How to Make Conversation More Interesting

Christmas Candlelight Conversation
It’s not hard to find conversation.   It is all around us.  But truly interesting conversation – that is a rare find.   Just take a couple of rides on an elevator and listen to what people are saying.  It’s not really gripping or all that interesting.  Bad conversations aren’t just limited to elevators though; they’re everywhere.

In fact, I’d argue that some people have conversations as if their entire life was one long elevator ride.  Of course, you don’t have to live like that.  There are some things you can do to have meaningful, interesting conversations.

Levels of Conversations

In its basic form, all conversation is the sharing of information.  Just imagine calling someone on the phone right now and not sharing any information at all.  It’s impossible to do since you’re always telling someone a story or relating the events of your day to them.

Most of the time, you’re sharing information about yourself.  With that in mind, it’s important to note the three levels of information you share: demographic, sociographic and psychographic.

1.  Demographic

Information that is factual about you.  These are things like your age, gender, place of birth, what you had for breakfast this morning, etc.

2.  Sociographic

Information about your behavior.  What foods do you like to eat, what activities you enjoy doing, etc.

3.  Psychographic

Information about your thoughts.  These are things like your values, attitudes, interests, how you view abstract concepts like justice and morality.

Looking at these three levels of conversation, can you identify which area you spend the most time with other people?  Most likely, you answered number one and two.  And there’s a good reason for that.  It’s hard to walk up to a stranger and ask them about their values and attitudes.

But it is in the third area where some of the best conversations happen.  Listening to other people explain their thoughts really builds a connection and lets you know that person in a much deeper way.  Time spent in area 3 and to a lesser extent area 2 is where the real dynamics of good social interaction come from.

In fact, I bet if you were to examine your conversations with your closest friends you’d find that most of them involve areas 2 and 3.  You probably also consider them to be excellent conversationalists.  That’s no coincidence.

Become More Interested in Everything

One key thing to remember about creating interesting conversations is to be interested in as many topics as possible.  Over the years, I’ve become fascinated by many diverse topics ranging from travel, literature, action movies, economics and rock climbing.  Due to the wide range of interests, I’ve been able to have great conversations with a wider range of people.

Of course there are still some subjects I don’t know very well and have no real interest in.  But I still can find a way to start a good conversation.  Just recently I had a long conversation with my wife about basketball, a subject I have no interest in.

I did it in a way that became more interesting to me by asking her what she liked best about the sport.  This brought the conversation to level 3 communication about her thoughts on the game and made the conversation much more interesting.  Instead of hearing about the stats she knows about the games or players, I turned it into a way to get to know her better as a person.

Add Value and Relate

Of course conversations involve more than just sharing information about who you are.  You can talk about the weather, sports, the news or a book you’ve been reading.  So what about that information?  Well, you can divide this information in three ways: facts, opinions and stories.

1.  Facts

I consider facts to be extremely useful, but they usually don’t make great conversations by themselves.  They can drive a conversation along, but shouldn’t be relied on entirely since they don’t often contribute to good conversational flow.  Let me give you an example.

A few years ago I had a job in an office.  Each day I’d eat lunch with some co-workers who always talked about the weather.  And I mean they discussed the exact temperature and if it was higher or lower than the previous day.  Boring weather facts didn’t take the conversations very far.

2.  Opinions

Good conversations rely more on opinions.  Opinions provide a way for people to relate and contribute to the conversation in a way that facts often don’t.  This is the best way to understand what the other person thinks about the world.  You can get new perspectives and thoughts about things instead of just boring facts and figures.

 

3.  Stories

Another way to create good conversations.  Stories are how people interact with the world so naturally they make for good conversations.  Of course some stories can be boring depending on how you tell it and what it is about.

Something to remember about creating interesting conversations is that some people just seem to be incapable of maintaining a good conversation even after you start one.  Of course it could be that some people might just be shy or reluctant to share thoughts they consider private.  I wouldn’t push it too hard if that’s the case.

But in a world where boring conversations are the norm, it’s best to try and get better conversations started.  Otherwise you’ll just end up being another person trapped in that elevator of bad conversations.  It’s time to open the doors and let yourself out.
photo credit: Joshua Rappeneker

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Comments

  1. Awesome post! I’d like to add a point on practicing. Sparking some convo while in a foreign land where the culture and possibly the language are new is difficult, but if you start closer to home – say maybe at your supermarket things become a bit easier. My wife and friends always joke that I can talk to anyone, but it’s really a learned skill, and has opened fantastic opportunities over the years and makes monotonous things getting deli meat or standing in line at the DMV much more entertaining.

    Perhaps I should have commented in the form of psychographic story about an exotic dancer’s views on how alien octopuses are soon to take over the world….

    • Hi Wade, I would love to hear about that story. It would be interesting to see where you would take it…

      I totally agree that being able to talk to anyone is a learned skill. I know that I was a really shy kid growing up and eventually I just decided to change that. I opened up and started talking to people and now, I can talk to anyone.

      I agree that it comes down to practicing everywhere. I’d also like to add that being a good conversationlist takes practice too. And I think those that aren’t all that good at it probably don’t do it enough.

  2. This was a really good post on conversation Steve. This is a really important topic as I’m sure many people can benefit from learning how to be better conversationalists.

    I used to worry that I didn’t know what to say. I then learnt that all I needed to do was to show interest in other people, and ask them questions! People love to talk about themselves! :-)

    You are right. Most connection comes from the relating aspect. It’s really weird; if we hear two people conversing, it will be likely that one will share an experience, and then in return, the other person will also share a similar experience!

    • Hiten, I think conversation is an important topic too. If you had sit in with those co-workers and heard them talk about the weather everyday like they did, you would start begging to hear something interesting.

      You’re right that people love to talk about themselves. That really is one of the easiest ways to start a conversation. But making those things you tell about yourself relevant and unique to you really separates you from other people.

  3. This is one of my favorite posts of yours so far. I’ve been examining what makes conversations interesting for a long time and i always find that i can engage people more by asking them questions about why they like something just as you did with your wife. This works especially well even if you are not interested in the topic.

    Interestingly enough, i’ve used this method in interviews to try to make a connection without even knowoing it. I’ve gotten jobs which i was not really qualified for based on a social connection with the interviewer merely by asking them questions and trying to find a commonality. Funny how that works.

    • Hey Annie, I’m glad you found the same technique for talking to people about subjects you don’t like. I’ve found it works pretty well because you’re still talking about it, but using it as a way to get to know the person.

      I can see how it would work well in an interview. I’ll have to try that the next time I’m in one just to see how it works. Getting that connection really would help. Thanks for sharing that.

  4. Very interesting topic. I’ve been pondering conversations of late myself. I do find that asking questions – as you described with your wife- can allow for more fuller expressions, deepening the relations. I always love to hear of what has heart and meaning to others -following the passion of others. Cheers!

    • Hi Antonia, I love to hear what has heart and meaning to others too. Talking about dry everyday stuff just doesn’t seem to build a connection or get you to know the other person all that well. I think the best conversations are usually the ones that allow you to dig deeper into who the other person is. Asking questions about them is often a great stat to that.

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