How to Master the Art of Conversation

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It doesn’t matter if you’re in the company of friends or strangers: Sometimes words just seem to be in short supply. Awkward silences can keep you from getting closer to those around you, stunting the enlargement of your social circle. Whether you’re shy or just short on conversation material, you can master a number of strategies to help bridge the gap between yourself and others with words.

Stay Updated

Keep up-to-date with current events so you'll have material for conversation, suggests social worker Maud Purcell in the PsychCentral article, "Making Conversation: A Skill, Not an Art." For example, browse news sites and social media outlets for local events, global stories, and whatever else catches your interest. Even if you don't have time to memorize all the details, use these current events as effective conversation starters. Unless you know which topics interest the person you’ll be talking to, stick to big news stories, so she will likely have an opinion.

Share Your World

Consider recent happenings in your own life that you want to share, suggests networking expert Don Gabor in "Mastering the Art of Small Talk." For example, think about recent trips you have taken, books you have read, or movies and television shows you have watched. Use these to reinvigorate a dying conversation. Avoid bragging and ensure that the other person has at least some interest in the subject before you end up dominating a one-sided conversation.

Ask and Listen

Don’t feel pressured to be an expert in multiple fields just to impress those you converse with, nor should you shoulder the burden of doing all the talking. To make a conversation interesting, show an interest in the person across from you, suggests Fredric Neuman, M.D., in the "Psychology Today" article, “How to Make Clever Conversation.” Ask questions, listen to the answers, and then either relate the answer to something in your own experience or ask for more details. For example, ask a conversation partner how he feels about rap music. If you can relate, do so, and if you disagree, ask a few more questions to show an interest in his point of view. Take the focus off yourself.

Throw in Some Laughs

A few laughs can ease nervousness and even add a spark to small talk. However, don’t assume that just because you find something humorous, everyone else will laugh. Not everyone appreciates sarcasm or enjoys your favorite joke. The safest jokes are self-deprecating ones, suggests Purcell, since they reveal a sense of modesty. For example, go ahead and admit you have two left feet, or how every phone you own invariably ends up in pieces. Don’t go overboard with these jokes. Just keep them up your sleeve to relieve tension.