Do You Make These 10 Mistakes in a Conversation?

by Henrik Edberg

Can you improve your conversation skills? Certainly.

It might take a while to change the conversation habits that’s been ingrained throughout your life, but it is very possible.

To not make this article longer than necessary let’s just skip right to some common mistakes many of us have made in conversations and a couple of solutions. 

And if you want more in-depth training then join us in my 12-week, step-by-step Smart Social Skills Course where I share the very best things I have learned in the past 8 years about improving social skills and relationship habits.

Not listening
Ernest Hemingway once said:

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Don’t be like most people. Don’t just wait eagerly for your turn to talk. Put your own ego on hold. Learn to really listen to what people actually are saying.

When you start to really listen, you’ll pick up on loads of potential paths in the conversation. But avoid yes or no type of questions as they will not give you much information. If someone mentions that they went fishing with a couple of friends last weekend you can for instance ask:

  • Where did you go fishing?
  • What do you like most about fishing?
  • What did you do there besides fishing?

The person will delve deeper into the subject giving you more information to work with and more paths for you choose from.

If they say something like: “Oh, I don’t know” at first, don’t give up. Prod a little further. Ask again. They do know, they just have to think about a bit more. And as they start to open up the conversation becomes more interesting because it’s not on auto-pilot anymore.

Asking too many questions
If you ask too many questions the conversation can feel like a bit of an interrogation. Or like you don’t have that much too contribute. One alternative is to mix questions with statements. Continuing the conversation above you could skip the question and say:

  • Yeah, it’s great to just get out with your friends and relax over the weekend. We like to take a six-pack out to the park and play some Frisbee golf.
  • Nice. We went out in my friend’s boat last month and I tried these new lures from Sakamura. The blue ones were really great.

And then the conversation can flow on from there. And you can discuss Frisbee golf, the advantages/disadvantages of different lures or your favourite beer.

Tightening up
When in conversation with someone you just meet or when the usual few topics are exhausted an awkward silence or mood might appear. Or you might just become nervous not knowing exactly why.

  • Leil Lowndes once said: “Never leave home without reading the newspaper.” If you’re running out of things to say, you can always start talking about the current news. It’s also good to stay updated on current water cooler-topics. Like what happened on the latest episode of Lost.
  • Comment on the aquarium at the party, or that one girl’s cool Halloween-costume or the host’s mp3-playlist. You can always start new conversations about something in your surroundings.
  • Assume rapport. If you feel nervous or weird when meeting someone for the first time assume rapport. What that means is that you imagine how you feel when you meet one of your best friends. And pretend that this new acquaintance is one of your best friends. Don’t overdo it though, you might not want to hug and kiss right away. But if you imagine this you’ll go into a positive emotional state. And you’ll greet and start talking to this new person with a smile and a friendly and relaxed attitude. Because that’s how you talk to your friends. It might sound a bit loopy or too simple. But it really works.

Poor delivery
One of the most important things in a conversation is not what you say, but how you say it. A change in these habits can make a big difference since your voice and body language is a vital part of communication. Some things to think about:

  • Slowing down. When you get excited about something it’s easy to start talking faster and faster. Try and slow down. It will make it much easier for people to listen and for you actually get what you are saying across to them.
  • Speaking up. Don’t be afraid to talk as loud as you need to for people to hear you.
  • Speaking clearly. Don’t mumble.
  • Speak with emotion. No one listens for that long if you speak with a monotone voice. Let your feelings be reflected in your voice.
  • Using pauses. Slowing down your talking plus adding a small pause between thoughts or sentences creates a bit of tension and anticipation. People will start to listen more attentively to what you’re saying. Listen to one of Brian Tracys cds or Steve Pavlina’s podcasts. Listen to how using small pauses makes what they are saying seem even more interesting.
  • Learn a bit about improving your body language as it can make your delivery a lot more effective. Read about laughter, posture and how to hold your drink in 18 ways to improve your body language.

Hogging the spot-light
I’ve been guilty of this one on more occasions than I wish to remember. :) Everyone involved in a conversation should get their time in the spotlight. Don’t interrupt someone when they are telling some anecdote or their view on what you are discussing to divert the attention back to yourself. Don’t hijack their story about skiing before it’s finished to share your best skiing-anecdote. Find a balance between listening and talking.

Having to be right
Avoid arguing and having to being right about every topic. Often a conversation is not really a discussion. It’s a more of a way to keep a good mood going. No one will be that impressed if you “win” every conversation. Instead just sit back, relax and help keep the good feelings going.

