Do you ever find yourself drawing a blank when talking with someone you don’t know that well? Whether it’s a coworker, a client, or even a loved one, knowing how to make good conversation is an extremely important life skill. In many cases, quality people skills really come down to managing silences and keeping conversations going. Being a good conversationalist is something that many people struggle with, but can be crucial to likability, relatability, and connection. So how do you grow this rapport-building skill? Knowing how to keep the conversation flowing is absolutely essential to job success and good parenting. How do you fight that mind-blank feeling? Not to worry, we’ve got the answers and compiled a list of tips and tricks below to help you never run out of things to talk about.
- Think about topics that connect. Every topic is a spiderweb leading to other topic options. Thinking about every topic through this lens is a tool to always keep the conversation going, even if you know virtually nothing about the original topic brought up. For example, let’s say a friend brings up the topic of surfing. You may know very little about surfing, but thinking “around” the topic is a great tool that allows you to have more to talk about than just specifically surfing itself. In this case, maybe surfing reminds you of a vacation you went on in San Juan Del Sur. Maybe it reminds you of a movie you saw or another water sport you’ve tried. No matter what the spiderweb topic is, remembering that you can lead a conversation with something else that connects is an important tool to keep in your back pocket.
- When in doubt, ask a question. If you know very little about a topic, it’s always a good idea to ask detailed questions rather than shutting down the conversation altogether. Sticking with the surfing example mentioned above, you can always ask things such as:
- “So what got you into surfing?”
- “Do people go to surfing competitions?”
- “Where was your favorite place you ever surfed?”
- “What was the tallest wave you’ve ever surfed?”
- “I actually don’t know a lot about surfing, what do you like about it?”
By giving people the opportunity to talk about themself, you are allowing the conversation to continue and showing them that what they have to say matters to you. Asking open-ended questions that aren’t questions ending in a yes or no answer, or asking follow-up questions that allow the person to continue talking are great question types to stick to.
- Have stories on hand to share. If you’re still unsure about how to address awkward silences, a good trick to keep in your back pocket is prepared stories. Think about different common topics that might come up such as work, family, upbringing, attended events, interests and hobbies, and places you’ve visited. Having a few subjects and stories that relate already rolling around in your brain will allow you to have quick and easy access to a relatable conversation in moments of silence or lull.
- If you’re long-distance, do an activity together: Keeping the conversation going when it comes to virtual communication can be a hard task. Many grandparents commiserate that trying to keep their grandchild on the phone can be a difficult task. Connecting with a long-distance significant other, family member, or friend. Luckily there are lots of apps out there that help with things to talk about on FaceTime. Many of these apps have virtual activities that you can do together to create opportunities for bonding and staying on the phone together longer.
- Think about the emotion behind what they are saying. Listen to what the person is saying behind the words they are speaking. Is what they are sharing with you an indicator of stress, happiness, frustration, nervousness, or relief? Using empathy to relate what they are saying can be a great way to extend the conversation. If they are sharing about something that happened at work, you can make an emotional observation such as, “Wow! You must be feeling pretty relieved by that!” If you don’t feel confident in what they might be feeling, you can always ask, “Wow! How are you feeling about that?”
- Pay attention to what’s surrounding you. Pay attention to the environment around you. If you are in a lobby or elevator or any other space where the conversation might lull, start paying attention to what’s surrounding you. If there’s a painting on the wall of a horse, you might say, “That painting reminds me of growing up on a ranch when I was young.” This then gives you the opportunity to ask where they grew up. Finding these subjects based on your physical environment is an easy way to increase conversation.
- Find commonalities. When in doubt, find something you both like or have in common and stay on that topic. If you find out your coworker has children, there are endless parenting topics that you both can relate to and stick to if you’re feeling unsure what to talk about.