5 Ways to Have Awesome Conversations

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Every conversation counts, whether we're talking to a friend, a co-worker, a partner, or someone we've never met before.Sometimes, it's tempting to be a bit lazy with our conversations. Perhaps we take it for granted that we'll have more conversations with this person. Perhaps we think that it doesn't really matter - after all, we're not likely to see them again.But everyone we come into contact with has an impact on us, whether their presence is fleeting or life-changing.The conversations I remember are those that leave me feeling warm, interested and engaged, even if they seem relatively insignificant at the time. These conversations cover diverse topics and include discussions with loved ones and close friends, as well as short but fulfilling interactions with people I've met only once.We've talked about asking for feedback, as well as giving complimentsnot-so-great feedback and unsolicited feedback here before. This post is about conversations in general. The principles below can be applied to every discussion we have, both with ourselves and with others.

1. Listen

It sounds basic, but often we believe we're listening when actually we're doing or thinking about something completely different.We can't have a proper conversation with someone if we're looking at something online, in the middle of a task or preoccupied with other things.True listening is about making a conscious effort to devote our attention to the other person in the conversation, and our thoughts and feelings about what they're saying.Other people know when we're really listening, and when we're not. Have you ever talked to someone at a party or conference who is constantly looking over your shoulder at who is walking past? It's off-putting and annoying.We can show someone we're really listening my making eye-contact, by giving genuine non-verbal cues (such as nods, smiles, frowns) in response to what they're saying and by using verbal cues ("Mhmm" etc.) when we think it's appropriate.

2. Reflect

Anyone who has a 'listening' job, including counsellors, use this tool to show they are listening and to help clarify what the speaker means.Reflection is to summarise what the other person has said, for example, 'it sounds like you're feeling frustrated and helpless because you don't feel in control of this situation'.In everyday conversations, this technique is best used sparingly and only at times when we think it's appropriate to either show we understand what the other person is saying, or to check we're on the same page as them.When over-used, reflection can leave the speaker feeling like they're not being listened to or, worse, like it's impossible to get a sentence out without someone parroting back to them what they've just said!

3. Be Honest

Honesty consists of two things: openness and self-responsibility. When we are honest, we are being open about our feelings and thoughts, and we're taking ownership for them rather than blaming the other person. For example:Honesty: "When I realised you hadn't cleaned out the kitty litter, I felt annoyed."Not honesty: "No, everything's fine, I'm not annoyed at all."Not honesty: "You made me feel annoyed because you didn't clean out the kitty litter!"No one can make us feel a certain way: our reaction is ours to own. Part of being honest is having the courage to take responsibility for our reactions and be open about them.

4. Don't take it personally

Step number four can be easy to forget, especially when emotions are running high. It's difficult to talk to someone who truly believes that you made them do something or made them feel a certain way because you did or said something.We might also find ourselves feeling offended by seemingly innocuous comments, or those that seem to include a hidden message.It's hard not to take comments like these personally, but doing so can send the whole conversation into a downward spiral. When we hear comments we want to take personally, it's helpful to stop and ask:1) What exactly do I feel hurt or angry about?2) Does this remind me of something from my history? Could this be an innocent or well-meaning comment that is triggering feelings from the past?3) How does the other person seem to be feeling right now? Could they be trying to communicate how they're feeling without explicitly saying it?4) If it's a historical trigger: Can I empathise with myself and how I'm feeling? Can I acknowledge feeling hurt or angry without acting out on it?If the feelings are based in the present: Can I give back ownership for this person's feelings to them? Is there a way I can proceed with the conversation without taking responsibility for how they feel?

5. Take a step back if we need to

This is crucial during difficult conversations that become unhelpful or destructive. When we stop enjoying conversations and don't feel motivated to carry on with them anymore, taking a break can help re-boot the discussion and bring some perspective to the situation.Taking a step back from the conversation is also necessary if someone starts becoming verbally abusive, or if we feel like we might become verbally abusive to them. Whatever the reason, verbal abuse is damaging to conversations and to the relationship we have with that person. The motivation behind this urge to say something abusive is rarely rooted in the present. It's is a sign that we or they have been triggered and that a lot of historical feelings are coming up.Taking a break is necessary to work out what was going on, what the trigger was and how the person involved can be more conscious of it in the future.--------Do you have any more tips for having great conversations? What has really worked for you in the past? 

Photo Credit: AJC1 via Compfight cc