The Art of Engaging in Conversation

In today’s world of smart phones, text messaging, emails and social media, many young people seem to have lost the ability to simply engage in conversation. This can be about conversations at home with family members, relatives and friends. It can also be about conversations in the office, club, association, temple and gym with colleagues, associates and business partners. This is a sad but nevertheless grim reality.

Some individuals are also painfully shy and awkward about interacting in social settings. These people fear having to attend cocktails, tea receptions, opening ceremonies and parties. When they are asked why they do not feel comfortable about attending these social events, they confess that it is because they do not know people there! But then again, that is precisely one of the reasons why one should attend such events.

Overcoming Shyness

One of the key reasons for attending such events is to seize those excellent networking opportunities. One gets to meet new and hopefully helpful contacts from a wide cross section of the industry and in the process, exchange calling cards. These meetings can prove useful when next you need to meet someone in that organisation. Over a period of time, one will get pretty used to these sorts of events and may even look forward happily to attending such events.

Occasionally painfully shy individuals who do not make eye contact and who fail to socialise are mistakenly seen as proud and anti-social. It is, therefore, necessary for today’s executive to learn and master the art of striking up a conversation with ease and confidence when he is placed in such a situation.

Lost in their own world  

The other day, when my wife and I were dining in a prominent restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, we noticed a strange and disturbing scene. At another table next to us was a family of four. While waiting for the waiter to take their orders, the father was talking loudly on his mobile phone, the mother was texting away, the daughter was reading her text messages and the son was listening to music from his ipod! This was a bizarre scene. Instead of a lively and interesting family conversation, each was too absorbed in his or her own world. Family time together, especially at meals, should be about sharing information about each other’s life and happenings during the week.

There is, therefore, a real need to re-discover the joy, satisfaction and art of conversation.

Here are some useful tips :

Starting A Conversation

First, make the effort to introduce yourself to newcomers at an event. For example, say: I am Jack Chin and not I am Mr Jack Chin. I have come across so many people who mistakenly address themselves as Mr. It is for the other party to call you Mr. or if you prefer, just simply Jack.

Next, do ask a few questions and show some general interest in that person. Try to be spontaneous. If possible, keep the conversation positive and complimentary. Try to spread some good cheer. It becomes contagious. Nobody, especially in social situations, wishes to keep company with a person who is full of woes, problems and negativity.

 Imagine you are an old friend. What sort of questions would you ask your old friend?

 Keep The Conversation Going

Make an effort to listen attentively. Don’t get distracted when conversing with a person. It is just plain rudeness. Remember to put your hand phone on silent mode and do not answer it. Many people, even professionals and individuals with higher education, act rudely and inappropriately without even realising it!

When mentioning a topic, highlight mutual interest and experiences. Do please move beyond a mere ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the conversation.

Where appropriate, fill in the blanks…for example: that must have been a hectic trip; or that is quite hilarious. Try to inject positive observations during the conversation. Positive comments and attitudes are the glue that keep conversations interesting and enjoyable.

When possible bring others into the conversation. Use body language to good advantage…smile, nod occasionally etc. Do not touch on sensitive subjects i.e. religion, politics and race. And do not make sarcastic or toxic comments.

Bring Conversation To An End

Use a polite cue: It was a pleasure talking to you or it was good to have met you. Shake his / her hand and say ‘ goodbye ’ if he or she does not take the polite cue. Then move on.

Do’s Of Conversations

Try to listen more than you talk. Do not try to dominate the conversation. Come prepared with a few topics. Remember to tailor the conversation to the listener: student, housewife, professional or retiree.

Take your turn during the conversation. Think before you speak especially when meeting people for the first time.

What Not To Do

Do not interrupt when someone is speaking. Do not only speak to one person in the group. It may send the wrong message. Do not seek to boast or share too much personal information. And do not bore the person.

Never ever pass comments of a personal nature, for example commenting on a person’s colour or facial features. If you do so, it shows your lack of social decorum and insensitivity.

No one becomes a great conversationalist overnight. You must work at it diligently. Seize opportunities to improve your ability to converse in an interesting manner. Obtain honest feedback on your style and progress from trusted friends and mentors. Use the information wisely to modify your style. Over time, you will learn to enjoy the process and the many benefits that flow from it.


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