How to Improve Your Conversation Skills - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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How to Improve Your Conversation Skills

Jun 17, 2015


There was a cab strike in Mumbai recently and so the cabs available were very few. I walked up to the end of my road, only to see two more girls trying to hail cabs. I approached one and here's what happened...

Me: It's difficult getting a cab today...
She: Yes, I've been waiting for a while too.
Me: Which side are you going?
She: Nariman Point.
Me: Me too, maybe we can go together?
She: Sure, let's do that.

After that we both aggressively put our hands out, like in a common mission, managed to stop a cab and finally got moving to our destination.

Now, would that have happened if I had hesitated to start the conversation? I would have probably stood there much longer, tried my solo efforts at getting a cab and reached work a good 15-20 minutes late... almost missing the scheduled time for an internal meeting.

I must confess - I wasn't a good conversation starter in my early years. I preferred keeping to myself and being the listener instead. And not because I didn't have much to contribute, because I simply didn't understand the reason for inanities... and many a times conversations are inane. You talk about the weather - by far the least imaginative topic, you talk about politics - a complete waste of time, or you talk about the price of vegetables - come on, how much more can you complain now?!

Get talking!
Source: Rudie Strummer / Shutterstock

But over the years, I've realised otherwise... there is great value  in going up to people and striking up conversations. Because you honestly don't know where the conversation will go and what you may learn or gain from it.

For some people, conversation skills come naturally. They can talk about anything under the sun and still have more to say. They avoid those awkward pauses in conversations with much ease. They can gloss over from one topic to another, before it gets too intense and offensive.

But for others, conversations are a struggle and they take some learning and practice. So in today's essay, I attempt to give you some tips on how to start and maneuver conversations better. And you and me can both try these and see if they make our conversations more interesting and eventually make us "good company"... because as Jane Austen says, "My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company."

Conversation cue #1: Introduce yourself

A lot of us go through conversations without introducing ourselves. And this often happens in places that forcefully bring people together like public commute, dressing rooms, while waiting in a queue at a buffet etc. But if you take that extra effort and say your name and even ask the other person's name, it makes a lot of difference to the nature of the conversation that follows. It will become more personalized and the person will take the effort to remember you and what you said.

Conversation cue #2: Become observant

Have you realised that most good conversationalists are those who have something good to say about the person on the other end. So they'd probably start with, "Oh, I love the green kurta you're wearing. Which store did you buy it from?" When you start by complimenting the person you're talking to, you instantly put the other person at ease and get higher reception to everything you have to say after that. The trick is to be observant and notice what cues you can get from the person's dress, mannerisms and conversation.

Conversation cue #3: Stay attentive

As a listener to any conversation, you have to be attentive and actively so. The more you pay attention to what the other person's saying, the more cues you will get on how to continue the conversation. For example, if a conversation is as follows:

A: I got done early from work today!
B: But what time do you get done normally? Do you always work late?
A: Well yes, we work long hours.
B: But you've got to ensure a healthy work-life balance...

And from thereon you can have an animated conversation on your views about work-life balance and the different ideas around it... But only if you're attentive can you take the ready information that is given to you and elaborate on it.

Conversation cue #4: Read more

It helps to have additional knowledge for any life situation and particularly for conversations. Conversations are avenues to showcase all the interesting things you know - gained from your reading, your life experiences like travel, or simply your opinion on everyday happenings in your city and the world. Facts and stories  are by far some of the most engrossing aspects of any conversation and both of these are only acquired through ample reading.  So pick up more books, newspapers, surf the internet and collect a wealth of information... this habit won't just educate you but will also make you a more popular person in conversations.

Conversation cue #5: Open up

Any conversation will remain superfluous and meaningless if you don't open up a bit and share your own views and feelings. Of course this does not mean you must say very personal things to a stranger or at an official meeting. All it means is that you add your own opinions and unique responses to the conversation. People can read boring facts and figures anywhere, what they need is for someone to share experiences lived  and give them a different perspective. It also gives them a greater insight into who you are, making it a more authentic exchange between two people.

