5 Artful Ways To Keep a Conversation Going
Have you ever found yourself talking to someone, and suddenly there's an awkward silence?
You panic because you can't think of anything else to talk about. Your face grows red and your brain goes blank, as you grasp for a verbal lifeline to save you from looking like a shuffling, mumbling idiot.
It happens to all of us — we meet someone, chat for a few minutes, and then the conversation begins to stall. The weather has been covered. You know about each other's jobs. And you've talked about your kids. So now what?
The great gift of conversation lies less in displaying it ourselves than in drawing it out of others. He who leaves your company pleased with himself and his own cleverness is perfectly well pleased with you. -Jean de la Bruyere
When you don't have strategies to keep a flagging conversation alive, it can rob you of the opportunity to get to know other people. It can also undermine your confidence to initiate a conversation in the first place.
It's common to encounter a few bumps when conversing socially, but knowing how to artfully keep the exchange alive can help you build meaningful and interesting relationships.
Here 5 strategies on how to keep a conversation going:
1. Ask great questions.
One way to invite the other person to talk is by asking open-ended questions.
Rather than asking questions that can be answered with a “Yes” or “No,” prepare some questions in advance that encourage people to talk and share more detailed information about their lives.
Have these questions handy, and review them before you enter a social situation that you know will involved one-on-one conversations.
For example, you might ask, “How did you and your wife meet?” Or “How did you decide to get involved in your career field?” These questions can draw out an interesting story or another detail that can stimulate additional questions.
As the speaker is sharing information, listen for areas of commonality and shared interests which can open new channels of discussion.
2. Be an active, conscious listener.
During conversation, we tend to focus on what we are going to say after the speaker pauses.
Fearing that awkward silence or eager to get a word in, we fail to really hear what the other person is saying and show them the deference that makes a conversation truly a gift.
Listening is just as important as talking in a conversation — maybe even more so.
The reason why so few people are agreeable in conversation is that each is thinking more about what he intends to say than what others are saying. -Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Being an active listener requires taking part in the conversation, and building the rapport between you and your conversation partner.
Skilled and active listening requires focused attention on what the other person is saying, using eye contact, affirmative nods, and affirmative words.
It also involves paraphrasing or mirroring what the speaker says to show you understand, as well as asking questions and making appropriate, relevant comments.
Think about a good conversation as a ball bouncing back and forth.
Receive what your partner has said, and then add a little bit to it before bouncing the ball back for more. This back and forth is likely to create a deeper dialog that will last quite some time.
3. Avoid giving one word answers.
In addition to refraining from asking questions that can be answered with one word, always elaborate when someone asks you a simple question.
Give more detail to your answer than the questioner might expect, like offering not just the name of the college you attended but also what you studied or the fraternity or sorority you were a part of.
Related Post: 30 Powerful Getting To Know You Questions
Providing your conversation partner with this extra information gives them more opportunities to relate to your story and ask you something else.
It increases the likelihood that you and the person you are talking to will connect on some level and throws them a verbal lifeline when the conversation begins to stall.
4. Be yourself.
You may second guess everything you ask your conversation partner, especially if this is the first time the two of you have met. You might be a bit more stiff and formal with someone you don't know well.
It's common to wonder how this person will react to a question or a story, so you may hold back or be less of yourself so you don't give the wrong impression or unintentionally offend.
To keep a conversation flowing, don't filter your true personality. Just be yourself, and ask the questions that come to mind or say what you are thinking (within reason!).
The best way to practice this is by being authentic and open with people who you already know.
Maybe you are with a friend or a co-worker who you don't know on a deep level, but you have crossed paths with him or her several times.
Take the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone a little and bring up some topics you normally wouldn't discuss. Or ask a question that is a bit more personal or probing.
You can generally tell from someone's demeanor whether or not they welcome more intimate conversation.
It’s refreshing to realize that you can say or ask whatever is on your mind without the fear of being judged.
Of course, don't ask anything inappropriate or controversial, but generally people love to talk about themselves, and they are likely more focused on how they appear to you rather than what you have said.
Being authentic can open up a huge arena of topics and conversations to have that will help you get over those conversation blocks.
5. Ask for more.
Rather than asking a specific question, ask your conversation partner to simply tell you more about a topic that they have mentioned.
This allows them the opportunity to take the conversation wherever they want and talk about what is most important to them.
It also forces them to do a bit of the thinking when it comes to keeping the conversation going and puts the ball back in their court to do the talking. This buys you a bit of time as well when you are stumped for something to say.
Asking someone to tell you more about something also shows them that you are interested in what they have to say.
They will recognize that you are giving them control of the conversation, and they will flattered that you find them engaging enough to expound on the topic.
If you struggle with being insecure or shy when it comes to talking to strangers, use these tips to help move a stalled conversation along.
Practice these skills with people you feel comfortable around, so you have more confidence when you enter a setting with new people.
If you know how to skillfully keep the other person talking, you will not have to worry about stumbling on your words or saying the exact right thing the entire time.
Also, be sure to engage in the conversation with great questions, active listening, and authenticity, and you will bypass those awkward silences and uncomfortable moments when your mind goes blank.