Conversation skills

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Mastering the Art of Conversation

1) How To Make Small Talk

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Whatever the context, old friends or new, it is best if speakers respect five principles:

Put others at ease
Put yourself at ease
Weave in all parties
Establish shared interests
Actively pursue your own

2) How To Make A Solid Introduction

Mastering the art of conversation has to start somewhere, so you have to know how to begin. Here’s a solid formula.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

An effective introduction is small-ad brief, splicing in only two ingredients per person:
A (who they are) + B (why they are relevant)
The salient information is not so much formal title (royals, snobs, and servicemen excepted) as how you relate to one another or the event (housemate, client, mother-in-law, single male drafted in for ladies like you). Identify points of contact, charge people up, and you have a connection.

3) How We Judge A Successful Conversation

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Research has found that with a serious topic or a good friend, we measure a conversation’s success by how enthralled we were by what the other person said. Whereas, the less familiar the other person, the more trivial the topic, the likelier we are to rate the experience by our own performance.

4) How To Make A Conversation Progress

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Discussion should enlarge by exploratory increments. Pace matters. Too neutral, too long, and you’ll both transmit beige personalities, but accelerate to war’s evils right away and her son will be a brigadier. Instead, use discreet hints to flush the other person out.
If in doubt, the stair to intimacy has four steps:
Courtesies (“Hello, how are you?”)
Trade information (“So what brought you here?”)
Trade opinion (“Isn’t this music unusual?”)
Trade feeling (“Yup, I hate it.”)
Pose questions that circle the personal, noting whether the other prefers a sharp or gentle approach, and adapting accordingly. Andalthough small talk aims to please, don’t make this too obvious.

5) To help doctors be better listeners, their responses are graded from 1 to 6 with the “empathic communication coding system.”

The higher the number, the better.

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

6: Shared feeling/experience
5: Confirmation of an emotion’s legitimacy
4: Pursuit of the topic
3: Acknowledgment
2: Implicit recognition (but changing the topic)
1: Perfunctory recognition (autopilot)
0: Denial/contradiction

6) Two Powerful Pieces Of Advice

Via The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure:

Hear what people are really saying as opposed to what they are telling you.
Directness is a privilege of intimacy.

5 secrets that will help you master conversation skills
a) Emphasize similarity
The key to being liked and being more influential is similarity.

You like names better when they are similar to yours. You even prefer brands that merely share your initials. Birthdays are easier to remember when they are closer to yours. You even prefer people who move the way you do.

Demonstrating that you have something in common with someone else makes them more likely to help you. Salesmen deliberately fake little similarities in order to influence you and connect with you. And it works.

Out and out mimicking people (but not obviously) causes them to like you more and to act more kind. On dates, when women mimic men the guys are more interested. Mimicry makes you a better negotiator.

Improving listening skills is a matter of little more than repeating what people just said. The first words you should say in a negotiation are anything very similar to what the person on the other side of the table just said.

Opposites do not usually attract. You’re much more likely to be attracted to, have a happy marriage with or just be friends with someone similar to you. You seek out friends who are similar to you. Similarity only increases marginally post-friendship. When you ask people they say they want a romantic partner that is complementary but in reality they pick someone who is similar. The single strongest predictor of marital well-being is perceived similarity.

b) Get them talking about what interests them.
People who have trouble with conversation always say the same thing: “But what do I talk about?”

Wrong question. The right question is “How do I get them talking about what they’re interested in?“

Don’t be a conversational narcissist.

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.
Yes, you’ve done this. We all have.

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? What models have you looked at?

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
James: Really?
Rob: Yup, I just test drove a Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.

In the first example, Rob kept the attention on James with his support-response. In the second example, Rob attempts to turn the conversation to himself with a shift-response.

What should you say after you listen? Research shows you should respond with things that are “active and constructive.“

[Or jump to R: Relationships of PERMA]

That word is “PERMA.” It’s an acronym for:
Positive Emotion
Good Relationships

P: Positive Emotion

We need 3 positive things for every negative thing in order to thrive.
Frederickson has found out that if we really want to prosper, we shouldn’t try to eliminate negative emotions, rather, we should work on keeping the ratio at three positive for every one negative. Most of us, she has found, have two positive experiences for every negative. This gets us by, but it is effectively languishing.