Conversation cue #6: Be gracious

Very often conversations can go on aimlessly and you may not want to be a part of it anymore, or you may feel it's a topic you would rather avoid discussing. In such a case, you can politely excuse yourself, by saying: "It was great listening to your views but I'm afraid I don't have much to contribute on this front." And then gradually ease yourself out of the conversation. The general conversation rule is also to avoid staying on one topic for too long and to find cues to quickly shift the conversation so that it doesn't become an argument. And this is especially true for sensitive topics like politics, sex and religion, research shows that the less you approach them, the better.

A few months ago, I heard an IIT professor say: "In any communication, you can choose to disagree but avoid becoming disagreeable."- Wise words that can help you stay both animated and likeable in a conversation.

So use these tips, see if they work and send in some of your own too...


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17 Responses to "How to Improve Your Conversation Skills"

08 Sep, 2016

and follow the pins or boards of people they know of simply have similar interests with..After critical. If you desire to be successful, then in order to realize your goals, you must tastes to work with the trend so you look and feel comfortable. To accomplish these tasks,

Udaya Bhaskar

10 Sep, 2015

I feel Indians are relatively introverts and circumspect in their conversations. Why is this so? I have generally observed - foreigners in morning jogs smiling at and saying hello to strangers - good way to go! Indian usually keep to themselves.. many times families in same apartment hardly speak to the neighbours for days..


08 Sep, 2015

First step is the most difficult for many to start the conversation. Once you can start then you can keep going depending how much you can use the cues suggested....


22 Jul, 2015

The very best part about all these articles is that "It feels like someone is reading my soul ".So honest and true! Appreciate the efforts being put up by the team in touching peoples life in the best possible way they can!


29 Jun, 2015

Yet another masterpiece! Glad... I read it


21 Jun, 2015

Hey Ms Bajaj, Oh you have written all true things. Very common but people fail to use. Its a good reminder.

Ramachandran V

21 Jun, 2015

Very interesting article Keep it up

Ritika Bajaj

19 Jun, 2015

@Sanjiv @Kumar: Yes, in India these situations are tricky. But I think if you can gauge the situation well for yourself and approach it with an open and clean mind, you should not have an issue.

Like (2)

Rakesh Kumar garg

18 Jun, 2015

Very informative and encouraging article on conversation. Most people like me avoid many times due to lack of knowledge about how to converse with others. You have correctly included all the points which are required for good conversation like starting with introducing yourself and ending with Be gracious. Because in a conversation, sometimes, we take it personally. Like, other one is treating himself more knowledgeable than me, which results a conversation converts into an argument. Thank you very much for so much en-lighting article. Keep posting such type of nice articles.


18 Jun, 2015

very intresting ..thanks regards.

Rohit Shrivastava

18 Jun, 2015



18 Jun, 2015

Hi Nice topic to discuss.In case as per your first example of getting cab,would it been easy for me to start conversation with a stranger (specially female) on the road,cause its very difficult and dangerous in our Indian society, or would you start conversation with a Male waiting for a cab?


18 Jun, 2015

My view is "Conversation" is not easy in India as you say/write and that to with a stranger. Male to Male, Female to Female and some time Female to male is possible. But male to female is too difficult in India as female don't entertain, thinking it is dangerous. I read a joke " A male starts a conversation wit a female in a an airport: Male: The perfume you have use smells good, can you tell the name of the perfume, so I can buy and gift to my wife. Female: I can tell, but don't buy for your wife, because some idiot will start a conversation with her saying the perfume smell good" Male:?!@##$%^%^%&^

Like (3)


18 Jun, 2015

Good suggestions for conversations to begin and continuation .I feel you may add "Continue Search for common topic" Like you are liking cricket but other knows football .Conversing more on Tandulkar will be burden on other. ..... With regards Prof. Manglik

Like (4)


18 Jun, 2015

a good selection of the topic. approach with practical example is well described.

Like (1)

Jaisinh Vaerkar

17 Jun, 2015

Thanks a lot for a great article. This is very pertinent today in an age when we are mostly engrossed in social media and forget about real socialising and the etiquette for socialising. It is always a bit scary for me to start a conversation but feel glad later when I make the effort and which sometimes leads to stimulating conversations.

Like (1)


17 Jun, 2015

Well written! I am glad that I read it!

Like (4)

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