsoever!”  If they find you’re a sloppy eater, they may doubt your competency in all other aspects of this potential relationship.

Health Problems Associated with Eating Too Fast

Apparently, eating too fast is very unhealthy because:

  • You tend to overeat –  This is because it takes approximately 20 minutes for your stomach to inform your brain that it is full.  The communication process between your brain and stomach is vital in controlling your appetite.  Hence, by gulping down your food, you’re sending a massive amount of calories into your body-a lot more than it really needs.  Imagine you’re ordering a pizza.  You are famished and want it delivered ASAP.   Would you call every pizza delivery service in town to ensure you receive one promptly?  Of course not!  You would end up with more pizzas than you can possibly eat.  Eating too fast has this same effect.
  • You risk indigestion and weight gain –  Now you have an excessive amount of food in your stomach, making the digestive process more difficult than it needs to be.  Your natural hunger and fullness signals have been delayed, leaving you to depend on your desires and emotions to tell you when it’s time to quit.  This often leads to indigestion and excessive weight gain.
  • Frequent bowel movements –  By eating too fast, you are putting more food into your body than it needs.  What does your body do with the excessive food?  It sends it out as waist.
  • Heartburn and acid reflux –  Anyone who eats too fast is prone to developing gastro esophageal reflux disease or GERD.  Excessive acid from the stomach splashes up into the esophagus which leads to heartburn and chest pain.
  • Flatulence and bloating –  If you shovel down your food, you are also swallowing excessive air with each bite.  Not only are you increasing your chances of getting heartburn, you now have a large quantity of food in your stomach forcing it to expand.  Meanwhile, your body needs a way to get rid of that extra air.  This is when flatulence occurs.

This is just an analogy of eating too fast.  Imagine you’re working on an assembly line assembling florescent lights and your job is to insert the light bulbs (you are the stomach).  Once some fixtures reach your station, you discover the light sockets are not securely in place or the wiring is coming undone (the poorly digested food).  This is because the guys ahead of you (the teeth and the saliva) aren’t doing a very good job inserting their parts (chewing the food).  Before you can insert the bulbs, you must fix their negligent work.  Needless to say, you are becoming fatigued and overworked (indigestion) unless you return the faulty work to those responsible.   How would you feel about your job?

Do you still want to continue to eat fast?  If not, keep in mind that digestion starts in the mouth, not the stomach.  Your teeth need to do their share of the work to make further breakdown easier for the small intestines.

Conclusion

It is best to make each meal last for 20 minutes.  Again, this is the amount of time it takes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full.  Simply, lay down your fork or piece of food (such as a hamburger) between bites and take some extra time to chew thoroughly.  Take sips of water between bites.  This way you can savor and enjoy your food more.   Also, don’t do anything else when you’re eating.