The Art of Conversation

Every conversation you have – in business, in your social life or at home – is an opportunity to make a good impression. A few simple rules can help ensure that the impression you leave is always a good one.

The basic principle is this:

When you make people feel good about themselves, then they’ll feel good about you.

Of course, any of the rules are easier said than done. Nobody becomes a great conversationalist overnight – it takes practice. Nevertheless, this is a skill that can open many doors, and is therefore one that is worth the effort to master.

By the way: if you know me and you notice how utterly bad I am at following these rules, please don’t be too hard on me! Thinking about these rules is a step I’m taking to helping me grow – not to b0ast about how great I am!

So, here are some of the rules:

Listen More Than You Talk

The greatest complement that you can pay someone is to listen to them. When you listen without weariness, it tells someone that they have something of value to say, and that they, in turn, are valued.

So, when you’re in conversation:

  • Don’t be distracted (e.g. by your phone)
  • Ask questions, but don’t interrogate
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Be patient
  • Mirror the body language of others

Listening is often confused with hearing. Hearing is a physical process whereby sound waves are transmitted through the ear, whereas listening is the psychological process whereby we impute meaning to what we hear.

Be Gracious

A gracious attitude shows respect for another person, and helps keep a conversation flowing.

  • Listen to people’s feelings as well as their thoughts
  • Be polite
  • Don’t swear
  • Avoid pedantry
  • Don’t point out other people’s grammatical or conversational mistakes

Speak Well of Others

If you speak well of people who are not present, your listeners will assume that you’ll speak well of them when they are not present. This builds trust, and makes for a pleasant atmosphere.

  • Don’t compare people, but speak of people’s individual merits
  • Avoid gossip
  • Don’t flatter, but give honest appreciation

Don’t Be a Bore

Nobody wants to converse with someone who is dull. That doesn’t mean that everything you say has to be stunningly imaginative or witty. Rather, it means that you don’t drone on about your own interests.

  • Have something to say and say it
  • Be brief, but avoid monosyllabic responses
  • Don’t talk about yourself or your own interests unless asked
  • Be serious or frivolous as befits the situation and the mood of your hearers
  • Don’t boast or name-drop
  • Don’t drone on about your exploits, your travels or your successes
  • Don’t patronise by offering advice or instruction unless asked
  • Choose a subject of interest to your hearers
  • Be modest
  • Don’t receive flattery, but accept an honest complement
  • Don’t act the buffoon

Be Clear

It is difficult to have a conversation with someone if you can’t understand what they’re trying to say!

  • Think before you speak
  • Use plain language, avoid technical terms, foreign terms or flowery terms
  • Speak clearly

Disagree Politely

You can’t agree with everyone, but how you disagree can make all the difference between ending a conversation on a sour note or a sweet one.

Conversation is not a competition.Kramii

  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Don’t defend an argument to the point of anger
  • Don’t pressure others to agree with you, and politely agree to differ
  • Don’t take taking sides in the arguments of others

Be Aware of Your Environment

Mastering the art of conversation isn’t just a matter of being aware of the person to whom you are talking, but involves an awareness of your environment as well. A good conversationalist will:

  • Avoid eavesdropping
  • Introduce other people to each other
  • Don’t quench the banter of others by being too serious…
  • …nor trivialise serious matters through excessive levity
  • Avoid talking too loudly, or making such raucous exclamations that you disturb your neighbours

Make Yourself Memorable

There is little value in making a good impression if people don’t know who you are. If you sense that people can’t remember your name, don’t call attention to the fact (remember the rule about being gracious) but instead politely remind people who you are by referring to yourself by name. If your name were Bob Bloggs, you could use phrases like, “and she said to me, ‘Bob…'”, or “and I said to myself, ‘Bob Bloggs…'”.


That’s a lot to remember. Fortunately, it call all be summed up by the golden rule:

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you.Matthew 7:12 NET Bible

The rest is just practice.


I found the following useful in the preparation of this article:

Image courtesy Rafael Marchesini via Stock.Xchng.

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