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5 Conversational Mistakes That Can Make You Look Dumb

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
Dorothy Nevill

Social skills and relationships are probably two of the most important things in life.

So it always strikes me as a bit odd that while we learn so much when we grow up there is often somewhat of a lack of advice on how to improve our communication skills.

If there is something that we should learn more about in school, then this is one of those things since it can improve lives and society in a big way.

Of course, if you do some digging and browsing and looking you can find solid and time-tested information from throughout the ages on this topic. And since communication and relationships is a pretty intuitive and free flowing process, advice that applies in all situations is pretty hard to find. Much of these things you have to learn from experience.

But there are some good pointers. Here are five of them. And I think that if you avoid these five mistakes at least most of the time then you can really improve your relationships, your communication skills and your life.

1. Bragging. You may think bragging about your new car or what you make money wise will impress people. But consciously trying to impress anyone quickly becomes pretty apparent and transparent. And you are likely come a across as an annoying try-hard and insecure person with low self-esteem rather than the coolest kid in town.

2. Being judgemental. Now, what I’m talking about here is being judgemental about what Paul does for a living, what Lisa defines as her unique fashion style and what Larry did in a drunken haze last weekend.

If you keep up such topics in conversation then soon the people you talk to will probably start to assume that you talk the same way about them when they are not around. And that can put a negative dent and barrier into your relationship.

Besides, being judgemental might make you feel superior for a short while. But overall, it puts negative energy into your own mood and thoughts. And that isn’t especially fun or useful.

3. Putting the spotlight on ME, ME, ME! An obvious and obnoxious one. A couple of common ways to put the spot-light on yourself are:

  • Talking too much.
  • Hijacking someone else’s story by interrupting and then relating it to some anecdote in your life. Thereby taking the focus off the other person and on to yourself once again.
  • Not really listening, just waiting for your turn to talk again.
  • Trying to steer the conversation back to your favourite subjects. And then clinging desperately by talking about them as long as you can.

4. Always be giving advice. I’ve been guilty of this so many times. :) And I think a lot of people don’t really realize that it might be something to hold back on a bit. If someone is telling you about a problem or situation then it’s easy to assume they want your point of view and advice. And it’s easy to feel clever by dispensing your wisdom.

But sometimes people just want to you to listen and hear them out. It might be a way for them to handle, understanding and solving their own problem. So just listen instead of busting out your problem-solving skills immediately. Assuming a parental role where you are telling what someone what to do can become irritating.

When they are done talking they might ask for your input. Or you can ask if they want to hear what you would do in a similar situation. Or if they want someone to bounce around thoughts and ideas with.

5. Worrying about making mistakes in conversations. One big problem in conversations is to turn the focus of your mind too much inwards. As soon as you do that conversations stall, you can feel flustered and everything becomes awkward.

You can escape being worried about looking dumb and making mistakes by not focusing on it. Work on focusing your attention more and more outwards, towards the person you are talking to.

If you think you look dumb then it is probably because you were worried about it and became self-conscious. If you can decrease the worry you can decrease the time you feel self-conscious. And if you aren’t self-conscious then you are far less likely to feel bad and affecting the conversation. Even if you said or did something that might be perceived as kinda dumb. If I’m not self-conscious then I have found that don’t react that badly to what I said/did (even if it was kinda dumb). Most of the time I just move on with the conversation and the people I’m talking to follows.

So, should you try to decrease the attention and focus you put on yourself?

Frankly, at the moment I find it more fun – and difficult – to forget about myself entirely. I just try to be and observe the reality around me. I focus on that. And not on myself (well, a little self-focus is hard to avoid but I try the best I can). It doesn’t work for that long, at least for now. But I find it more interesting experimenting and experiencing with that frame of mind.

3 Solutions for Better Relationships

  • Try to avoid doing these mistakes. Don’t just sink into the regular unconscious routine of life. Try to be conscious and aware of how you think and what you say as much as possible. This will allow you to more easily observe your behaviour and bit by bit decrease the number of times you make these mistakes.
  • Replace your habits. Since these mistakes quickly become habits you may not just be able to put a stop to them. Instead try a time-tested way for changing habits. Replace the habit rather than removing it. Instead of for instance judging people, try to see a positive side of everyone you meet for 30 days. It might be hard, but there is just about always something positive in everyone. Adopting this new habit not only replaces a less useful one. It has the added benefit of improving your outlook on the world and can pretty radically change how you view your closest environment such as friends, family and co-workers.
  • Focus less on yourself. All of these mistakes are pretty much rooted in being too focused on yourself and boosting your own ego. But you don´t have to keep on boosting your ego to feel good. The most helpful way I have found so far for overcoming the ego boosting-addiction is by reading – and applying – something by Eckhart Tolle. He discusses the ego in-depth in his books/tapes/dvds and they are great ways to understanding how the ego works in your life and how to get a handle on it. Very useful information that improves your life once you start understanding and applying it. I highly recommend checking out his most famous book The Power of Now, either at a bookstore or at your local library.
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  • Sam June 27, 2007, 6:17 pm

    I really like point # 3. I guess in a conversation when many people are involved, everyone likes to prove they are better than the other person and they are the most interesting person having the best life anybody could dream of. Your explanation totally makes sense. :-)

  • Attila Borcsa June 27, 2007, 9:22 pm

    Excellent tips Henrik! Basics of being polite.
    I seem to run into braggers a lot lately, or maybe they just annoy me more these days… Unfortunately not many of those “suffering” will get your message.
    It would be also interesting to read about ways to handle this kind of people.

