Conversing is like driving: We all want to think we're better at it than most people, but many of us fall prey to common mistakes and have room for improvement.
The good news is that it's absolutely possible to improve. Being a good conversationalist isn't a magical gift that some are born with, but something that relies mainly on skills you can acquire and develop.
Here are 10 of the most dreadful conversational mistakes and effective ways to improve upon them.
Mistake No. 1: Speaking but not really listening
Most of us have heard before that one of the most important facets of good conversation is being a good listener, but it's more than just listening to the other person talk. You need to know how to listen and respond in a way that demonstrates you're contributing to the conversation. One way to improve is with the technique of active listening. Ask questions based on what you hear. Really listen and be interested in what the others are saying. Make relating statements. Make comments that show you're paying attention, repeat back key sections, and ask questions that move the discussion forward. Pretend there's going to be a quiz.
Mistake No. 2: Asking too many distracting questions
A series of questions, even if they originate in genuine interest and enthusiasm, can sometimes come across as an interrogation. Improve your conversation by pausing, listening, and allowing the other person to speak and express him- or herself. Ask questions that are based on what's being said, relevant, and unobtrusive.
Mistake No. 3: Rambling on and on with no end in sight
Often an indication of nervousness, rambling can lead to a hard time getting your point across. When you ramble, people are likely to simply tune out. Instead, be concise to have the most impact in what you are trying to convey. Practice beforehand about what you might want to speak about. Being prepared will give you the confidence you need to be better at expressing yourself.
Mistake No. 4: Not tasting your words before you spit them out
Some people just like to hear themselves speak; they often leave listeners feeling that they are filling up space without adding value to the conversation. Go into conversations well informed and thinking of ways that add value and interest to a conversation. Think before you speak, and be sure to taste your words before you spit them out.
Mistake No. 5: Inducing an argument
Don't dominate a conversation by only expressing your opinion and wanting to be right--that's more of a monologue than a dialogue. Accept the fact that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. You don't need to force others into agreeing with you--they'll likely choose to walk away from you instead. Stay humble and truly listen to the other points of view.
Mistake No. 6: Acting confident but lacking confidence
A lack of confidence can often come across in conversation as disingeniousness. Make sure you go in with sufficient confidence to feel self-assured about what you are expressing.
Mistake No. 7: Dominating the conversation
Everyone hates it when one person dominates a conversation, but it's incredibly hard to realize when you're doing it in the moment. Even if you don't consider yourself much of a conversationalist, you may end up dominating a conversation. If you want to win influence and gain friends, take an interest in others and what they have to say. Check yourself mid-conversation so you don't end up talking the whole time.
Mistake No. 8: Endlessly interrupting
One of the worst things you can do in conversation is fail to let someone else finish what he or she has to say before voicing your opinions. When you let your conversational partners finish speaking, especially in cases of disagreement, it tells them that you're courteous enough to listen to other points of view.
Mistake No. 9: Sounding like a perennial expert
If you are the expert in every topic, then most people will feel they have nothing to contribute. Instead, work to know a little about many things--or at least to be open to talk about them, instead of trying to steer the conversation back to your favorite subject.
Mistake No. 10: Speaking too fast
When you get excited or nervous, or if you have a lot to say, the words may naturally come in a constant stream. But to the listener, it sounds too fast and incoherent. Speak slowly and make time to think about your choice of words; use pauses to add impact to your sentences.
If you have some or all of these dreadful conversation habits, do something about them, especially if you seek to have an impact, make a difference, and succeed in your endeavors.