Eyes glazing over. Steps taken back. Quick affirmations of “yeah, yeah.” All signs that you’re colleague or friend has lost interest in your conversational wisdom. Nobody wants to be the dud of the social event and end up standing alone after everyone has found an excuse to leave. While it may be hard to pinpoint when your conversation starts going south, here are some advice to keep your talk on track before it does.
Longtime NPR host Celeste Headlee has the answers to your conversational quandaries. In her new book “Talk to Me,” Headlee outlines three conversational errors we all make and provides some suggestions for becoming better conversationalists.
You talk too much. Error number one is you talk too much — about yourself. There’s a reason for this. According to Headlee, conversations about yourself activates the same pleasure zones in your brain as sex or drugs. That means the more you talk about yourself, the more dopamine you release, and the better you feel. So you walk away from a conversation feeling great, not realizing that the other person was counting the seconds until they could peel off.
The fix: Listen more. Ask open-ended questions (how, why) to your friend and then listen to the response. You’ll find your friends enjoy talking to you more when you talk less.
You repeat yourself. Repetition is the death of a good conversation. If you repeat yourself, people don’t actually remember more of what you are saying — they remember less. Because once they have heard the same information over and over and over, they tune you out.
Headlee explains that she used to repeat herself all the time. But telling her husband, son, or coworkers four or five times that the trash needed to be taken out, or the report was due on Monday, didn’t increase the likelihood of the event happening. In fact, quite the opposite.
The fix: Headlee suggests that for important information at best you say it once and then summarize at the end. Don’t remind people over and over. This way people will learn consequences if they fail to remember and will be more likely to listen closely the next time.
You give too much detail. Small details are great in instructions, but not so great in conversations. Have you ever been in the middle of the story about growing up and you can’t remember if your old street address from 10 years ago was 111 or 101 Main Street, and you go back and forth and try to figure it out, while your conversational partner starts looking at their phone? The point is, no one cares about the small details of your story. Headlee says sweating the small details is a great memory exercise, but not so great for sharing an anecdote.
The fix: Forget the small details. No one cares if you went to Peru in 2010 or 2012 if your story is about the great restaurant you went to. So when you find yourself sweating a small detail, let it go, and continue with your story. You’ll find your friends are more attentive and enjoy your anecdote more.
Finally, Headlee advises that you be present, be empathetic, and be open to learning. A good conversation is like a game of catch. If you hold on to the ball too long, it’s no longer a game. So remember to pass the conversation back and forth. If you do, you will find that you — and your conversation partners — are having much better conversations.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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