Good conversation is one of life’s underrated joys. How can we have more of them? Here are three research-backed suggestions from psychologists to help you improve your conversation skills.
#1. Become a better listener
Being a good listener to be a good conversationalist seems like a no-brainer. But is there a clear path to improving your listening skills?
Psychologists suggest that there is – and it has to do with cultivating more humility.
Specifically, work on building interpersonal humility by:
- Recognizing the strengths and contributions of others
- Open to feedback and constructive criticism
- And, remaining oriented to the needs of others
Bad listening, according to psychologist Michal Lehmann, can negatively affect the quality of the relationships one builds with others.
“Not listening to our friends or significant others means we know less about their lives and participate less, affecting the quality of those relationships,” she says.
To be a good listener, Lehmann also urges you not to be afraid of silence.
“People are often afraid or embarrassed by moments of silence during conversations,” he says. “Silent moments are essential to building a good conversation. Allow yourself to be silent so that the other person can speak.”
#2. Keep the ball rolling
“People are often reluctant to spend significant time talking because they worry that they will run out of things to talk about and that their conversation will become boring or awkward as a result,” says Dr. Michael Kardas. a researcher at Northwestern University.
A study conducted by Kardas required pairs of strangers to talk to each other. The researchers monitored the conversations and even stopped them every few minutes to assess their situation.
“After the first few minutes of the conversation, people tended to report that they were having fun, but also reported that they thought they would run out of things to talk about as the conversation continued and that the conversation would become less enjoyable,” Kardas said. .
But when the participants were prompted to continue their conversation, they found more material to talk about and enjoyed the rest of the dialogue much more than they expected.
Kardas concluded that people are too quick to pull the plug on a good conversation—wrongly thinking that conversations lasting more than a few minutes are considered boring by their partner.
“The longer a conversation goes on, the better people get to know each other, and the more meaningful those conversations tend to become,” he says. “What these findings suggest is that people might spend more time in conversations than usual because they are not likely to run out of things to say or get bored of the conversation as quickly as they think.”
#3. Get exposed to art
Psychologist Katherine Cotter swears by the positive effects that exposure to art can have on your psychological well-being. In addition to improving our quality of life and reducing stress and cortisol levels, art museums can help us find and build community.
“Art museums are a place where people can feel connected and less isolated, and can be used as a way of building community,” he says. “As many nations talk about an epidemic of loneliness, visiting an art museum can be a way to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
According to Cotter, there are two ways the art exhibit can lead to better conversations:
- We can experience something called the “museum effect” when we visit an art museum. When we enter a museum we are able to enter a state of heightened contemplation that allows us to reflect on ourselves, the communities we belong to and society at large. This state automatically prepares us for deeper and more meaningful conversations.
- Art museums are unique spaces that, for most of us, we are not going to visit very often. When we have the opportunity to visit a museum, it is very easy to feel transported and put aside our everyday worries and just be present in this experience. We may lose track of time or find ourselves engrossed in a particular task during our visit. This can help us shed our insecurities and continue a conversation instead of cutting it short for fear of running out of things to talk about.
Conclusion: Good conversations are primarily about achieving a healthy balance between give and take. Thinking you have to either run the show or be a perpetual listener can lead to unfulfilling conversations. Perhaps the best advice is to take a deep breath, don’t overthink it, and dive in!