E: Engagement

This is what is often called flow. It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity…

There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:

Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
Immediate feedback.
Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
Strong concentration and focused attention.
The activity is intrinsically rewarding.

Finding that balance between challenge and skills is best illustrated by this chart:

Fig 1.1

FIG 1.1 472px-Challenge_vs_skill.svg_

This balance creates a pleasurable state for our brain. We’re not happy when our mind wanders and we’re not happy when we’re doing nothing. We’re happier when we’re busy.

-Identify your signature strengths.
-Choose work that lets you use them every day.
-Recraft your present work to use your signature strengths more.
-If you are the employer, choose employees whose signature strengths mesh with the work they will do. If you are a manager, make room to allow employees to recraft the work within the bounds of your goals.

More: Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life Book

R: Relationships

Seligman talks about a relatively recent discovery in what makes good relationships. Often it’s not how you fight, it’s how you celebrate:

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.
He also covers the type of speaking that improves relationships. It’s called “active-constructive.”

Fig 2.1

FIG 2.1 flourish.jpg.scaled1000
M: Meaning

Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something that is bigger than you are.
Researchers have found that “grit” or perseverance is more predictive of success than IQ in a variety of challenging environments from Ivy League schools to military academies to the National Spelling Bee.

c) Make people feel good

Studies show no matter what people say they prefer likable people over competent people. So don’t worry so much about being impressive.

Who would you rather have on your team: a loveable fool or a competent jerk?

Even though many might like to believe they’d pick the competent jerk to work with, more often than not they went with the lovable fool. It turns out if people are disliked it’s almost irrelevant to us how competent they may be:
Ask managers about this choice—and we’ve asked many of them, both as part of our re- search and in executive education programs we teach—and you’ll often hear them say that when it comes to getting a job done, of course competence trumps likability. “I can defuse my antipathy toward the jerk if he’s competent, but I can’t train someone who’s incompetent,” says the CIO at a large engineering company. Or, in the words of a knowledge management executive in the IT department of a professional services firm: “I really care about the skills and expertise you bring to the table. If you’re a nice person on top of that, that’s sim- ply a bonus.”

But despite what such people might say about their preferences, the reverse turned out to be true in practice in the organizations we analyzed. Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships— not friendships at work but job-oriented relationships—than is commonly acknowledged. They were even more important than evaluations of competence. In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn’t exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.

Of course, competence is more important than likability in some people’s choice of work partners. But why do so many others claim that to be the case? “Choosing the lovable fool over the competent jerk looks unprofessional,” suggests a marketing manager at a personal products company. “So people don’t like to admit it—maybe not even to themselves.”

What two things can help you win over someone who doesn’t like you?

Over at Forbes, Dorie Clark has a great piece that provides advice from the master of persuasion, Robert Cialdini, author of the must-read book Influence.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

So what two things can help you win over someone who doesn’t like you? Here’s what Cialdini had to say:
1. Give Honest Compliments. It may not be easy, especially if the person has been distancing themselves from you for a while. But if you’re objective, they probably have some qualities you admire. If you take a positive action and compliment them, it may well break the ice and make them re-evaluate their perceptions of you.
2. Ask for Their Advice. Cialdini notes this strategy – which involves asking for their professional advice, book suggestions, etc. – comes from Founding Father Ben Franklin, a master of politics and relationship building. “Now you’ve engaged the rule of commitment and consistency,” says Cialdini, in which they look at their actions (giving you advice or a book) and draw a conclusion from it (they must actually like you), a surprisingly common phenomenon in psychology. “And suddenly,” says Cialdini, “you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like.”

Cialdini’s advice makes you vulnerable, to a certain extent; you’re explicitly making a point of deferring to someone who may not like you. But if you’re ever going to change the relationship, you have to be willing to take that chance.
d) How to keep a conversation going.

Avoid extremes in autonomy. Don’t dominate a conversation, but don’t be a non-contributor either.
Add to what they say and bounce the ball back.


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