So, you’ve learned some English and are keen to test out your skills. How do you actually hold a conversation?
My forthcoming e-book at http://www.coachmeconfident.com contains a chapter on starting and maintaining a conversation in both a business and a social setting. Here , though, are some basic rules of conversation. It’s part of human nature that, when we are speaking with someone, we will want to tell them things most of the time. This sounds obvious but it isn’t as obvious as it seems.
Do you know people who, when you try to speak to them always turn the conversation round so that they are talking about themselves or their experience?? This is a natural thing to do: we all view the world from our own point of view, and we all find ourselves interesting, and want to share our thoughts with others.
This can lead to poor conversation skills, though.
Basically, there are FOUR key parts to a conversation:
Most of us will be quite good at telling. Some might want to improve their vocabulary or their speaking voice, but this is often the easiest of the 4 parts to master.
Asking is the best way to find information out about other people. Again it sounds obvious, but many people won’t ask the other person for their opinions or information…they will be happy to tell them their own. ASKING people questions pulls them in to a conversation.
Thinking is important during a conversation. By this , I mean being able to focus on what the other person is saying and on what you want to say…what you REALLY want to say. I’m sure we have all been in a situation where we have become angry or upset with someone and have said something that we wish we hadn’t. THINK before you speak. This is also vital in complex conversations like negotiations, giving people feedback, motivating people and so on. If you are holding a conversation in English and it’s not your first language, don’t worry about speaking it fast. Allow yourself time to think.
Listening is the most important part of a conversation. Of course, you will want to say something, but most people are not good listeners. Why? Well, because they…
- are thinking of what they will say next and not really listening to the speaker
- have ‘switched’ off, and are thinking about something else completely, and are not taking information in
- think they know what the speaker is going to say, so say it for them (and usually get it wrong)
- listen for specific pieces of information and don’t listen to ALL of what the speaker is saying
- make assumptions about the speaker. “He’s a typical student!” or “She’s a typical Italian!” or whatever it might be. Here, the listener is making a judgment about the speaker without really hearing them.
- try to out-do the speaker. If the speaker’s child has won a school writing competition, YOUR child has just won a scholarship to …… If the speaker is going to France for holiday, YOU are going to the Caribbean.
REAL listening means being focused on the speaker. How will this help your conversation skills?
The other person will feel that you are really interested in them and their opinions, and they will WANT to continue talking to you. Listening will enable you to ask the right questions to that person. It will also enable you to say the right things, because you will understand them better.
If you find conversations difficult, think about these 4 parts. If one is out of balance, try to focus on it next time you’re talking to someone.