Being a master of conversation and having genuine interest in other people is a trait that anyone can learn. Whether you are talking with a friend or with your boss, it is important to focus on the fundamentals of verbal and nonverbal communication. Below are some tips for bringing it all together.
When the other person is talking you should be paying direct attention to them. Nod as they speak to you if you understand or agree with what they are saying. Lean forward to show when something peaks your interest. Say phrases like, “okay”, “right” or “mmhmm” to demonstrate that you are engaged in what they are taking the time to share with you.
When you are talking with somebody, look them directly in the eyes. Do this both when you are speaking and when you are listening. This may seem like common sense, but more often than not, people don’t do it (including myself). When you make eye contact with someone you are showing them that they have your full, undivided attention and that you care about what they have to say to you.
I have no problem doing this when other people are talking, but for me it is harder to do it when I am talking. If looking them in the eyes doesn’t feel right, look directly between their eyes at the top of their nose. You don’t want to stare because that’s just creepy. Break line of sight occasionally as needed.
Sit or Stand Up Straight
Whether you are at a work meeting or having a one on one conversation at a bar, having a good posture can mean a world of difference. By pulling back your shoulders and pushing the top of your head towards the sky you will instantly look taller, more confident and more engaged.
When you slouch or lean forward with your elbows on a table you will make them think you are disinterested in what they are talking about. Conversely, try putting a majority of your weight on one leg and bending the knee on the other leg. You will look more comfortable and less awkward as you talk or listen.
If the conversation is coming to a lull or there is an awkward silence, ask the other person or group of people a question about themselves. Pick a topic that you know they are a fan of or bring up something they have mentioned in the past that you are genuinely interested in hearing about. For example, if you know they are into sports, ask them who they think will win the big game coming up, which team they are routing for or if they watched the last game their favorite team played. Even if you don’t know anything about what someone is interested in, they will see the authenticity of your inquiry if you truly care what they have to say about it.
Put Down the Distractions
The latest rude trend, that I am particularly trying to overcome, is to be constantly checking a phone, iPod or whatever other kind of electronic device is in your hands. Instead of single tasking and focusing on the person talking to you or the group of people you are hanging out with, it is easy to get distracted. One way to keep your hands from fidgeting is to put them in your pockets or fold your arms.
Take out your headphones if you are listening to music when someone approaches so you can actually hear them speak. This is especially important if you are interacting with someone outside of generation Y because they are less likely to understand why you need to be texting your BFF 400 times that day.
Make a Call
In this day and age everyone is sending texts, tweets, pokes, wall posts and emails more than they are actually talking to people with their real voices. Don’t be afraid to pick up a phone or use Skype to call someone. This may seem like a little bit extra work, but realistically you can build a deeper friendship by talking this way than by sending 140 to 160 characters back and forth. Whenever I finish a long phone chat with a friend or family member we both say how great it was to just take the time and catch up with each other. How often do you feel that after you get a text message? Or after a mass “Happy Thanksgiving” text? Pick up the phone and call. People aren’t always busy like you might think they are.
For more tips on communicating effectively and building genuine relationships with the people you interact with read the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Another great read is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferazzi & Tahl Raz.
Do you get easily distracted when you talk to other people? Have any tips for how you connect with people on a more personal level when you communicate with them? Let me know in a comment below.