Being able to make good conversation is an important skill. And there is a plethora of books, articles and courses that aim to help you develop this skill.
But what does is mean exactly to make good conversation? This is where I believe that most advice you’ll read or hear on this topic goes wrong right off the bat.
Most conversation guides will teach ideas such as:
- Try to listen to what the other person says and seem interested, even if you don't really care about the topic.
- Let the other person do most of the talking and navigate the discussion, to ensure they're having a good time.
- Always smile and try to seem cheerful, even if inside you're not feeling like that at all.
- Shower the other person with compliments, and try to make them seem sincere.
- Try to say things that show you're knowledgeable or well educated and make an impression.
- Don't disagree with the other person and don't say anything that might appear out of place.
- Be nice and courteous with everyone you talk with, etc.
Popular books on the art of conversation like Dale Carnegie’s famous “How to Win Friends and Influence People” or Leil Lowndes’ “How to Talk to Anyone” are packed with such little tips and advice.
Do you see a problem with them though?
I do. I see a major problem. And it has to do with the mindset all this advice comes from.
The Huge Problem with Most Conversation Advice
Essentially, all this advice is based on the assumption that your job in any conversation is to make the other person enjoy the experience as much as possible and get them to like you. Conversation is entirely about the other person and earning their approval.
The vast majority of advice you’ll find today on making conversation comes from an approval-seeking mindset. And this makes it not only psychologically unhealthy, but also highly detrimental to your social life.
First of all, since if comes from this mindset, this kind of conversation advice is likely to make you feel very nervous and self-conscious in social settings. That’s how you feel when you suppose you have to please every single person you interact with.
As a confidence and communication coach, I work regularly with shy, insecure or socially awkward men and women. Many of them have become this way precisely because they were told too much to be nice, avoid arguments and make sure others like them.
So much that they started ignoring their own needs and believing they must always please other people. And continual exposure to advice of this sort only strengthens this anxiety-generating mindset.
Dale Carnegie was wrong. That’s right; the father of social success literature was wrong. Well, actually, to be more accurate, he gave the right advice to the wrong people. Or the wrong advice to the right people, depending on how you look at it.
There are people who are total assholes with others and could very well benefit from guidance such as “be more polite” or “be attentive towards other’s needs”.
But guess what? These are not the people these messages get to. These are not the people reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” or surfing the web for articles on making small talk.
Because their concern is not to make friends and they sure as hell don’t give a fuck about hurting others. And when someone gets hurt, they see it as that person’s fault, not theirs.
Ironically, the people who do get exposed the most to this type of conversation advice are precisely the ones who need less of it. The shy, insecure people who seek to better their social life.
Second of all, when you’re in an approval-seeking mindset, this makes social interactions a burden instead of a normal, enjoyable part of life.
It’s no wonder many people hate going out, meeting new people and making conversation. It’s because they think that when they do so, they have to turn themselves into this extra-nice, super-polite social clown, who’s only goal is to please others.
And last but not least, this kind of conversation style I exemplified, which creates and is created by an approval-seeking mindset, frequently makes you seem needy, inauthentic and just plain odd.
You may think it helps you make a great impression on others, but trust me, more often than not, quite the opposite is truth. So if you’re following this kind of advice yet people simply don’t want to be your friends, now you know why. Who wants to be friends with a needy, insecure wuss?
A Much Better Way to Make Conversation
I take a different approach to making conversation.
I believe that ideally, conversation should be a win-win experience. You offer value in a dialogue, and you also receive value. It’s a voluntary exchange of value on a free market where there are multiple suppliers and recipients, and each person is a supplier as well as a recipient of value.
Consequently, the best style of conversation is a type that facilitates both giving and receiving a lot of value. This entails:
- Trying to find topics of mutual interest to talk about rather than talking solely about whatever interests the other person.
- Disagreeing with somebody and stating harsh truths if you want to, but in a diplomatic, thoughtful manner.
- Being yourself instead of playing a role and turning a simple chat into a chore.
- And most importantly, being willing to walk away from a conversation if it's clear that it simply can't be a win-win experience.
Can you see how this type of conversation would feel more real, require less exertion, and be a lot more enjoyable, provided that you learn to stop needing everybody’s approval?
It will have all these qualities and more. It will help you build stronger, longer and better relationships with people, and a social life that you absolutely love. In conversation, a win-win approach is the only way to go.
Transforming Your Conversation Style
Adopting this new approach to conversation begins with deciding to stop looking at conversation from an approval-seeking mindset and to start looking at it from a win-win mindset. It’s not about pleasing others; it’s about making it, if possible, a positive experience for all parties involved.
Once you made this decision, your way of thinking about social interactions at all levels needs to shift in order to stop feeling like you need everyone’s approval.
I’m not talking just about the way you consciously understand socializing, I’m talking about your usual thinking habits relating to social interactions, which get triggered outside your conscious control, as well as some of your deeply ingrained beliefs about yourself and others.
For this, you have to practice thinking in a new way and behaving in a new way with regard to social situations, aligned with this win-win mindset, and do so in a systematic, efficient way.
If you do so, it will quickly become your second nature. You’ll find yourself feeling incredibly confident and relaxed in conversation; you’ll be able to take charge and be authentic with others.
With this idea in mind I created my Conversation Confidence guide. It’s a step-by-step blueprint meant to teach people who want to enjoy better relationships how to stop needing the approval of others and empower them to make confident, genuine and effortless conversation.
And the results those who bought this guide have achieved using it are nothing short of remarkable. You can learn more about the guide here.
As your thinking shifts towards win-win and you feel more confident in social settings, it’s then advisable to also work on developing constructive conversation habits, which facilitate win-win conversation.
You can read practical books and articles on conversation that are coming from a healthy mindset and apply the advice in them. This advice should be significantly different from the trite “always listen to others” “compliment them a lot” and “be nice”. You know that’s not the solution.
And finally, keep in mind that the best way to better you conversations is by bettering yourself as a person. Read, travel, do new things, learn new things, experiment, challenge yourself, and do it primarily for you.
As an interesting side benefit though, you’ll build up a huge repertoire of cool ways to add value in a conversation. And this kind of value bringing will happen nearly effortlessly. All you have to do is be talkative and fully engage in the conversation.
Interacting with others can be an amazing, deeply-fulfilling experience. Some of my best memories are times spent with other people. And I find this is a nearly universal occurrence.
But it is key to have the right mindset about yourself and the right mindset about talking to people. Coming from this mindset, you’ll be able to make unparalleled conversation and you’ll constantly be looking forward to social events and social opportunities.