All great conversationalists understand the meaning behind these famous words by the writer and poet, Maya Angelou,
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
When most people think of great conversations, they think of the best lines and how to make everyone laugh. But this only makes the conversation about you.
You have to be selfless to be a good conversationalist. This is why it’s difficult, if not impossible for a narcissist to be a conversationalist, even if most of them know how to talk.
Being a good talker doesn’t make you fun to be with. In fact, if you don’t have yourself under control, it becomes a huge disadvantage after the first five minutes of someone meeting you.
As Robert Greene explained in his book Mastery, “You must see each person as an undiscovered country that you’ll carefully explore.” That said, here are five things every engaging conversationalist understands.
1. They don’t mind losing arguments to win hearts
As Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People,
“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”
What Dale is saying here doesn’t just involve two people literally arguing two opposing ideas. It refers to every subtle attempt you take to impose your ideas or make people feel insecure and inadequate about theirs.
When we’re having a conversation, we have a knee-jerk reaction to oppose things we don’t agree with. We quickly jump in — especially when we think we’re on the right — and assert our political views on those who believe differently, thinking we’re being smart. This is a sure way to not have friendly conversations.
As Arthur Schopenheur wisely said in his Counsels and Maxims,
“A man is loved by others mainly to the degree in which he moderates his claim on their good feeling and intelligence.”
Just like you instinctively want to defend your values, people also instinctively want to defend their intelligence. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, people don’t like being made to feel inadequate.
Even if you have to correct someone, what you want to do isn’t to outrightly prove them wrong. Make suggestions in a respectful and flattering way. This will make them see reasons with you, instead of attacking you.
2. They highlight similarities
We are innately drawn to people who are familiar to us.
Some tribes in Africa will even go as far as saying they will only get married to people from their tribe. This is because familiarity makes us feel comfortable.
Psychologists call this “The familiarity principle of attraction.” It means the more we get familiar with someone, the more open we are to them, and consequently, the more we like them.
Instead of arguing or trying to win arguments, you can spare your conversations the tension by simply highlighting similarities. Learn to let go of the things you don’t agree with and simply emphasize the things you both have in common.
According to Vanessa Van Edwards, one of the best ways we can tell that you’ve hit on something that interests someone is the eyebrow raise.
When people hear something interesting or surprising, they raise their eyebrows. That’s your cue to dig deeper.
Interesting: 9 Signs Someone Secretly Admires You
3. They use their beautiful mess
In 2018, a group of researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany looked at six studies in their attempt to understand the impact of vulnerability in social interactions.
Here’s the interesting conclusion of their findings: When people imagine themselves in vulnerable positions like apologizing, making a mistake, or making a joke about themselves, they tend to believe that those situations made them appear weaker.
However, when other people imagine us in those situations of vulnerability, they tend to see us as good, sincere, and even more desirable.
This idea of vulnerability being beautiful and powerful was first popularized by Dr. Brené Brown in her TEDx talk and her research.
So what does this have to do with conversations?
Most people shoot themselves in the foot trying to uphold a perfect image in social interactions. They can’t relax, laugh at themselves, or stop thinking about a joke they said that didn’t go so well.
Here’s what they don’t understand: Your vulnerabilities rarely make you less desirable. Think about it. You’ve probably come across people who don’t take themselves seriously all the time. They’re the best to be around.
What makes you less desirable isn’t your vulnerabilities, it’s how you treat those vulnerabilities.
Your vulnerabilities only become inadequacies when you treat them like something you’re ashamed of. Learn to laugh at yourself. Tell people jokes about when you said something stupid in class and watch how freer people will be around you.
4. They don’t interject with their experiences
You’re in a conversation and you just shared sad news about the passing of someone close to you when you were little, but the person you’re discussing with couldn’t spare a few seconds to console you and ask you how you were able to cope.
Instead, they quickly make a big reveal about someone they lost as well. This is called interjection.
In our attempt to be engaging and empathetic, we often end up interjecting people’s experiences with our own. When they reveal a big win, for instance, we also feel the urge to say something remarkable we achieved during the week.
This habit can be instinctive, but if done multiple times in a conversation, it can make you miss huge opportunities to create a rapport with someone.
Good conversationalists understand that someone sharing great news isn’t their cue to share great news of their own as well.
Instead, they listen and dig deeper into that accomplishment. And the more the other person is allowed to talk about something important to them — whether tragic or fortunate — the better they’re going to feel about the conversation afterward.
5. They understand what it means to be charming
The difference between charming and good-looking people is that charming people notice you, not the other way around. And the best conversationalists understand the difference.
A great conversationalist is simply someone who knows how to make people feel good in their presence, and you don’t need to be a good talker to do this well. You simply need to know how to put the spotlight on others — this is what every point in this article aims towards.
If you take a conversation as self-promotion, you become a performer, anxious about meeting up and impressing everyone. Learn to be the mature person who gives the spotlight to others. This doesn’t just make you less anxious, it also makes you a better conversationalist.
Also read: 5 Signs Someone Is Solidly Authentic