Conversation Skills


The Art of Meeting and Greeting People


Lesson Info

Conversation Skills

How do you proceed? How do you proceed with the conversation that follows that well-made introduction whether it's a self-introduction or whether you've introduced two people to each other, or you've just been introduced to someone else? Conversation's one of my favorite things to teach. I think conversation skills begin with something that people don't always think about which is active listening. It's the first role that you're gonna play in many conversations when there's just two people talking, you get to talk 50% of the time. When there's three people you only get to talk 33% of the time. By the time you're up to five people your share of that conversation pie has gotten quite small. You're probably gonna be listening something like 80% of the time. That's gonna be the vast majority of your participation in a conversation that's happening with four other people. So what does it look like? What does active participation in a conversation where you're listening look like? Well, the...

first thing it looks like is it looks like something. Those non-verbal cues are important. It's the eye contact, the nodding but it's also your posture, that you're present. Not rigidly at attention but present. Once you've given the non-verbal cue that you're listening what comes next? Well, you can repeat back what you've heard. You can let someone know that they've been heard by just reflecting back to them exactly what they just said. Are you telling me if I repeat back to someone exactly what they've just said they'll know they've been heard? Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you. You can show interest by asking a follow-up question. These are the ideas that most people have in their mind about what active listening looks like and feels like. I'm present, I'm nodding, I'm engaged, I'm repeating back, I'm asking follow-up questions. My final tip, this is the advanced work. This is the C-suite level, this is the conversation expert territory, keep it up. Notice the moment you've checked out. Pay attention to the conversation that you're in and pay attention to the moment where you've decided you know what it is you wanna say next. Challenge yourself, don't say it. Don't say the thing that you wanna contribute, that's the moment when you challenge yourself to go back to listening and start at the top. That's the moment to reengage with the non-verbal cue, think about repeating back to someone, think about asking a different follow-up question about the thing that they're talking about now that you've reengaged with active listening. The art of good conversation is not saying everything that pops into your mind. Show some restraint, show some control. Show some sophistication. Remember the thing that you didn't say and bring it up over an hour later. You know, earlier you were talking about X, Y or Z and it made me think about A, B and C but I didn't have a chance to ask it then. I was really curious about A, B or C. What are your thoughts? If it was really so brilliant, hold on to it. Use it as an opportunity to extend that conversation, to return to that conversation, to reengage a person. Active listening. It's so dangerous but I'm gonna mention it right now. Non-verbal cues. (yawns) It's almost impossible when someone yawns to not feel the need to yawn yourself. That's what tells me it's social behavior. It's not just about oxygenating, it's not about stretching, it's not involuntary. We all learn to control other involuntary bodily functions. Learn to control yawns, do your best, learn to control your use of a cellphone. Believe it or not it's an involuntary bodily function for many people. You can do all of these things well. The second you do one of those other things you've now negated all your good work. Let's talk a little bit about what you do say when it is your opportunity to talk and you do decide to participate. I like to think of a good conversation as being divided up into three tiers. Tier one is safe territory. It's things you can talk about anytime, anywhere with anybody. The obvious safe tier one territory topics of conversation are the weather, sports, local celebrities, pop culture. It doesn't need to be boring. Other safe topics for polite conversation include opera and particle physics. Interests, hobbies, your favorite podcast. Philosophy. Be interested, it will make you a more interesting person cultivate a curiosity about the world that you live in. I like to populate these presentations with things my mother told me. She said, "Don't ever told me you're bored, "that's like saying you're boring." No one else is responsible for your attention but you. Engage. Ask someone an intelligent question. An intelligent question didn't occur to me, listen better. Tier two, potentially controversial. My mother used to call these NTT, not table talk. You didn't have these conversations in polite company. Religion, politics, dating or your love life. Our civil society would stop functioning, our spiritual cells would atrophy. None of us would ever find romance or love if we never had these conversations. It's not that you're not allowed to have them it's that you proceed with care in terms of how you do have them. So what does that look like? What does that careful conversation in tier two territory look like? The price of admission is a willingness to listen. A willingness to listen to someone else who sees things very differently than you see them. That's what makes these tier two topics. They are topics that people feel very strongly about and have very different opinions about. That's why we proceed with caution. So if you're gonna have these conversations and they're important conversations to have. A willingness to listen is critically important. A willingness to read and react to cues the other person is giving you. You might