Are you a natural conversationalist who can easily ignite a discussion with mere word or two? Are you the one-question-one-answer person who never get engaged in a conversation out of sheer shyness or lack of spontaneity? Or are just a plain bore?
Whether you are one or the other, let’s face it that getting involved in a talk or conversation is important whether on a personal or professional level.
If you are dating, it would be very hard for you to get into a relationship if you could not sustain a get-to-know discussion with your date. If you have a family, how would you reach out and connect with your kids if you cannot make a conversation interesting? How do you ever get to be comfortable in a new environment or workplace if you do not fire up a nice conversation with your new colleagues?
Trivial as it may sound. But the hard truth is, conversations are a means to communicate, a window to the soul and heart, a beginning to understanding of the human.
Regardless of your personality, there is no escaping and you have to make good conversations to lead up to a good purpose. In my pursuit for personal development and in the course of writing non-fiction, I have discovered a brilliant coach who also writes books and delves a lot into improving communication and self-confidence. I am talking about Patrick King who wrote the book “Improve Your Conversations: Think on Your Feet, Witty Banter, and Always Know What to Say with Improv Comedy Techniques.”
Reading through this book, I was delighted to pick up a lot of useful things that are relevant and practical for a shy and introvert like me. I have always tried to look at my struggle for self-confidence as a “show” where I am the actor and needed to act out the role I was playing. After all, you can say it is indeed a “show” because it does not come naturally due to a different preference or because of intimidation. But if you are sincere to improve yourself and express what you want to, then the effort goes into good use.
“Acting out” such emotions or message to communicate as if you are an actor getting into a show, in my opinion, makes the effort easier and interesting because you tend to forget your fears and feel that you are like performing. It adds to the adventure of it.
In the book “Improve Your Conversations”, Patrick King uses improv comedy as the model in conversations. If you notice the book cover, the word “Improve” is spelled as “Improv(e)” to emphasize that conversations can be improved by using “improvisations” or “improv” for short. The book focuses on casual, light and social conversations and therefore should not be confused with official, or professional talks such as when you talk to your boss about your performance.
Basics of conversations
I have three takeaways on the basics of conversation which many of us already know but oftentimes fall into our own structured thinking that we tend to try to control the conversations like we’re in a very formal meeting. Nevertheless, even formal meetings require a bit of fluidity if we want people to express their true agenda.
Let’s refresh our view on these basics and see how we can apply them in our daily routine when talking to people.
Be flexible and go with the flow
In friendly and social conversations, Patrick highlights on not being stiff and tight. Loosen up and remember to unmask our real self because we are not at work or in any official capacity. This is something difficult for many of us especially that we work an average of 8-9 hours and this has become part of our routine at work. We tend to carry on our cautious mouth to keep the business in good standing.
Casual talks should be free-flowing and should not fell as if we are following a certain guideline and topic. Do not start off with a specific expectation in mind in order to allow a free and easy discussion. A conversation oftentimes jumps from one topic to another- which is a sign of a lively communication – and therefore it should be left that way to keep the energy of the moment move as it is.
Sense the emotions
What comes next after the rule of flexibility is your sensibility as a listener. You have to learn how to not just talk but listen and sense the emotion that comes from the other party. That is precisely why you need to be flexible – so that you can leave the emotions flowing accordingly to give the other person an ear to listen to, a shoulder to cry on and a face to rant on.
By sensing the person’s mood, you are able to give him a free space which allows more openness and therefore a deeper engagement.
Choose to improv rather than script
I have always advocated the use of script or spiel when facing a dead-end, awkward situation. That moment when you do not know what to say because you are too shy, too overwhelmed or simply the conversation goes off hand with unexpected turn of events, emotions and subject matter. I still feel that for the shy introvert, this holds true.
However, these specific scripts cannot be used in a routine way such that you use those words to be able to follow a standard operating procedure. That is what precisely what we are trying to avoid in a conversation. We do not want to talk like robots, especially in a casual conversation.
Scripts can be there as a matter of knowing what specific words to say when you are nervous and emotional to the point that you cannot come up with spontaneous words. It does not have to be the exact words but you have the key ones. What will matter is how you improvise and recreate the script to fit the situation.
Choosing to improvise rather than use a script routinely helps to keep the flow of the conversation while keeping you present at the moment and in tune with the on-going emotions. Now, that’s “improv.”
Reboot our conversation mindset
Patrick did a good job in laying down the basics of conversations and let his readers be reminded that such encounters are to connect people and therefore should be enjoyable and pleasing. He knocks off the structured mindset that all things need to be single-focused including the topic of discussion. In the case of conversations, we should not think of the subject matter as the focus but the intended outcome- which is to bring out positive emotions between the two people- it can be happiness, inspiration, satisfaction or anything else.
Indeed for many, conversations are an important facet of self-confidence. Learning to juggle around the subject matter, body language, choice of words and facial reaction, among others, help to brighten up the situation and give both you and the person you are talking to more attention and interest. In the process, the experience becomes naturally flowing and awkward silences are avoided.
Patrick King has a clear understanding of the anatomy of conversations and seems to have acquired this from his experience in personal coaching on building relationships. He was able to dissect the parts of conversations in detail starting with the backbone. His discussion on the basics prepare us for our next conversation with a new or a refreshed mindset.
In the next post, I will continue my review of the book “Improve Your Conversations: Think on Your Feet, Witty Banter, and Always Know What to Say with Improv Comedy Techniques” and I will be dwelling on his use of improv comedy rules applied to conversations.
Which of my three takeaways on basics of conversations do you need to work on? What pitfalls do you encounter in the conversation experience? Shoot me an email here and let’s start a discussion.
Photo Credits: Microphone (raynermedla)