Talking about a weird or negative topic
If you’re at a party or somewhere were you are just getting to know some people you might want to avoid some topics. Talking about your bad health or relationships, your crappy job or boss, serial killers, technical lingo that only you and some other guy understands or anything that sucks the positive energy out of the conversation are topics to steer clear from. You might also want to save religion and politics for conversations with your friends.

Being boring
Don’t prattle on about your new car for 10 minutes oblivious to your surroundings. Always be prepared to drop a subject when you start to bore people. Or when everyone is getting bored and the topic is starting to run out of steam.

One good way to have something interesting to say is simply to lead an interesting life. And to focus on the positive stuff. Don’t start to whine about your boss or your job, people don’t want to hear that. Instead, talk about your last trip somewhere, some funny anecdote that happened while you where buying clothes, your plans for New Years Eve or something funny or exciting.

Another way is just to be genuinely interested. As Dale Carnegie said:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”

Knowing a little about many things or at least being open to talk about them instead of trying to steer the conversation back to your favourite subject is a nice quality.

Meaning: talking for what seems like hours about one topic. Topics may include work, favourite rock-band, TV-show and more work.

Opening up a bit and not clinging desperately to one topic will make the conversation feel more relaxed and open. You will come across like a person who can talk about many things with ease. As you’ve probably experienced with other people; this quality is something you appreciate in a conversation and makes you feel like you can connect to that person easily.

Not reciprocating
Open up and say what you think, share how you feel. If someone shares an experience, open up too and share one of your experiences. Don’t just stand there nodding and answer with short sentences. If someone is investing in the conversation they’d like you to invest too.

Like in so many areas in life, you can’t always wait for the other party to make the first move. When needed, be proactive and be the first one to open up and invest in the conversation. One way is by replacing some questions with statements. It makes you less passive and makes take a sort of stand.

Not contributing much
You might feel that you don’t have much to contribute to a conversation. But try anyway. Really listen and be interested in what the others are saying. Ask questions. Make relating statements.

Open your eyes too. Develop your observational skills to pick up interesting stuff in your surroundings to talk about. Develop your personal knowledge-bank by expanding your view of interesting things in the world. Read the newspapers and keep an eye on new water cooler-topics.

Work on your body language, how you talk and try assuming rapport to improve your communication skills.

But take it easy. Don’t do it all at once. You’ll just feel confused and overwhelmed. Instead, pick out the three most important things that you feel needs improving. Work on them every day for 3-4 weeks. Notice the difference and keep at it. Soon your new habits will start to pop up spontaneously when you are in a conversation.

If you liked this article, please give it a thumb up in Stumbleupon. Thanks!




Like what you've read? Then get email updates (it's free)

Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers who receive exclusive happiness and personal development tips every week!

Click here to get started!

Print Friendly

{ 104 comments }

Soli November 9, 2007 at 2:19 am

Great tips ! If someone think it’s cliche, maybe because it’s true. I didn’t think that I was a shy person before I started university this fall. It’s in another province, everybody speak english ( french is my first language) and it’s in the art field ( I was studying history in college, but was accepted because of my portfolio !). We do not share the same language nor past nor interests, therefore I’m getting a hard time to speak with people and have nice interactions longer than a few words.

I’ll try harder, this blog has helped me =)

Yudhi December 14, 2007 at 8:35 am

Good Blog :)

britoo January 28, 2008 at 5:24 pm

This is superlative. I know I have grab so much from this well article. I wish everyone who wants to improve his communication skill should visit and take time to read this. Absolutely educative. Keep it up!

Fahmida February 29, 2008 at 1:51 pm

This is really a very very nice article or I must say its seems as if somebody like a close friend is advising on how to make life easier. Most of us face many problems in our lives because we dont understand these minute things. It reallly helpful to make our lives better if we implement these behaviours in our lives. Great!!

MV JADHAV March 6, 2008 at 9:05 am

Very useful article !! Great work done !!!

Lieke April 4, 2008 at 11:03 am

If everybody would read articles like this and practice these rules, man would this be a boring world, don’t you think?! People would all be alike, happily hopping from one light topic to the next while holding their drink the right way, cute little circus monkeys.
I think the best rule is to beware of rules that tell you what topics to avoid or “topic may include…”. Thanks for the nice try, but if I want to talk politics, I talk politics. And if I want to argue, try to convince the other one that I’M RIGHT while he tries to tell me he’s right, if we go on for hours about the same topic, maybe even a “weird” topic or one that only me and that other guy understand, this can turn out to be the most interesting night, an exception from all the lame same old normal chats. That’s how you can really get to know somebody. Maybe you’ll not all turn out to like each other, but that’s how it is in life and it’s not a bad thing. That’s how the boring guy who wants to talk about nothing but his car has a chance to find somebody who is willing to put up with that (or even enjoys it).
When I met the person who now is my best friend for the first time, she told me what her favourite movie was and I promptly (without thinking, without being trained in conversation rules, but just being me) respondet something like “What?! I think that’s the worst kitsch-trash movie ever made!”. She told me later that she liked me from that moment on.
Have the courage to be you. That won’t be appreciated by everybody but you’ll make an even greater impression on the people who do appreciate it.

