Have you ever wondered how you can talk to some people for hours, and the time just flies by? The conversation flows and is super engaging. On the other hand, we’ve all experienced what it feels like when the dialogue is stilted and difficult. Nothing flows, it feels awkward, and you spend most of the conversation thinking of how to make a polite exit. So what makes a great conversationalist, and how can you improve your conversation skills?

Of course, being a great conversationalist might come easily for some, but it’s a skill we can all improve upon. Moreover, it’s a skill worth developing since being a great conversationalist will help you build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and give you more confidence in social situations.

When you think about the people you deem to be great conversationalists in your life, you’ll notice that many of them have some core things in common. Remember, being a great conversationalist is about being a great communicator, and the best communicators share several key traits and habits that contribute to their success in this area.

Here are some of the most common characteristics of great communicators and engaging conversationalists:

1. Active listening

The most important thing you can do to become a better conversationalist is to listen actively. We all want to feel seen and heard; when you’re talking to someone and feel like they’re not listening, it is totally off-putting. There’s no way you will feel engaged and enjoy the conversation.

Active listening means listening with your whole body. It means being conscious of your body language, avoiding distractions, and giving the person your full attention.

Research published in the “Journal of Nonverbal Behavior” found that nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and body posture, significantly impact how messages are perceived. The study showed strong eye contact and an open body posture convey confidence. In contrast, a lack of eye contact and slouching can indicate disinterest or dishonesty. Two things that nobody wants to be on the receiving end of.

The best conversationalists are skilled active listeners who pay attention to what others say, ask clarifying questions, and provide feedback to show engagement. Remember that conversation is a back-and-forth exchange; it’s not about being talked at.

2. Clear and Concise

Effective communicators can articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely, avoiding ambiguity and confusion.

In a great conversation, each person understands what the other person is saying.

A study published in the journal “Psychology Today” found that people who use clear and concise language are more likely to be perceived as knowledgeable and credible.

To improve your conversation skills, it’s best to put things in straightforward, simple terms instead of overcomplicating matters.

The study also found that humor can increase engagement and likability in communication.

 3. Confidence

There’s something about confidence in others that sparks something within ourselves. And I’m talking about confidence, not arrogance.

When someone is confident in their skin and comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions, and when they communicate with conviction, we find ourselves hooked and hanging on to their every word.

Developing confidence is vital to successful communication and to becoming a better conversationalist. Conversations flow better when both parties are relaxed and confident. So take deep breaths, make eye contact, and smile.

4. Respectful and Open-Minded

To be a better conversationalist, you must avoid interrupting, over-criticizing, or being dismissive. Try to understand the other person’s perspective, even if it goes against your own views.

Seeing conversations as an opportunity for learning is far better than viewing them as a chance to be right or wrong.

5. Empathetic

The ability to understand and share the feelings of others is critical to being an excellent communicator and another key to becoming a great conversationalist.

If you want to be the best communicator you can be, you need to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and respond accordingly. It’s about emotional intelligence.

This doesn’t mean that you need to have gone through exactly what the other person has gone through. It’s about understanding why they may feel the way they do and how their experiences may shape their feelings.

6. Adaptability

Great communicators can adjust their communication styles to fit different situations and audiences. Depending on the context, they can tailor their message to be more or less formal, serious, or lighthearted.

When we talk about adapting our communication style, we often think about different work settings and situations, for example, talking to senior leaders vs. talking to peers and presenting to 100 people vs. sharing ideas with a small group. But adapting your communication style is also essential on a personal level in everyday conversations.

While one person may enjoy a fast pace and high energy, another person may respond better to a calmer and slower approach.

While we each have our individual styles, the secret to being a great conversationalist is making the other person feel comfortable by communicating with them in a manner that fits them.

7. Genuine and Interested

We all enjoy talking to people who are genuinely interested in what we have to say. So if you want your conversations to be engaging, be curious and ask questions about the other person’s thoughts, opinions, and experiences.

8. Authenticity

But feigning interest won’t cut it. The best communicators are genuine and authentic, communicating from a place of sincerity and openness.

9. Well Prepared

We all know we should prepare for formal speeches and presentations, but it’s also possible to prepare for casual conversation. While you probably don’t think of it as preparation, there are many things we do that prepare us for conversations.

For example, reading, learning new things, and keeping up with current affairs will give you an understanding of a range of topics you can draw upon should they come up in conversation.

Another way to prepare for casual conversation is to know your audience and the key topics that will likely come up. For example, if you’re going to a party or event, being clear on the types of people who will be there and having at least a basic knowledge of the kinds of things they might be interested in will prepare you to be able to engage in conversation that you otherwise may have veered away from.

Finally, remembering what people tell you, whether in a casual setting or a more formal event, is one of the most effective ways to improve your conversations.

Many people are so absorbed in themselves that they simply do not take note of what the other person’s saying. If you remember what people say the next time you meet, you’ll stand out. They will immediately know you genuinely listen and care about their words.

10. Well Practiced

Finally, practice, practice, practice. The more you engage in different conversations, the more comfortable and skilled you will become. So, seek opportunities to converse with others, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

By demonstrating these qualities and habits, you’ll be able to build trust, establish rapport, and enjoy the kind of conversation that so many of us crave.

Remember, ultimately, the key to being a good conversationalist is to be an attentive and respectful listener, show genuine interest in the other person, and have a relaxed and confident demeanor.

Happy chatting!

Check out the communication skills hub for even more tips and advice on improving your communication skills.