“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. If you listen, you may learn something new.”
Dalai Lama XIV
The key to better conversations has everything to do with you and also very little to do with you.
In order to have better conversations you need to be interesting, and in order to become more interesting, you need to…
Yep, that’s it.
It’s pretty simple, in order to be interesting, you need to have knowledge.
Without knowledge, what ever will you talk about?
And while our travels, books and hobbies give us plenty of knowledge, one of the best sources for new knowledge is other people.
My dad once told me a story about a close family friend. This friend was a doctor who was well respected in the community who was a fantastic conversationalist. There never seemed to be a conversation or a topic that he didn’t know something about or that he couldn’t contribute to.
My dad once asked this man how he knew so much about so much. The doctor replied that he asked a lot of questions and listened to other people.
If you are looking to learn, one of the easiest places to start is by taking a greater interest in the people you meet on a daily basis. Listen to other people’s stories. Ask follow-up questions. Take a general interest in what they have to say. Almost every person you meet has some piece of knowledge that they can share with you. The smarter a person is, the more questions you should ask and the more knowledge you should be seeking.
The cherry on top of the sundae is that by listening to other people, you’ll be giving them a chance to do one of their favorite things….
The most interesting story to any one person is their own. By taking the time to listen, whoever you are listening to will find you more interesting solely because you are giving them an outlet to talk about their life and their opinions.
The rise of hand-held technology and social media has put attention at an all-time premium. It is harder than ever to get a person to sit and listen to a story that lasts longer than a minute. If you can learn to take an interest in other people and to share your attention with them, your attention will make you appear exotic and cultured. You will appear so much more engaging than the other people who ignore them or never let them get a word in. People will flock to you like moths to a flame.
I should warn you that this strategy has a tendency to work too well. There is a “waiting to speak” epidemic spreading worldwide. So few people have outlets for their feelings and thoughts and emotions that they can tend to word vomit on anyone that will lend them an ear.
I have had this happen to me often.
When you get a conversation clinger, it is important to remember two things:
1) Be the listener you want to hear. Even if it is drag, know that your interest in this other person might make their night. Be as patient as you can.
2) Remember you can always excuse yourself from the conversation. It is not rude to do so. You do not even need provide a reason. You can merely say “I am sorry to stop you, but can you excuse me for a moment?” Move while you say this so that the person understands you were not asking for permission and that your decision has already been made.
3) Listening is a skill. It needs to be practiced and cultivated. You cannot just turn it on and turn it off whenever you please. Even the most boring of the bores will provide you with a chance to practice listening. If you can learn to focus on boring people, it will be that much easier to listen to people who interest you. This much needed practice will come in handy once you encounter a person who you really would like to impress.
A lot of people think that doing more for yourself so that you have more to talk about is the key to being cool. They forget to consider the other person. They forget that “interesting” is a subjective opinion and that being classified as “interesting” depends on the opinion of who we are speaking with. They forget that for whomever we speak with, the most interesting thing in the whole wide world is their story. We need to let them tell it.
So that’s it.
To have better conversations, you need to be more interesting. To be more interesting, you need to be interested in other people.
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