We all want to think we’re better at conversing than most people, but many of us fall prey to common mistakes and have room for improvement.
The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to improve. Being a good conversationalist isn’t a magical gift that some are born with, but something that relies mainly on skills you can acquire and develop.
Here are nine of the most dreadful conversational mistakes, plus effective ways to improve upon them.
1. Speaking But Not Really Listening
Most of us have heard before that one of the most important facets of good conversation is being a good listener, but it’s more than just listening to the other person talk. You need to know how to listen and respond in a way that demonstrates you’re contributing to the conversation.
One way to improve is by active listening. Ask questions based on what you hear. Really listen and be interested in what others are saying. Make relating statements. Make comments that show you’re paying attention, repeat back key sections, and ask questions that move the discussion forward. If it helps, pretend there’s going to be a quiz.
2. Asking Too Many Distracting Questions
A whole list of questions, even if they originate in genuine interest and enthusiasm, can sometimes come across as an interrogation. Improve your conversation by pausing, listening, and allowing the other person to speak and express him or herself. Ask questions that are based on what’s being said, relevant, and unobtrusive.
3. Rambling On and On With No End in Sight
Often an indication of nervousness, rambling makes it hard to get your point across. When you ramble, people are likely to simply tune out. Instead, be concise to have the most impact in what you’re trying to convey. Practice beforehand about what you might want to speak about. Being prepared will give you the confidence you need to be better at expressing yourself.
4. Inducing an Argument
Don’t dominate a conversation by only expressing your opinion and wanting to be right—that’s more of a monologue than a dialogue. Accept the fact that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. You don’t need to force others into agreeing with you—they’ll likely choose to walk away from you instead. Stay humble and truly listen to the other person’s points of view.
5. Acting Confident But Lacking Confidence
A lack of confidence can often come across in conversation as disingeniousness. Make sure you go in with genuine confidence (a.k.a., be prepared) to feel good about what you’re expressing.
6. Dominating the Conversation
Everyone hates it when one person dominates a conversation, but it’s incredibly hard to realize when you’re doing it in the moment. If you want to have influence and make friends, take an interest in others and what they have to say. Check yourself mid-conversation so you don’t end up talking the whole time.
7. Endlessly Interrupting
One of the worst things you can do in conversation is fail to let someone else finish what he or she has to say before voicing your opinions. When you let your conversational partners finish speaking, especially in cases of disagreement, it tells them that you’re courteous enough to listen to other points of view.
8. Sounding Like a Perennial Expert
If you’re the expert in every topic, then most people will feel they have nothing to contribute. Instead, work to know a little about many things—or, at least to be open to talk about them, rather than trying to steer the conversation back to your favorite subject.
9. Speaking Too Fast
When you get excited or nervous, or if you have a lot to say, the words may naturally come in a constant stream. But to the listener, it sounds too fast and incoherent. Speak slowly and make time to think about your choice of words—and use pauses to add impact to your sentences.
If you have some or all of these dreadful conversation habits, there is a way to fix them so that you can still have an impact, make a difference, and succeed in all your conversations.
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Photo of people talking courtesy of Jetta Productions/Getty Images.