Have you ever felt that while you were talking, the person you are talking to is not actually listening to what you are saying, but simply waiting for a pause in the conversation to start talking? They are listening to you, but not engaging with what you are saying. This is because they are not actively listening. Active listening is “fully conce
ntrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.” Obviously a classy person would never want to give the impression to another that they were not listening, but active listening is more than the passive listening that we do when we watch T.V. or listen to the radio. It requires engaging with the other person’s statements by asking questions or offering clarification. Listeners can also engage by reflecting on or summarizing what has been said to show the other speaker that clear communication is taking place. Active listening may not make you the life of the party, but it will help you have meaningful and memorable conversations.
If you struggle with this like I do the good news is that these skills can be learned. Most of us are not born with this innate ability and time spent passively listening to the T.V. can corrupt even the most apt person’s skills. Try asking a friend to coffee and practice. Focus on your body language first, look them in the eyes, keep your focus at your table and do not look around the room, sit up straight to help convey and maintain attentiveness, try really hard not to play with things at the table (I am infamous for playing with paper napkins). Once you have your body language down begin to practice questioning, reflecting and summarizing as the conversation drifts from topic to topic. In a few weeks you will find that these things will begin to take less effort, keep at it and you may even have people compliment you on being a good listener.
Make The Conversation About Them
Just as it takes two to tango it also takes two to have a conversation. A classy conversationalist will not hog the conversation by speaking only of themselves. Instead when you are speaking to others ask about them. Ask basic questions when meeting someone for the first time: What do they do? What are their hobbies? Asking questions to draw someone out and then actively listening will make the other person feel easy around you and hopefully they will walk away with the impression that you are a friendly and inviting person. For someone that you have met previously, a friend or acquaintance, try to ask about something brought up in a previous conversation (a good use of your active listening skills). This will show them that you cared enough to remember a small detail of their life. As everyone likes to feel important even in a small way, doing this will make the other person feel good about themselves.
I don’t mean meaningless “I like your tie” kinds of compliments, but if you notice something about the other person that strikes you, then tell them. Tailor the compliment to them by not simply saying “I like your tie,” but instead say that “the tie looks great with your suit.” Guys don’t be afraid of giving reasonable compliments; it’s ok to compliment someone’s knowledge of a subject or their personality. This will not make you seem less manly, I promise. Genuine compliments are one of the best ways to uplift another person and can help you be a classy conversationalist.
If you have ever had a conversation with someone you can barely understand you know it’s frustrating and easily causes communication problems. Speaking clearly prevents both of these things and can give you self-confidence. That’s right, even if you aren’t the most confident person you can help yourself look and feel more confident by speaking clearly and enunciating properly. You don’t need to roll your “R’s” like Patrick Stewart, but you should try to pronounce words as clearly as possible. Also, don’t use large vocabulary words unless you know how to properly pronounce them. For example I was walking around saying niche as nit-ch (as in rhymes with itch) until my husband informed me that niche is neeesh – darn those French words.
Avoid being Argumentative
This one can be difficult for people. I am not going to tell you not to talk about politics or religion, because I believe that these can be some of the most interesting aspects of people and make the most interesting conversations. That being said, asking someone to share a religious or political opinion should not lead to an argument or even a debate where one party is trying to convince the other the error of their ways. Showing respect for another’s beliefs and opinions is an important part of being a classy conversationalist. If you feel you must debate with a person instead of exchanging viewpoints, then avoid difficult topics. Use a conversation to learn about the other person’s life and reserve debates until you are good enough friends that your friendship can survive the debate process.
Trying to be a better conversationalist? Why don’t you practice these things and let us know how you’re doing in the comments below?