Conversation is one of those subjects that everybody has some advice about. Parents, teachers, friends, magazine writers and TV show hosts all have some tips to share with you on how to make conversation.
Because everybody makes conversation with others at least once in a while, they believe that they also have a good understanding of how quality conversation works, and so they can teach this to others. I believe that while it is true that many people have valuable lessons about making conversation to offer, many also spread some inaccurate and harmful ideas on this subject.
Over the past 5+ years, I’ve been coaching others for a living to help them improve their conversation skills and conversation confidence. During this time, I’ve identified 4 major myths regarding conversation that most of us learn at one point or another.
Myth no. 1: The first impression is crucial.
You hear this idea a lot. We are told that you never get a change to make a first impression, and the weight of the first impression is significant and lasting, which is why we should make sure to create a great first impression. Otherwise we’re in serious trouble.
This is a highly exaggerated point. Yes, first impressions do matter. But what I’ve also experienced dozens of times is that first impressions are also reversible. How a person sees you in the first few minutes of a conversation is not a permanent sentence. In fact you can go in one discussion from having made a very bad first impression to making a very good overall impression. Myself and many of my coaching clients have done this multiple times.
So instead of obsessing about the first impression you make, relax about it, and if you wanna astonish people, work on developing your conversation skills as a whole. Being a good conversationalist is much more important than being able to start a conversation with a bang.
Myth no. 2: You should never talk about yourself.
As the logic behind this idea goes, if you talk about yourself, you convey that you’re self-absorbed, and thus the other person will dislike you; while if you let the other person talk about themselves and you show keen curiosity, since everybody loves to talk about themselves, this will make them like you.
This is one of those old-fashioned ideas that have little to do with reality. In the reality of conversation, if you don’t talk about yourself, you’ll be like a stranger to the other person. And strangers don’t make us feel comfortable.
So if you don’t open up as a person, the other person will usually not feel at ease with opening up too much either. After all, why should they reveal all sort of information about themselves when you barely revealed a thing about yourself?
I think the valid point is that you should not takeover a conversation and make it entirely about yourself. But beyond this point, talking about yourself is a natural and integral part of conversation. Don’t shun away from it.
Myth no. 3: Using canned lines is a good way to appear witty.
This is something that guys in particular learn: if you wanna get a girl to like you, you must seem funny and witty. And if you often can’t think of anything witty to say, you can just memorize some clever lines at home and then while chatting with a woman, pull one out of your bag of tricks any time you want.
Unfortunately, many guys never graduate to the level of men in their approach to conversation. Because real men know that, first of all, canned lines typically sound very cheesy and fake, no matter how well you deliver them.
And second of all, even if you use a couple of lines and they work, what are you gonna do when you run out of lines, but the woman in front of you wants to keep the conversation going? Sooner or later in conversations and relationships, you have to rely on your own personality.
So the key here is not using canned lines. If you want to be witty and funny, practice thinking in creative ways and exercise your imagination during conversations. It will make you a lot funnier. Also, learn to relax more when talking to women. Chances are that you’re probably tense, and this is what makes it hard for you to find witty things to say.
Myth no. 4: You should be really ‘nice’ with the other person.
This extremely polite approach to communication deems that your sole job in a conversation is to make the other person feel good and avoid making them feel bad. Therefore you have to be really nice and courteous: you don’t disagree with them, you don’t say anything negative, you only talk about pleasant topics, etc.
That all sounds real good, except for one problem: nobody genuinely acts like that. So if you’re that nice in a conversation, the other person will quickly realize that you’re putting on an act in order to please them. And wanting to please someone that badly seems very needy and it’s a real turn-off.
Not to mention that if the other person senses that you’re being fake, they cannot trust you. And trust is one of the essential ingredients of a strong relationship.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider the other individual’s feelings in a conversation. But you can do so in a way that doesn’t involve putting on an act. You can be honest but tactful. You can balance being yourself with being respectful. Seek the middle path when talking to others and you’ll find it.
Conversation is an art form. It takes practice, patience and persistence to become a master conversationalist. But foremost, it require a good understanding of what makes good conversation, so you can take your conversation style in the right direction instead of leading it astray. I trust that being aware of these 4 myths will help you on your journey.
Eduard Ezeanu coaches people with some dose of social ineptitude and helps them become sharp, confident and charismatic conversationalists. He believes that quality conversation involves not only skills, but also the right mindset. Check out his blog, People Skills Decoded, where you will find more articles and advice.