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The Secret to Having a Great Conversation

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Quality conversations are often satisfying and sometimes emotionally painful, depending on the topic being addressed. The characteristics that make a conversation worthwhile include honesty and respect. It is critical that everyone involved is attentive, engaged and invested. Otherwise, the communication will be ineffective and can lead to misinterpretations and hurt feelings, according to psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus in his article "Simple Keys to Effective Communication" for "Psychology Today."

Avoid Distraction

Many elements can create barriers to a productive conversation. When engaged in a discussion, refrain from using your cellphone, skimming the newspaper or glancing at the television. When possible, take the conversation to a private, comfortable environment. Your own needs and judgments can hinder a conversation. For example, you may feel hungry, or you may disapprove of a topic, such as certain parenting techniques. You then can get lost in your own thoughts about lunch or become preoccupied with your frustration regarding the discussion of spanking children. Minimizing or taking steps to prevent these distractions will help you more effectively participate in the conversation -- have a snack before talking or practice setting boundaries regarding conversations you'd rather not have.

Listen Actively

Active listening requires that you pay attention not only to what is being said but also to what is not. This includes facial expressions and gestures. Nonverbal cues are just as important to the conversation as verbal ones. Also, take note of the key points you are hearing. Once the person you are talking to finishes speaking, reflect what you've heard back to your counterpart. This will ensure both of you are connected in the discussion. In addition to this paraphrasing, it is important that you ask questions as needed.

Participate Appropriately

Depending on the context of the conversation, you may be able to interject comments, jokes or other remarks as opportunities arise. If the conversation is more formal, provide information and answer questions clearly and concisely. You can offer your opinion, but do not give it unless it is welcome. If there is a conflict, focus on a resolution via compromise instead of "winning" an argument. It is also helpful to participate at a level that your counterparts will understand, depending on age or emotional state, for instance.

Take Breaks

If the conversation becomes heated, overly upsetting or is otherwise interrupted, suggest putting it on hold. Once they've been paused, discussions can be resumed within minutes, hours, days or longer, depending on the comfort levels of everyone involved. This gives you and the other participants an opportunity to process emotions, gather your thoughts and regain focus. Even casual, fun conversations can be continued as necessary -- should you be called away by work or child care demands, for instance.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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