Networking and Career Advice

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Better Conversationalist

Marcie Wilmot

Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, and Business Owner


Have you ever stood awkwardly next to someone at a party because you didn’t know what to say to them? How about at a networking event or on a first date? You’re not alone if you’ve ever experienced this uncomfortable silence. Many people struggle to master the art of being a great conversationalist.

The good news is that, with some knowledge and practice, it is possible to improve your ability in this area. If you’ve ever wondered how to become a better conversationalist, you’ve come to the right place. This article will explain why knowing how to converse is beneficial both professionally and personally. Keep reading to discover how amazing conversationalists do it, what qualities they possess, and how you can personally develop this skill. 

How Being a Good Conversationalist Helps Both in Professional & Personal Life

how being a good conversationalist helps in the workplace. Group of coworkers sitting together during a break conversing

Being a good conversationalist will benefit you both professionally and personally. How? As an employee, communicating effectively will enable you to represent your company to outsiders and lead others. It will also give you an edge for that upcoming promotion and assist in building strong networks. (Don’t dismiss those conversations with colleagues and your boss by the water cooler! They matter.) 

As a job seeker, knowing your communication style, how to converse with an interviewer, and how to respond to recruiters can make or break you. Being a good conversationalist even seeps into your personal life. Understanding how to keep the interest of others during a conversation will help make friends faster and easier. Say goodbye to looking awkward at a party or on a date! Beyond that, being an adept conversationalist will allow you to share and gain information with others and express your feelings (better known as venting). 

Holding rich, meaningful, and natural conversations with others will inevitably translate into more fulfilling relationships. You’ll better understand other people’s perspectives, which will lead to stronger interpersonal bonds. 

What Do Good Conversationalists Know That You Don’t?

Some of us are exceptional conversationalists, while others are just average. Which begs the question: what do those people do differently than the rest of us? What do they know that you don’t? Let’s discuss this in more depth.

  • They genuinely listen. That’s right. Despite what many of us think, it’s not all about talking. Great conversationalists understand the need to listen to the other person. They don’t prepare their response in their mind as their counterparty talks. Instead, they avoid becoming distracted and pay close attention to what the other person is saying.
  • They don’t always talk about themselves. It can be tempting to respond to someone else’s story with an example of something similar that happened to you. But really, you shouldn’t feel the need to bring every conversation back to yourself and your experiences.
  • They talk about many different topics. One way to boost your conversation skills is to increase how much you read. Being knowledgeable about various topics and introducing them into your conversations will make things more interesting for the other person. This is especially the case if you bring up unexpected topics (like tying in a relevant current or scientific event during a business conversation, for example.)
  • They don’t act like a know-it-all. Great conversationalists don’t try to hide their confusion. So the next time you’re in a conversation and don’t understand something, ask for clarification. The person you’re talking to will likely enjoy providing more information. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll end up with a clear understanding of the topic.
  • They pay attention to nonverbal cues. Have you ever been in the company of someone oblivious to the fact that no one around them is interested in what they have to say? A skilled conversationalist reads the body language of others and adjusts their topics and tone in response. 

What Are The Qualities of a Good Conversationalist?

Those who have mastered the art of conversation share several of the same qualities. Being aware of these qualities will allow you to begin cultivating them in yourself. Let’s take a look.

  • They quickly build trust. Think of a successful salesperson. They’ll have built a rapport within minutes of meeting you. To accomplish this, they’ll have established a level of trust so you feel comfortable sharing information with them and expressing your genuine thoughts.
  • They speak clearly and concisely. Great conversationalists don’t try to impress others with big words or confusing jargon. On the contrary, they are forthright and to the point in a friendly and engaging manner.
  • They have a good sense of humor. Nothing livens a conversation up like a funny joke and some laughs! An exceptional conversationalist recognizes this but delivers the humor in the right amount and at the right time.
  • They actively listen to others. It’s fun to converse with people who are good listeners. They make you feel heard, respected, and understood.
  • They like to ask questions. A great conversation flows with a balanced give-and-take of questions and responses. Expert conversationalists ask many follow-up questions that show they’ve been listening and are interested in the topic at hand.
  • They’re respectful and polite. When was the last time you enjoyed a conversation with someone you found rude? Probably never! Proficient conversationalists are courteous to others. They pay attention, don’t interrupt, keep their cell phone and other gadgets away, and don’t talk too much about themselves.

How to Become a Good Conversationalist: 9 Tips That Work!

a white male conversing with an Asian woman for a podcast

You’re probably wondering how you can personally elevate your conversational skills. Luckily, this is an art that can be learned. All you need to do is commit to practicing, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more captivating conversationalist.

Tip #1: Show the other person you’re genuinely interested in them. 

You could spend all your time practicing speaking more clearly and being funny at all the right times. But a successful conversation comes down to your sincere interest in the other person. They will sense it and respond accordingly.

Tip #2: Shine a light on the positives in life. 

Don’t complain. Instead, talk about what you’re looking forward to and what excites you. People gravitate to those who see solutions instead of problems. Most people don’t want to chat with Debbie Downers. 

Tip #3: Speak highly of the other person. 

It’s always nice to highlight your conversation partner’s strengths, wins, and natural talents. Be honest, but don’t hold back on complimenting them.

Tip #4: Avoid arguing and debating. 

People generally don’t want to talk to someone they find combative and argumentative. Be open to the ideas and opinions of others. 

Tip #5: Try to keep the conversation equal. 

In other words, you should talk about half the time – not 80 or 90 percent. When someone dominates the conversation, it leaves the other person feeling like their thoughts don’t matter. A good conversation is a 50/50 give-and-take.

Tip #6: Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. 

Throughout the conversation, ask insightful questions to show that you’re listening to the other person. But avoid being aggressive with your line of questioning. Remember that you’re not interviewing or interrogating your conversation partner.

