The art of good conversation centers very much on your ability to ask questions and to listen attentively to the answers. You can lace the conversation with your insights, ideas, and opinions, but you perfect the art and skill of conversation by perfecting the art and skill of asking good, well-worded questions that direct the conversation and give other people an opportunity to express themselves.
Ask Open Ended Questions
Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Open-ended questions encourage the speaker to expand on his thoughts and comments. And one question will lead to another. You can ask open-ended questions almost endlessly, drawing out of the other person everything that he or she has to say on a particular subject.
Be Content to Listen
In order to be an excellent conversationalist, you must resist the urge to dominate the discussion. The very best conversationalists seem to be low-key, easy-going, cheerful, and genuinely interested in the other person. They seem to be quite content to listen when other people are talking and they make their own contributions to the dialogue rather short and to the point.
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Share the Opportunity to Talk
In fact, good conversation has an easy ebb and flow, like the tide coming in and going out. Whether it is between two people or among several, the conversation should shift back and forth, with each person getting an opportunity to talk. Conversation in this sense is like a ball that is tossed from person to person, with no one holding on to it for very long.
If you feel that you have been talking for too long, you should stop and ask a question of someone in the group. You will be tossing the conversational ball and giving that individual an opportunity to converse.
Learn to Listen Well
Listening is the most important of all skills for successful conversation. Many people are very poor listeners. Since everyone enjoys talking, it takes a real effort to practice the fundamentals of excellent listening and to make them a habit.
Here are two things you can do immediately to put these ideas into action.
First, make a habit of asking good, open-ended questions of others in every conversation and in response to problems or difficulties. This shows interest and increases your understanding.
Second, take a deep breath, relax and let the other person talk more. Practice over and over until you become an excellent listener.
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