The ability of our smartphones to easily condense social interaction—via calls, texts, emails, or social media—allows us to stay in touch with others each day, even with limited time in our busy schedules.
Yet, it can lead to a growing dependence on these devices as a vehicle for socializing. Allow your phone to become a crutch, and your social skills tend to atrophy. Thus, you might see people sitting down for a meal together and swiping at their phones instead of talking to each other. It might seem harmless or even amusing until you realize that building stronger relationships in your life will require meaningful conversations with people.
Here’s how you can resist the decline and polish your conversational skills.
Cultivate your intellect.
At times, our world’s message for success seems to go like this: focus on the one thing you do best, and you’ll succeed. But too much specialization can make anyone one-dimensional, and it can be annoying to talk to people who define themselves by their success. You could have a friend set you up on a date or use executive matchmaking services to get an introduction with someone. But that creates an opportunity—you still have to put in the work to become an interesting conversationalist.
Invest in your mind; stimulate your interest in various topics. Don’t just be knowledgeable within your field—expand to current and world events, art, literature, and history. Diversify the forms of entertainment you enjoy. Read different genres of fiction, watch foreign films, dabble in new hobbies and skills. This breadth of knowledge will open up more potential topics of interest for conversations with a wide range of people.
Share the floor.
When you nurture your intellect, you’ll become more attractive to different people. But that also comes with a potential pitfall—the tendency to make conversations center around yourself. Whether it’s in a group setting or a private talk, nobody likes to be left out, much less have to endure someone else’s monologue.
Good conversations are founded upon participation; everyone should play a part in the interaction. To make sure that a conversation unfolds in this way, you need to be aware of the flow. For your part, actively practice talking with, not at, others. Share the floor with them. If you’re in the middle of telling a story, allow them to engage and not just be an audience. Remember to gauge others’ interest before getting caught up in too much exposition or details.
Listen and learn.
Successful communication is always a two-way street. It’s never entirely about what you say or how you deliver it. Paying attention matters; it makes the other person feel valued and encourages them to expound further. It can lead the conversation into more personal areas as both sides start to become more comfortable with the discussion.
You can develop the skill of active listening to become a master of this aspect of communication. Make casual eye contact, acknowledge with “uh-huh” or “hmm,” and be mindful of your posture and nonverbal cues to demonstrate attentiveness. As a measure of your listening skills, see if you’ve learned something new about the other person through that conversation. That can be one of the most genuine ways to display interest in them.
Even as our lives seem to encourage new, abbreviated forms of communication and social interaction, you can still strike up and maintain interesting conversations by practicing these techniques.