Tip #7: Don’t let yourself become distracted. 

You’ve probably experienced someone becoming distracted by their cell phone mid-conversation with you before. It doesn’t feel great when that happens, right? Avoid doing this to others. Remain focused on the other person and what they’re saying.

Tip #8: Share your honest opinions and thoughts. 

Conversations can get boring fast when no one shares anything genuine, different, or thought-provoking. Don’t try to be the same as everyone else. Give your actual opinions in a non-judgmental manner to move the conversation along and keep things interesting.

Tip #9: Find common ground and highlight it. 

Variety should be embraced, but it’s also good to identify commonalities and concentrate on them to build a quick rapport with others. This is especially the case when networking. Finding something you have in common with the other person will give you a reason to contact them again in the future. 

How to Get Better With Small Talk & Keep It Going

Not all of us love making small talk. In fact, you’ve probably heard people before say how much they hate it. But small talk about the weather, the big game, or someone’s new haircut can lead to more exciting conversations. And it’s almost always preferable to overthinking about the awkward silence that everyone is too afraid to break. So how can you improve your ability to make small talk? And how can you help ensure that these somewhat silly discussions turn into more meaningful ones?

Say you’re at a wedding reception and don’t know anyone at your table. This would be an excellent opportunity to ask the person next to you how they know the bride and groom. Get the ball rolling by finding a commonality between the two of you. Similarly, if you’re standing at a ballfield watching your kid play, you might strike up a conversation with someone else by remarking on how awesome the pitcher is throwing that day. Or you might comment on how hot the weather has been and how you’re looking forward to swimming later that day.

Other popular small talk topics include:

  • Vacations – “Are you planning to go on vacation this summer? Where? Oh, I visited that place once before too….”
  • Hobbies and passions – “What do you like to do outside work? Are you into mountain biking like me?”
  • Career – “What do you do for a living? Do you like it? What’s your schedule like?”
  • Kids – “How many children do you have? How old are they? What grades are they in?”
  • Weather – “Man, it’s freezing outside today. Do you know when the weather is supposed to get warmer?”
  • Current location or venue – “My cousin had her wedding here too. Isn’t it such a nice place? Have you ever been here before?”
  • Movies – “Have you seen that blockbuster that came out last weekend? Was it any good? Who were the big actors in it?”
  • Restaurants and food – “I visited my favorite restaurant a few nights ago. Have you eaten there before? What’s your favorite kind of food?”
  • Sports – “Did you watch the big game last night? Man, what a nail-biter! Who did you root for? Did you see that play by so-and-so?”

You can also initiate a conversation with a generic question like “What are your plans for the weekend?”

As you can see, there are many ways to start a conversation. It might seem intimidating, but most people are receptive when approached. And once you strike the right chord (like a shared interest), pushing the conversation forward is easy. All you need to do is actively listen to the other person and ask occasional thoughtful follow-up questions.

Once an authentic connection has been established, the conversation will naturally flow. 

Assess the Quality of Your Conversation With These Questions to Know What’s Wrong

As you practice the skills you’ve learned from this article, it’s a good idea to occasionally assess how you’re doing. You can do this mid-conversation without anyone being aware. Mentally ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is this conversation shallow or deep? If you’re gossiping about someone else, chances are good that your conversation isn’t at the level you want it to be. If you’re sharing fascinating ideas and insights, personal stories, dreams, or successes and challenges, you’re likely engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation.
  2. Am I being courteous? Are you giving the other person the opportunity to speak approximately half the time? Are you actively listening to their thoughts and opinions? Are you being respectful and open-minded?
  3. Am I making everything all about me? We all tend to want to talk about ourselves. Are you keeping this tendency in check? Are you allowing your conversational partner to share their experiences without interjecting with your own?
  4. Am I focused and actively listening? If you are distracted or thinking about what you want to say while the other person is talking, you might be off base here. Recalibrate by re-concentrating on the person in front of you and truly hearing what they have to say.
  5. Am I asking thoughtful questions? Remember to ask questions to clarify any confusion and to obtain more information. Your follow-up questions will show the other person that you’re listening to them and want to know more.

These questions will help you pinpoint the areas where you can still improve your conversation skills. Checking in with yourself throughout conversations to gauge how you’re doing is always a good idea. 

Can You Be a Good Conversationalist If You’re Shy By Nature?

Of course! Without a doubt, it is possible for anyone to be a great conversationalist, even if you’re shy or introverted. It might just take you a bit more practice than someone who is a natural social butterfly. Consider the following tips:

  • Signal to others that you’re friendly. Sometimes quietness can be misconstrued as being distant or cold. Show others you’re nice by smiling, making eye contact, nodding, and expressing interest in them. This will make them more apt to approach you, which is half the battle!
  • Uncover mutual interests using small talk. You might not love small talk, but this is an excellent way to find out if you want to talk on a deeper level with this person. To become comfortable doing this, practice with friends and family. Then move your way up to chatting with coworkers and acquaintances.
  • Approach other shy individuals and engage in one-on-one conversations. There’s no need to feel like you need to compete with a lot of extroverted and loud folks in a big group. Find someone who is standing alone and strike up a conversation with them. This might be more your speed anyway!

Key Takeaways

Sometimes it can seem like some people are born with a natural talent for gab while others are lacking in that department. The truth is that being a good conversationalist comes down to knowledge and practice. Awareness of the tips and qualities mentioned above is the first step toward improving your ability to strike up and engage in interesting conversations with others. The second is to put them into practice. Believe in yourself because you can do it!

1 Comment

  1. This article was very beneficial to me who is an introverted person. Good insights on how to be an effective conversationalist were provided in a systematic fashion. Thank you!

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