Anonymous April 28, 2010 at 3:07 am

Some of us have a hard time thinking of things to say to people, and cant just be obnoxious make friends!

john April 8, 2008 at 5:06 am

A worthy subject that is difficult to summarize in one page. And I agree that there must be more individuality and passion for what you are talking about, and that that shines through most of all. A great place to develop your individuality and your conversational ability is at http://www.surespeak.com

bebezane April 9, 2008 at 10:27 am

Have you any advice on ending a conversation gracefully. I have difficulty with this even on the telephone. Sometimes I get stuck talking long past the point of exhaustion because I don’t know how to end it without being abrupt or offensive. Once, on the phone, after several attempts at “good bye” I tried honesty and said “both my ears are sore so I want to say good bye for now”. This was met with “well I just want to tell you one more thing-if your ears aren’t hurting too much” (very sarcastically stated). I said they were’nt, and unfortunately, the lengthy conversation took off again. Thanks in advance for advice.

H May 16, 2008 at 1:28 am

Its never in a large group that I have trouble with conversing… there’s always plenty of distraction going on around with a large group that I don’t feel like I’m being judged or scrutinized. It’s when I’m in those one-on-one situations with someone I’ve just met and akward silences abound with no third party to fill in the gaps. Any suggestions?

Herra Kamran May 20, 2008 at 10:30 am

This is really informative to me because I make at least half of these mistakes and now I am self aware. Thanks

Inspiration for Change May 24, 2008 at 6:59 pm
Christopher Truman May 27, 2008 at 7:50 pm

This article is so desperately necessary for your readers. So many tech geeks and bloggers have such great minds and are very interesting people, but lack these basic tips to hold people’s interest in society. Awesome article :)

Toad July 2, 2008 at 7:41 am

Hey ^^ I loved this topic, and I know its going to help me a little when I get stuck now. BUT I NEED MORE!!!
Where did you go fishing?
What do you like most about fishing?
What did you do there besides fishing.

Alright, these will help me out a little, but what if your at a party. What if your surrounded by tons of drunken idiots that break all the rules above, and conversational topics are beyond me. I am unfortunate enough to be extremely shy when I’m around a group of people and end up standing in a corner waiting for someone to rescue me. Sure, Ill walk up to someone, give them a big smile, ask them what brings them here, or what they think of all the crazy people in underwear walking around. Now imagine yourself where like me, you cant stand people who drink, and lose there heads in such places. I honestly want to fit in, I don’t want to drink, and I can never keep a conversation going for longer than 15 seconds there. Sure ill listen to what they say… but there drunken mind thinks of such unusually ignorant, and almost impossible to comprehend situations, its impossible to think about making the convo last longer.

Alright, then there was a couple days ago. I go on a date with this unimaginably cute girl, who loves to talk. Sure, she is really nice and everything, but she talks unbelievably fast, mixes in different languages half the time so you cant understand her, and changes the conversation every 10 seconds. How am I supposed to even try to talk to her. I felt like a total loser around her, and not to lower my self esteem, I feel to afraid to even call her now(go Yahoo) ^^. I would think that if she is such a great social person, I would be able to talk to her easier. I am horrible at making a conversation out of the spur of a moment. Then… she feels sick at the end of the day, so I end up taking her home an hour early than normal… Then I get all these random images that she probably hates to be around me now… I feel like I want to find a nice shy girl, who rarely ever talks, and who I cant find existing in Las Vegas.

Any advice on what I should do, or how I can learn to talk more, and create conversation topics easier would be very helpful. For the record, my memory sucks, especially when I’m talking to new, or random people. I think my thought pattern is like “omg.. what do I say” “BREATH!” “2+2=4″

Eh.. sorry for the unusually long topic.. I figured there… might be other people that have the same problems, so I hope it can help them out as well, and make your conversation topic even better than it already is.

ZDubb April 28, 2010 at 3:14 am

Not that its important, thats exactly the same problem that I have is that I cant think of anything to say and after the usually “hey whats new” I get nervous and just say random shit and that the other person thinks im a bird. But anyways goodluck and I know youll find a solution to your problem!!

