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How to carry a conversation — the art of making connections

November 15, 2021 - 17 min read

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What makes a good conversation?

10 tips to succeed at conversation

What about online conversations?

How does the art of conversation help you in the workplace?

What about introverts or people who are shy?

Know how to carry a conversation for good connections

As the saying goes, no man (or person) is an island.

Just as we need social connections in our personal lives, we also need to have good relations with our peers at work.

Networking is an important part of career development. Plus, having friends at work is important for your social well-being.

But for some of us, that’s easier said than done.

It can be intimidating to start speaking to someone new. Never mind making friends with them.

A simple “Hello” is easy enough to make first contact. But then you need to know how to keep a conversation going.

To help you build those important connections, here’s how to carry a conversation like a pro.

What makes a good conversation?

A great conversation is made up of several factors. Here are some of those aspects which can keep those awkward silences at bay.

1. Active listening

Active listening is a type of listening where the focus is on really paying attention while the other person is speaking. Sometimes people listen to respond rather than listening to what their conversation partner is saying.

This important listening skill lets your conversation partner know that you are paying attention. It is a sign of emotional intelligence. Plus, you’re more likely to remember more of the conversation afterward.

You can improve your active listening by repeating what you have just heard back to the speaker. And by talking less and listening more.

2. Asking and answering questions

Another way of showing that you are a good listener is to ask questions.

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Follow-up questions related to what the other person said can expand the conversation. Or you can ask them about something you didn’t completely understand or are interested in learning more about.

Again, this shows the person you are talking to that you are truly interested in what they have to say.

3. Finding mutual interests and similarities

While having a conversation, keep your ears open for experiences that you have in common. Mutual interests can give you something to talk about and will keep the conversation flowing naturally.

Finding similarities will also help establish common ground and make for a more rewarding conversation. This is a key factor in how to keep a conversation going smoothly.

4. Having an intention for the conversation

Whether you’ve bumped into a coworker at the store or you’re having a conversation at a networking event, it is always good to have a goal in mind for the conversation.

Having a clear intention ensures the conversation has direction and isn’t uncomfortable or awkward.

If you find that the conversation is stalling, you can use your goal of the conversation to introduce a fresh conversation topic.

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10 tips to succeed at conversation

Still unsure how to carry a conversation? Here are some tips to succeed as a conversationalist in professional and personal settings.

1. Ask lots of questions

Asking questions shows that you are interested and paying attention.

Just be sure to allow the other person to answer and take the lead. You don’t want them to feel interrogated.

2. Avoid controversial topics

Always be aware of the situation and who you are talking to. Avoid topics that could be considered controversial or insensitive. This can be anything from politics, to religion, to the agenda of the last PTA meeting.

3. Smile

Smiling is particularly important when starting a conversation.

Smile at your prospective conversation partner before either of you starts talking. This will show that you are approachable and friendly.

4. Make eye contact

Making good eye contact shows them that you are interested and engaged in the conversation.

If you keep looking around, it tells the other person that you are either disinterested in what they are saying or distracted.

5. Give compliments

Giving a compliment is an act of kindness that never goes unnoticed. Complimenting your conversation partner will make them feel better about themselves. It will also enrich your conversation.

Pay attention to what they are saying so you can find opportunities to compliment them genuinely.

6. Ask for advice or recommendations

If you’re not sure how to keep a conversation going, ask for advice or recommendations. This shows that you are actively listening and that you value their input.

7. Don’t come on too strong

Pay attention to the flow of the conversation and provide ample opportunity for your conversation partner to speak.

If you speak too much, you may come across as very intense or more interested in yourself than your conversation partner.

8. Maintain a positive attitude

By maintaining a positive attitude during a conversation, we show that we have self-control.

People are also more likely to want to have conversations with a positive person rather than someone who is negative or who complains a lot.

9. Use the FORD method

The FORD method describes an acronym that provides us with topics for a conversation. It stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams.

By remembering this acronym, you will always have at least four relatable conversation topics to talk about.

10. Prepare some topics beforehand

If you want to know how to carry a conversation with maximum success, prepare some talking points beforehand.

You can prepare topics for specific situations, such as conversations with coworkers, managers, or life-long friends. By preparing beforehand, you won’t get caught unaware with nothing to say.

What about online conversations?

In today’s online world, we could all use some guidelines for better digital communication.

So often, our meaning gets misconstrued or messages are misunderstood due to poor conversation and communication skills.

Prevent this from happening by doing the following:

1. Use the technology at your disposal

Make use of your technological options. Change the background of your emails or use emojis and gifs in your communications.

These will liven up your online communications and help you stand out from everyone else that is using the default settings.

2. Ensure there are no distractions

Just as you should pay attention when having a face-to-face conversation, so should you when engaging in online communications.

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Focus on your communication. Don’t talk on your phone and type at the same time because your distraction will be evident to the recipient. When there are distractions around you, you are also more likely to make mistakes in the communication.

