It is always good to start a conversation with small talk as it is easy going, light hearted and casual about everyday occurrences. To start the conversation, you can talk about the situation, the other person or yourself. And the way to begin is to ask a question, give an opinion or state a fact.
Never use negative openers or criticisms to start. When starting, show interest and involve the other person. Pick up on new information mentioned and ask more questions to show that you are genuinely interested. Do stay current on world events, books, films and others. Keep the questions general and do not ask anything personal.
Do try to include everyone in the group by asking different people questions about their opinions. Avoid using inappropriate language or bringing up money related topics, but instead talk about mutual interests. Try not to ask close-ended questions that elict “yes” or “no” answers as this can lead to uncomfortable pauses or it ends the conversation if you are unable to think of other questions to follow up. Do not pretend to know more than you do but use this opportunity to ask questions and stimulate further discussion.
Be sensitive to the signals sent out by others and be aware if you are boring them or are touching on a subject that is sensitive or taboo. When it is necessary to change the subject, do so tactfully. Recognise when talking business is or is not appropriate.
People get to know our feelings from the sound of our voice and our way of saying things, thus we must learn to project good voice quality. Our voice communicates our emotional state, the kind of persons we are, our feelings or our mood. By using our voice tone, we can project enthusiasm, confidence, honesty, helpfulness and professionalism.
Having good posture helps to control breathing. Allow your voice to be natural sounding instead of being mechanical or sounding forced. The pitch should neither be too high nor too low and varied to prevent monotony. When the volume of your voice it is too loud, it may drive others away, but when it is too soft, you may not be able to command authority or credibility. If you speak too quickly, many will not understand you, and when you speak too slowly, your listeners may switch off. A good rate is between 140 – 160 words per minute. Pauses are good as they give emphasis to certain points. But constant pausing frustrates the listener as it seems you are not sure of what you want to say. Learn to pace out your words.
Be a good listener as it is more important than what you may say. Show you are listening by looking at the person who is speaking. Do not get distracted. Listen to the speaker’s words and interpret them and ask the speaker to repeat if you are not sure. Listening quietly on your part also makes the speaker feel calm, relaxed and encouraged to share feelings openly and it keeps the conversation going.
As a listener, listen out for the main or key points. If you are unsure, it is always best to ask questions to clarify than to assume you understand. If you have to take notes, always ask permission of the speaker. Remember, taking notes may be inappropriate in certain situations.
When you have heard what the person has said, do not keep re-phrasing every sentence or parroting it. It is also quite common for some people to ignore the feelings of the speaker and make insensitive comments after hearing what the speaker has said. Try to avoid listening too far ahead and making assumptions about what the speaker actually means or finishing the statements for the speaker.
If the person gets easily distracted, ask the person if they are free to talk or to let them know how long you may take. If the person has short attention span, keep things short and specific. As our backgrounds are all very different, the way we interpret meanings of words and messages will differ from person to person. Do try to avoid using unfamiliar words or dialect which others may not understand as this can affect their understanding.
To be a better listener, use your eyes, ears and mind. Always concentrate and focus on the speaker and put aside whatever you may be doing. Try to understand the rationale behind what is being said and just decide to listen!