  • michelle June 27, 2007, 10:57 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Number three is me, spot-on. I’ve never heard it broken down quite like that, but you got it. Now to break my annoying motormouth habit.

  • Gloria June 29, 2007, 1:55 am

    Great article – I think I may have been guilty of more than one of these from time to time. Reminds me of that saying: God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

  • Jarle June 29, 2007, 11:48 am

    Good points. I have actually learned a lot on this topic just by watching TV. Take Idol or America’s got talent as an example. The individuals that becomes most populare with the public are allways the ones who live by the rules you mentioned in this article.

  • Henrik Edberg June 29, 2007, 2:07 pm

    Sam: That´s true. And, often, the better life a person is living the less the s/he feels the need to prove it to other people by using the examples in point #3.

    Attila Borcsa: I haven´t run into many braggers recently. And if I do I discover that they seldom get much attention for long. People tend to ignore them (but often in a polite way).

    Michelle and Gloria: Thanks for the comments, I´m glad you liked the article. And that´s a good quote, Gloria.

    Jarle: That´s an interesting observation, thank you for sharing.

  • Maria T Wilson June 30, 2007, 5:16 am

    Wow, I think you have inspired a revelation in me. Living in the now and not focusing on yourself…I think that will be a great help in conversations…sometimes it’s so easy to ramble and get excited about sharing information that we get lost in the moment and we are off somewhere else. It is hard to listen and focus on the other person but it is so fun to let go and see where that takes you. Thanks for this great entry. Maria

  • Sleeping Dude July 2, 2007, 6:43 am

    Good points, I’ve read some of those in Debra Fine’s The Fine Art Of Small Talk. Quite often we look dumb not because we talk too much about themselves, but because we can’t talk at all, especially when we meet new people.

  • Jarkko July 4, 2007, 10:09 am

    Great points! The point #4 was something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Some people just want to have their say in everything (even if they don’t have any experience in the topic at all). I just need to be careful not to be that guy myself… :)

  • subrat kumar das August 14, 2007, 10:47 am

    i want to know how to impress an indian girl

  • srena October 5, 2007, 2:43 pm

    dear subrat , i think thats so sweet you want to impress an indian girl, im not indian my self , but i just fell inlove with your quoat for some reason , and heres a tip, indian girls are regular girls ,there ompressed buy the same things all the rest of us are impressed by , charm , mystery , respect and presents (expensive ones), so good luck i hope you get your girl. about the artical, great artical , loved it , i wish everyone would read it and learn something and become wise and wounderful like me , im kidding , im kidding …. bye for now

  • Robert @ reason4smile February 23, 2008, 6:20 pm

    Hi Henrik,
    this message is really great!

    One experience is the time I’m about to share something useful in a small group, at first I’m afraid that people will think that I’m bragging. I eventually share it out of willingness to fight my own fear, but I forgot one thing, I share just for the sake of opening my mouth, I forgot about the audience.

    One lesson I pick, communicate your insights with the focus on others, it’s not about you fighting your fear, but about how you can help others.

    Thanks for sharing this!
    Robert

  • Kai February 24, 2008, 8:21 am

    I definitely do #4 very often. I never really considered that people might not want my advice. I guess I assume that if I’m better at it (not falling into #1, of course) that they’ll want to hear what I have to say. Next time I want to say something, I’m going to try letting it slide, and seeing where the conversation goes instead.

  • CherylT March 2, 2008, 7:33 am

    One time I was having a conversation I thought was going pretty well, when out of nowhere a person off to the side who could hear me said, “It’s all about me.” That made me so self-conscious, I stopped talking and soon got up to go. It’s hard to be conscious of the way we interject ourselves into our conversations, but if we try to remember to put the other person first, it can help break down barriers. Thanks for a great article.

  • Eric May 16, 2008, 12:39 am

    Solid suggestions. Thanks for the book tip!

  • Husain Kurwa September 24, 2009, 7:11 am

    Really great & useful post. I have definitely been guilty of #3 and feel that I have to practice #4 even though it may not be necessary.

  • Kelvin Lee September 25, 2009, 4:31 am

    Excellent article! I sometimes wonder why I feel annoyed while socializing, finally can have a more systematic view on it. Great post, thx!

  • Robert October 31, 2009, 3:08 am

    This is one of thee most biased pieces on personality ever done. Point one may be useful if your around a group of men or women who also indulge in and think this is cool. So in this case does a try-hard become a slacker when he or she is in a group like this and is not trying hard enough to impress everyone. That point takes us into number two. It sounds to me like the type of person in point 1 is the type of person you do not like, which would be judgmental. People first except who you are as a person, only then can you work on the type of communication you feel makes you a better person. Not simply because somebody said it will.

  • Lawrence-in-Arabia January 12, 2010, 9:45 am

    Nice blog on the whole. Very useful tips and points. Thank you.
    I find that I fall into the trap of bragging in a subtle way, and I need to stop that. Your points made me realize that I do this.

  • G February 3, 2010, 4:08 am

    But how you do know when to talk too much or not talking at all.

    I don’t even know what to say most of the time.