Miranda July 4, 2008 at 12:16 am

Another potential problem if you are quite shy is being too self aware during the conversation. Having random thoughts going through your head like:
‘Am I being boring’ or ‘Does this person even like me’ can throw you off course. This usually makes it difficult to maintain eye contact as you don’t want to face up to the truth of their expression.

Eric Soo July 24, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I think I’ve read the topic somewhere before, but I find it ‘easy to say, but not easy to do’, really. People who are brilliant conversationalist will say this is the way, but people like me who are not used to it, boy, it’s not an easy thing to do. In other words, I think only those who has no problem at all will not find it any difficult to follow, but to a person who seldom ever have the chance to talk at all, it’s really tough to be any better. Do you agree?

Paul August 6, 2008 at 10:19 pm

In the “Best of The Positivity Blog” and I think in the whole Eriks blog I have no problems only with this topic in my life. How come a person who has such big problems with bad habits and all other mistakes, has no problem to talk to a crowd, to unknown people, relax dozen of co-workers, make a sad party to one that doesn’t ends etc. I think it’s because I can “cure” in many situations others but I have a personal blockade (like 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People), that freezes me. I can talk briefly like a guru, and so what, if I take no action only my competition does, and benefit from it.
GOOD NEWS: I am building my self-esteem, goals, lifestyles changes on top of that. With all that subconscious changes through consciousness changes in my mind. I will do it, despite the fear.
If the problem isn’t yours it’s impossible to understand others, my brother has big conversation problems, now I understand him bit more. The simplest (but painfull) cure to ALL these problems is do what you hate as often as possible – soon your problem will disappear, and maybe become after a while your second nature – wish me good luck, and good luck to all of you.
Thanx

sammy August 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm

I think thinking too much about what your going to say is what gets most people into boring cnnversations. The only way to learn from that is to listen first then reply with your honest opinion about a certain topic. then im sure people would listen to what you have to say or ask. Nobody will think what you say is invalid or stupid its what you make it out to be. Just having a more confident attitude will help. How are you going to get people interested in you when you dont believe yourself.

icq13219 September 2, 2008 at 11:51 pm

hey :-)
its very reasonable article.
Nice post.
realy gj

thank you ;)

cool spot September 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm

great article. it actually addressed several ares in my life that feel blunt. Most times people are mistaken as introverts

matt September 29, 2008 at 3:42 am

nice advice thanks i’m going to look at this site again on friday and then use these tips at a party

Steven October 9, 2008 at 7:35 am

I use weird topics to break social norms. I am a leader though, so it works for me.

Taiji for example is designed to make the colon work. So, naturally, we must speak about farting.

Kanchumarthi November 14, 2008 at 11:54 am

It’s a great website for all persons in globa.Thanks u
all.

Kellen November 23, 2008 at 7:27 am

This is all excellent advice that many of us could benefit from. I think the most important one is to listen. It’s amazing how many of us are just waiting for our turn to speak. I struggle with this myself. Really listening to another person is so important.

Liezeth November 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm

I know that you have listened to this phrase many times, but here is once more just “BE YOURSELF” it always works out, because no matter how nice or handsome could be the person you want to like everybody loves originality and honesty. But, this is a tip you do not have to forget while you are having a conversation “do not be in silence” I mean try to ask whatever, because if you stay in silence, then you would have some troubles to start a new conversation, then evereything is spontaneous. BE HAPPY!!!!!!:).

AARZOO January 26, 2009 at 8:46 am

almost every part has been covered…
expect many people to read this nd feel d difference…
Job well done..!!
Keep it up..!!

ella February 2, 2009 at 4:55 pm

i too have a problem ending conversations gracefully. how do you pull yourself out of something when you’re ready to go home or move on to someone else or are just plain tired, especially around people that can keep talking for hours? there are some people that can seem to do this without insulting anyone or awkward goodbyes, i’m not one of them… that would be a great next post.

Suresh Kumar April 8, 2009 at 10:40 am

Good article,with plenty of interesting facts and im a person who always start the conversation well but ending will be dull so in that case this article taught me few basic things.

Thanking you,

Suresh kumar

Amezstudio April 25, 2009 at 8:41 pm

Thanks for this wonderful Article.So much to Learn and to tell the truth I have learned so much today after reading this.Thanks man i am very impressed.Keep up the good work.
Sam

casper May 15, 2009 at 3:28 am

I like how you explain about asking questions and listening. I still need to practice to ask right questions though. It’s easy to get distracted and not sure what to ask. I like more when people just talk without being asked….