feel really comfortable, in fact you might be inspired to talk about this particular subject, topic. They might not be. Don't wade in too deep too quickly. Look for cues, look for a willingness to participate. If someone's not willing to participate be willing to back away, steer back into tier one. If the other person doesn't proceed as respectfully as you would like to, if it becomes argumentative or difficult or contentious, the other price of admission is a willingness to see the last word, it's almost impossible to argue if someone won't argue back. Tier three. It's the most personal, the most intimate, family and finance. Be really careful with tier three conversations. Really careful. Don't ask a probing or personal question about a tier three topic unless someone has opened the door and invited the conversation. I notice you're not drinking, are you pregnant? Really bad idea, in fact one of the worst etiquette mistakes people make and they make it all the time. Some people might love talking about their kids, some people might really be tired of that conversation. Someone might find that conversation painful or difficult, you just don't know. If you're sitting in their office, they tell you they're going to pick up their kid at Little League, there's pictures of the team all over the wall. Guess what, the door has been opened, have that conversation. Absent those other cues, those invitations, don't ask the question. Question. So, I guess for the finance one. Is that more like personal finance, like how are you doing monetarily? Say if you wanted to talk about like money conceptually is that more of like a number two risky? I like this you know, but I'm calling money as a concept tier two. The place where tier three starts to pop up is what do you do for a living? A really common question in America, in Europe it's a considered a boring question to ask someone and kind of inappropriate because it kind of treads into tier three. In America it's a pretty common way to talk to someone. We're all curious about each other's professions. It's one of the ways we like to categorize and sort people. I like to encourage audiences to think about other things to talk about. I'm not gonna say it's rude to have that discussion but just be careful with how you do it. I think of it more as personal finance, you don't wanna get too specific. You might love talking about the place you just bought. Someone might have just gone through a difficult foreclosure, you just don't know. You just don't know. I like to use this framework for thinking about what it's okay to talk about online. Tier one, you're in great shape. Tier two, you're having a hard time probably assessing other people's reactions or responses so keep it positive, keep it light. Tier three just avoid it. Even if you're comfortable talking about it, it says things about your discretion. Obviously there are always exceptions to the rule but I think that's a good framework to operate in thinking about a conversational medium, a medium where you're exchanging information. I find this framework really useful for thinking about conversation. If you're ever wondering to yourself, should I bring this up? Is this an appropriate thing to ask? Remember the three tiers. If you never ask yourself if this is appropriate to bring it up before you say it, go back to that active listening slide and notice that moment you decide what you're gonna say next and start to evaluate that moment, and participate in it with some intelligence. Controversial topics is a little reminder about those tier two conversations. I think it's really important to approach those conversations well. They're important for us to have and they're important for us to be able to have. I can't overestimate that willingness to listen. It's not likely you're gonna convince someone or change someone's mind by sharing with them a fact, a statistic, a piece of information. Most people don't change their faith tradition or their political alignment based on a new piece of knowledge that is presented in conversation. You might build a bridge with someone, you might start to build some accord with someone by showing that someone who has a very different opinion is willing to engage and participate in a respectful way. Sometimes in business people test each other with these conversations. Your ability to navigate that test and participate in it well is another way that you show your facility as an intelligent interlocutor. You can always ask someone where their opinion came from. You can ask them about their position if you're not comfortable talking about your own and then go back to those active listening skills. If they press you, you can always tell them how you feel clearly without questioning their intelligence, their integrity. Or you can tell them that you're not comfortable talking about it.

Class Description

A first impression can make or break a relationship. If you come off as awkward, rude or silly when you meet someone, that could spoil the connection forever. But if you appear kind, confident and witty, you’ll have the person in the palm of your hand.

This course tackles the ins and outs of introductions, first impressions, and initial conversations, so you can walk into potentially difficult situations feeling confident, knowing how to act and never at a loss for words.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Introduce yourself and others gracefully.
  • Extend and build on introductions.
  • Know what to say and what not to say in conversations.
  • Listen to people so they know they’re being heard.
  • Shake hands properly in the era of hugs and fist bumps.
  • Handle a situation where you don’t know or forget someone’s name.
  • Make conversation that’s safe but interesting.
  • Manage potentially controversial topics like politics and religion.
  • Discuss personal topics that require the most care and tact.