Follow These 3 Steps To Become A Better Conversationalist

You don’t need the gift of gab to be a great conversationalist.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 10, 2022

Having a good conversation is one of life's most underrated joys. How can we have more of them? Here are three research-backed suggestions from psychologists to help you up your conversation game.

#1. Be a better listener

Being a good listener to be a good conversationalist seems like a no-brainer. But is there a clear route through which you can sharpen your listening skills?

Psychologists suggest that there is – and it has to do with cultivating more humility.

More specifically, work on building interpersonal humility by:

  • Acknowledging others' strengths and contributions
  • Being open to feedback and constructive criticism
  • And, remaining oriented toward the needs of others

Poor listening, according to psychologist Michal Lehmann, can negatively impact the quality of relationships one builds with others.

"Not listening to our friends or significant others means knowing less about their lives and being less involved, affecting the quality of those relationships," he says.

To be a good listener, Lehmann also urges you to not be afraid of silence.

"People are often afraid or embarrassed by moments of silence during conversations," he says. "Silent moments are essential for building a good conversation. Allow yourself to be silent, to enable the other to speak."

#2. Keep the ball rolling

"Having a good conversation is one of daily life's most rewarding experiences, and yet people are often hesitant to set aside significant amounts of time for conversation because they're concerned that they'll run out of things to talk about and that their conversation will grow dull or awkward as a result," says Dr. Micheal Kardas, a researcher at Northwestern University.

A study conducted by Kardas required pairs of strangers to have spoken conversations with each other. The researchers monitored the conversations and even paused them every few minutes to evaluate their status.

"After the first few minutes of conversation, people tended to indicate that they were enjoying themselves but they also indicated that they thought they would run out of things to talk about as the conversation continued and that the conversation would become less enjoyable," said Kardas.

But when the participants were prompted to keep their conversation going, they found more material to talk about and enjoyed the remaining dialogue far more than they expected.

Kardas' thus concluded that people are too quick to pull the plug on a good conversation — thinking, mistakenly, that conversations that last for more than a few minutes are perceived as boring by their conversation companion.

"The longer a conversation lasts, the better people get to know each other and the more meaningful these conversations tend to become," he says. "What these findings suggest to us is that people could allocate more time for conversations than they normally do, because they're not likely to run out of things to say or to grow bored with the conversation as quickly as they might think."

#3. Expose yourself to art

Psychologist Katherine Cotter swears by the positive effects art exposure and a visit to your local art museum can have on your well-being. Apart from improving our quality of life and reducing our stress and cortisol levels, art museums can help us find and build community.

"Art museums are a space where people can feel connected and less isolated and can be used as a way to build community," she says. "As many nations talk about an epidemic of loneliness, going to an art museum may be one way to help combat our feelings of loneliness and isolation."

According to Cotter, there are two ways in which art exposure can lead to better conversations:

  1. We can experience something called 'the museum effect' when visiting an art museum. When we enter a museum we are able to enter into a state of heightened contemplation that allows us to reflect about ourselves, the communities to which we belong, and society more broadly. This state automatically primes us for deeper and more meaningful conversation.
  2. Art museums are unique spaces that, for most of us, we aren't going to very frequently. When we do have the chance to visit a museum, it's quite easy to feel transported and to set aside our day-to-day worries and just be present during that experience. We might lose track of time or find ourselves absorbed in a particular work during our visit. This may help us to shed our insecurities and keep a conversation going instead of cutting it short because of a fear of running out of things to talk about.

Conclusion: Good conversations are primarily about striking a healthy balance between giving and taking. Thinking that you either have to run the show or be a perpetual listener can lead to unfulfilling conversations. Perhaps the best advice is to take a deep breath, not overthink it, and dive in!