Anonymous May 17, 2009 at 10:25 pm

thanks

Aida Tanchoco May 19, 2009 at 8:40 am

Nice blog. Can’t I used some information from your blog for me to add or post in mine. Of course there would be proper citation or I would show link to yours. Thanks

kamlesh May 19, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Interesting quite useful becoz of their practicality

Tony Excessive Personal Development Blake June 11, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Great insights,

I feel that slowing down while speaking is a huge one. It helps you not mumble and appear more confident. Listening is also a good one, however sometimes it’s difficult because they are talking about boring stuff haha.

Tyler July 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Having a great conversation is tough to do, especially when you have anxiety. I love the articles! Learn How to Stop Anxiety Forever!

loic July 12, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Nice Summary Thanks

Mishu July 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Very good article. The content as well as the style of the article is the best part. When i was reading, it was like u are telling me the whole think as my friend. very smooth and balanced way.
Thanks for sharing your article.
Mishu
:D

riray July 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

really nice articles. simple, and some ppl may don’t care it too much.
but its being important for them who realized tht from a simple but worth conversation, can be a start line for something big later.

prince b. July 31, 2009 at 6:12 pm

very nice post, please send more!

blmbNY August 28, 2009 at 5:58 am

I am so happy I found your postings! I am returning to school next week – it’s been 20 years since I’ve sat in a classroom. After my current career tanked, I decided to return to school to learn a trade in the health field. My schooling includes an internship at a medical office….where I will be interacting with all types of people. I am a little nervous as I tend to be shy and introverted…but, I gotta $eat$ so I need to become a “people person” pronto :)
Your tips are excellent – clear, to-the-point and PRACTICAL!! That’s big – not a lot of PRACTICAL out there on the web…
Now, off to read your suggestions on how to say simplify what you want to say….then I’ll be back to edit this posting ;)

Ramya September 3, 2009 at 11:08 am

Your tips are excellent and quit PRACTICAL have to work on it

yukka September 17, 2009 at 10:18 am

“One good way to have something interesting to say is simply to lead an interesting life. ” no sh*t!

Richy September 25, 2009 at 10:54 am

Tip 11 should be: don’t try to hard. Other people have mentioned it in different forms already and I would like to summarize it as this.

3 years ago when I tried to become more social I tried WAAAAAY too hard. It did work however, but it wasn’t optimal. Sometimes I still try too hard and that comes of needing approval instead of being my real self. However when I really am my real self and I am happy and spontaneous at the same time. Then everyone thinks I’m a cool guy. On that moment I don’t think that myself, I just feel happy.

For the rest it’s a good article and it’s good advice. I happen to have some stories in a blog of mine that is devoted to this entire subject, checkout: http://www.ilovemeetingnewpeople.blogspot.com

And for the people who see this blog, I really appreciate comments and feedback, because I’m still learning and I never want to quit learning.

Cheers!

Aasmaa Labib October 12, 2009 at 3:00 am

Thanks a lot for this great article. it summarizes our formal life in lines. but i think we do not need all these tips in our normal life with our close friends, our family members and with people who we are really love and we do feel comfortable while we are being with them. I think your best friend is the one who you can keep silent with and at the same time you both feel very comfortable.

Ryan December 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Great Article! Really hits home on some of the main bullet points. It’s so true! Great Job! Power of a Positive Mind

Francesca February 2, 2010 at 12:20 am

Great advice…I think I’m guilty of about all of those things now I think about it. Will definately be more considerate when engaging in conversation now.

cheryl February 6, 2010 at 11:58 am

definitely a great and helpful article. should thank whoever has used his/her brain so judiciously

Stop Anxiety February 24, 2010 at 5:22 am

Hey thanks Henrik, this is another great post as usual. Great tips about keeping a conversation exciting, which is the most important part about talking with people. It’s all about having fun and learning new things about one another and life. Keep up the inspiration.

Marvin Barrett April 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Great tips Henrik,

I certainly relate to these mistakes outlined here. Moreso the one where you mention asking too many questions lol I can be a bit guilty of that, but that’s because I am sincerely interested in finding out more info and I believe it’s my inquisitive nature.

outstanding April 26, 2010 at 4:44 am

Active Listening : this is very crucial point you have mentioned

People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute (WPM), but they can listen intelligently at up to 300 words per minute. Since only a part of our mind is paying attention, it is easy to go into mind drift – thinking about other things while listening to someone. The cure for this is active listening – which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, show support, etc. It’s also important to give feedback to show yourself and the other person that you’ve understood what they’ve said. Do this by summarising and repeating what you heard.
another great informative post i really enjoyed thanks for sharing

cres123 May 1, 2010 at 3:00 am

hey henrik,
really nice article.. well explained:)

{ 19 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: