We talk to people all the time — but are we communicating well? If you’ve spoken to someone who seemed like they weren’t listening or constantly interrupted you, you know what it’s like to have a bad conversation partner.
The truth is, conversational skills are often overlooked in everything, from day-to-day chit-chat to professional business communications. We’re probably guilty of bad communication, too.
But with some practice, anyone can improve their conversations with other people, including coaches and clients. Our guide on how to practice conversation skills will help you navigate all sorts of dialogues with grace.
Why do conversation skills matter?
Our industry is full of relationships: coach-client, peer-to-peer, and manager-managee are just a few examples. We don’t want to sour these relationships with poor communication — in doing so, we stand to lose valuable connections and derail the success of our businesses. Everyone appreciates a good conversationalist, and having skills in this area will translate into better customer experiences and reduced miscommunication.
In the office, effective communication is a huge factor in creating a pleasant workplace culture. Whether we want to avoid awkward silences with our co-workers, make friends in the breakroom, or impress new clients, good conversation skills create opportunities for personal and professional growth.
How to be better at conversations
Being a better conversationalist starts with recognizing that communication is a two-way street. While the speaker in a conversation may seem like the more active partner, the listener should be just as hard at work. As coaches, we need to reciprocate communication and encourage our clients to feel comfortable reaching out to us.
Nonverbal communication is a crucial part of dialogue and can help with listening skills. When we’re listening in a face-to-face chat, we can demonstrate that we’re paying attention without interrupting by using attentive facial expressions, body language, and eye contact. A nod might show understanding or agreement while a frown can demonstrate empathy for a negative experience.
It also helps to remember that conversations are a give-and-take. Knowing when to speak and when to pause and give the other person a chance to respond takes practice. If you tend to be on the quieter side, experience will help you recognize entry points to hop into a conversation and opportunities to share your perspective.
6 actionable tips to develop your conversation skills
Now that we’ve covered the broad scope of improving our conversation skills, let’s look at some actionable tips to practice them. These vital skills include:
1. Practicing active listening. From small talk to large group discussion, active listening is a crucial skill to demonstrate to our conversation partners that we’re paying attention. It involves listening attentively to the speaker, taking the time to understand them, reflecting on what’s been said, and responding when necessary. It’s not enough to just smile and nod, either — use meaningful questions and empathetic responses to you really care.
2. Being mindful of nonverbal cues. Poor conversations happen when participants aren’t in tune with the other person’s thoughts and feelings. To have a truly meaningful conversation, both parties need to feel understood, and one great way to encourage this is by paying attention to nonverbal cues.
In face-to-face social situations, what’s being said is only half of the information we’re receiving — we can gain more insight by taking into account what our peers are saying with their body language, facial expressions, posture, and eye contact.
3. Being inclusive. The art of conversation involves a constant back and forth between two or more people — it’s a tough job, and takes a lot of attention to pull off. We must ensure there’s give and take and that everyone gets a turn to talk and respond.
To start, work on your self-awareness. Do you tend to dominate the conversation, or are we the listener who can’t get a word in? In both of these cases, look for opportunities to strike a better balance between speaking and listening. Be mindful of how you’re contributing to the conversation.
4. Choosing the right words. Skilled conversationalists understand that dialogues are constantly shifting and we must adapt to fit them. If we notice our partner seems upset by our words, for example, we might shift our tone and diction to ease their distress.
Factoring in the context of the conversation is also key. We should always consider who we’re speaking to — we speak very differently with our boss in a business setting than we do with our family members at home.
5. Being open-minded. : Being a great conversationalist requires a lot of practice, and we’ll no doubt encounter people we may disagree with. Everyone has different backgrounds and life experiences. However, conversations can help us consider new viewpoints — if we let them.
Rather than assuming we have all the answers, we should come into every conversation with curiosity and an open mind. When we give others the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to explain themselves, we may come away from a chat having learned something new.
6. Being approachable. Conversations can be a source of anxiety if they’re about serious subjects or with people we don’t know. The last thing we want to do is seem scary or intimidating to the person we want to engage. To avoid this, maintain a friendly, approachable demeanor and be mindful of how our body language comes off to other people. Crossed arms unintentionally signaling anger or disinterest, but relaxed shoulders suggest friendliness.
Even with all these tips, awkward things can often happen during conversations. Remember that we’re only human, and minor mistakes are part of daily life. As lifelong learners, the occasional misstep is inevitable — it’s how we deal with it that matters. When we’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take accountability, acknowledge it, and apologize. The more we practice recognizing and correcting missteps, the better we can avoid them in the future.
As coaches, we know that your clients value open lines of communication. Try Practice’s all-in-one client management system to improve your customer conversations today.