By eliminating any distractions, you can ensure that your communications are accurate and on point. Then you won’t have to spend time later clearing up misunderstandings and confusion.

3. Don’t waste people’s time

Make sure that there is a valid reason for your communication. If the issue or question can be resolved with a quick phone call, then do it that way.

Knowing what to call about and what to email about may take some practice. But the rewards to the quality and effectiveness of your working relationships will be well worth it.

4. Take notes

During particularly important real-time online communications, taking notes ensures that you don’t forget any crucial details after.

Taking notes will also mean that you won’t waste additional time by having to re-contact the people involved in the online meeting to get information that was presented.

5. Do an activity together online

With a large number of us working from home, we can often feel isolated and disconnected. We can help alleviate this by engaging in online activities.

Playing an online game or taking a virtual tour with friends or work colleagues will also help develop your relationships.

6. Don’t be afraid of small talk

Small talk is an important part of in-person conversations and should not be neglected when online.

If we just focus on business or the matter at hand when online, we lessen the quality of our communication by making it feel more impersonal than it needs to be.

7. Know when to end the conversation

Knowing when and how to end a conversation is another skill in the art of good communication. It applies to all conversations that we have, whether in-person or online. But ending online conversations can sometimes be a bit trickier.

During a video conversation, try to read the other person’s body language. Try to pick up on non-verbal cues that show it’s time to bring the conversation to an end. For example, they might be looking bored, or you may both be starting to repeat yourself.

Have some polite conversation closers on hand and practice them so that they flow naturally when the time is right.

How does the art of conversation help you in the workplace?

Striking up a good conversation with your colleagues goes beyond building workplace friendships. Here’s why mastering the art of conversation is so powerful in the workplace.

1. Conversations build our own power

The art of conversation contributes to different types of power in the workplace. Specifically, it helps you build referent power by building trust and respect with your colleagues.

Being a good conversationalist will also build your influence over those you communicate with.

Effective conversation is a big contributor to effective and inclusive leadership. Good conversation skills will help to communicate team goals and strategies better. This will develop greater trust with the people that you are communicating with.

If you know how to have a difficult conversation successfully, this will cement your reputation as a good leader.

2. Networking promotes career growth

Good conversation skills improve your networking. In turn, this will boost your social capital and promote your career growth.

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While our qualifications will get us in the door, it is our ability to communicate and create a good impression that grows our careers.

3. Good work relationships boost employee satisfaction

Being able to carry a conversation is key to developing and maintaining good work relationships.

In turn, good work relationships create a sense of belonging and boost employee morale.

4. Quality conversations improve efficiency and productivity

Good conversation amongst colleagues contributes to good work relationships and employee satisfaction. These can also improve efficiency and productivity.

You might become better able to train and develop your colleagues too. With good conversation skills, on-the-job training will likely be better understood and take less time. This, in turn, should lead to improved efficiency and productivity as well.

What about introverts or people who are shy?

Being an introvert can make conversations challenging but certainly not impossible. Here are some helpful strategies to make it easier.

1. Prepare some conversation starters

Prepare and practice some conversation starters. By preparing beforehand, you can lessen the in-the-moment stress of starting a conversation.

2. Use both closed and open questions

Closed questions limit the available responses that your conversation partner could give. For example, if you ask a yes-or-no question, it limits their response to one or the other.

Open-ended questions are questions that don’t limit the response the other person could provide. Open questions are often used to carry on or prolong a conversation.

But both closed and open questions should be used to keep the conversation flowing in a natural way.

3. Read body language and cues

A lot of our in-person communication is non-verbal, with much of our meaning conveyed through body language.

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Practice paying attention to the body language of your conversation partner so that you can pick up on important social queues.

When you know you have to have a difficult conversation, you can use your own body language to keep the situation calm too.

4. Channel your curiosity

Being curious can prompt you to ask more questions to keep the conversation flowing.

Your intellectual curiosity can be used as a source of conversation starters or topics to talk about during a conversation. You will probably find it easier to talk about something that you are curious to learn about.

5. Be kind to yourself

Always remember to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.

Forgive yourself for awkward conversations and keep trying. If you are brave enough to try to learn how to start a hard conversation and fall short initially, you will improve in time.

Know how to carry a conversation for good connections

In our digital world, it's more important than ever to know how to carry a conversation. Although remote work has changed working dynamics, connecting with others is still important.

Developing your conversation skills won't just build strong relationships with your peers. It will give you greater influence with your communications and make you an overall more confident person.

Becoming a great conversationalist is a key social skill. And like any skill, it takes time and practice to develop.

The great news is that you can develop your skills with deliberate practice. Just focus on getting a little better every day.  Personalized support can help you grow further, faster, whether you want to develop your conversational skills, overcome your inner critic, or plan your career — get started today.

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Published November 15, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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