The secret of becoming a great conversationalist lies in being a great listener. Listening builds trust and belief between you and your conversation partner, and increases their self-esteem. Listening also develops discipline in yourself because while your mind can process words at 500-600 words per minute, we can only talk at about 150 words per minute. Therefore, it takes a real effort to keep your attention focused on another person’s words. If you’ve ever found your mind wandering while conversing with someone, this is likely the reason. The more you work at paying close attention to what the other person is saying, however, the more self-disciplined you will become.
Dale Carnegie Training lists several other more subtle things we can employ when conversing with someone that will demonstrate our sincere interest in what the person is saying:
Pause for Effect — One key to becoming a great conversationalist is to pause before replying. A short pause, of three to five seconds, accomplishes three goals: First, you avoid running the risk of interrupting if the other person is not quite finished with his thought or just catching his or her breath. Second, you show the other person that you are carefully considering his or her words before jumping in with your own comments. The third benefit of pausing is that you will actually hear the other person better, and understand what he or she is saying with greater clarity.
Ask Questions — Never assume that you understand what the person is saying or trying to say. If you need clarification, simply ask, “How do you mean, exactly?” This is a powerful question for controlling a conversation. When you pose that question the other person is bound to answer more extensively. You can then follow up with other questions and keep the conversation going.
Paraphrase the Speaker’s Words — The third way to become a great conversationalist is to paraphrase the speaker’s words in your own words. After you’ve nodded and smiled, you can then say, “Let me see if I understand correctly. What you’re saying is…”
Demonstrate Attentiveness — By pausing for effect, asking questions, and paraphrasing the speaker’s words, you demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in what the person is saying and making every effort to understand his or her thoughts or feelings. An added benefit to this is when you practice effective listening other people will find you fascinating. They will feel relaxed and happy in your presence, and will want to be around you for your exceptional conversational skills!
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