The art of conversation, like any art, is a skill of elegance. It is a necessary skill for almost everything in life. Conversations introduce you to people, important people who could be your mentors, employers, employees, partners or friends. Without conversations as the foundation for those relationships, you’ll have a hard time building a social circle, starting a business or advancing your career.
Fine tuning the art of conversation allows you to communicate to others what value you bring to the table. In short, you can be visible, take credit for your accomplishments, showcase your skills, and build your reputation both inside and outside your company to strengthen your subject matter expertise.
Having the ability to listen attentively, ask fitting questions, and pay attention to the answers are all qualities essential to the art of conversation.
It’s common for people to say they struggle to make conversation because they often can’t think of things to say. When talking to someone one-on-one this may lead to awkward silences, in groups they may be seen as quiet.
Often, conversations can result in more harm than good. We’ve all said things that people interpreted much differently than we thought they would. Those seemingly benign comments lead to that awful feeling that comes only when you’ve planted your foot firmly in your mouth.
Verbal slip-ups often occur because we say things without knowledge of the subtle implications they carry. We lack social awareness because we’re so focused on what we’re going to say next and how what other people are saying affects us, that we completely lose sight of other people.
You can’t hope to understand someone until you focus all of your attention in his or her direction. With diligent practice and several good pointers, anyone can improve their conversation skills. On that note the following 8 phrases are some of the worst offenders and should be avoided at all costs.
Telling someone he/she looks tired implies they have droopy eyes, messy hair and unappealing overall. It’s basically an insult masquerading as straightforward observation.
The alternative: “Is everything OK?” We often blurt the “tired” comment when we get the sense that the other person feels out of sorts. So just ask.
Once again, a well-meaning comment, in this case a compliment, creates the impression that you’re being critical. Telling someone that she has lost a lot of weight suggests that he/she used to look fat or unattractive.
The alternative: “You look great.” This one is an easy fix. Instead of comparing how she looks now with how she used to look, just compliment her for looking great. It takes the past right out of the picture.
When someone severs ties with a relationship of any type, personal or professional, this comment implies he has bad taste and made a poor choice in the first place.
The alternative: “Her loss!” This provides the same enthusiastic support and optimism without any implied criticism.
Using “for your” as a qualifier always comes across as condescending and rude. No one wants to be good shape relative to other people who are also knocking on death’s door. People simply want to look good.
The alternative: “You look great.” This one is another easy fix. Genuine compliments don’t need qualifiers.
We all forget things from time to time. This phrase implies that you’re insulted at having to repeat yourself, which is hard on the recipient (someone who is genuinely interested in hearing your perspective). Getting insulted over having to repeat yourself suggests that either you’re insecure or you think you’re better than everyone else (or both!). Few people who use this phrase actually feel this way.
The alternative: When you say it again, see what you can do to convey the message in a clearer and more interesting manner. This way the person you’re speaking to will remember what you said.
This phrase is an aggressive way to shift attention away from your mistake by pointing out an old, likely irrelevant mistake the other person made (and one you should have forgiven her for by now).
The alternative: “I’m sorry.” Owning up to your mistake is the best way to bring the discussion to a more rational, calm place so that you can work things out. Admitting guilt is an amazing way to prevent escalation.
If your superior asks you to do something, it is your job.
The alternative: “I’m not sure that should be my priority right now.” Then have a conversation with your boss about your responsibilities.
Never undermine your ideas by prefacing your remarks with wishy-washy language.
The alternative: What’s on your mind. It reinforces your credibility to present your ideas with confidence.
Joe Robbins is co-founder of CareerWise Recruitment. A graduate of the University of Limerick (Degree in Business Studies, 1985), Joe worked in the UK for five years where he specialised in materials management, production management and plant management for a number of companies.
He returned to Ireland in 1992 to become Operations Manager for a Cork-based start-up, FMC Automotive Division which was subsequently taken over by Snap-on Equipment. Joe managed the business re-location of this company to Shannon in 1997 before setting up CareerWise Recruitment in 1999.
He is a committee member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Mid-West region, and a former Director and Vice President of the Shannon Chamber of Commerce. Joe is former Chairperson of the Sixmilebridge Camogie Club and current Chairperson of the Clare County Camogie Board.
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