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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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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • 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.

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