Improve Conversation Skills: Do You Make These 10 Mistakes in a Conversation?

Can you improve your conversation skills?


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.

1. 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.

Stop being lazy in a conversation and 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.

2. 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.”

Or you can say:

“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.

3. 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 or worried not knowing exactly why.

Here’s three things you can do in such a situation:

Be on top of what’s happening out there.

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.

Use your surroundings.

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.

4. 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.
  • 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Talking about a weird or negative topic.

If you’re at a party or somewhere where 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, money and politics for conversations with your friends.

8. 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 were buying clothes, your plans for New Year’s Eve, your new blog or podcast project 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 favorite subject is a nice quality.

Meaning: talking for what seems like hours about one topic.

Topics may include work, favorite 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.

9. 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.

10. 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 and start to doubt yourself.

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.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

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

  • 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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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

  • It’s amazing how many people have problems with their social skills. Conversational skills are not the only ones that people lack – for many guys it seems extraordinarily difficult to get girls, and for the most part the only reason is the lack of social skills.


    I’ve learned so many irrelevant things in school that it almost makes me sad after I have realized how many more important things there are that I had to learn myself afterward.

    You quoted Dale Carnegie, and that book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is one of my favorites as well… I can recommend it to anyone.

  • Good list – but you missed my #1 peeve: Don’t interrupt!