25 Top Tips of better conversations

  • Conversations need room to grow if they are to reach their full potential. Research shows that we spend a lot less time talking to people close to us than we imagine. Yet oddly, when a conversation is really working well, the time seems to fly by.
  • Make conversations like dancing: a two-way partnership, with neither side dominating.
  • The 'stitch in time' rule applies to communication as well.
    Studies show that many of our more 'difficult' conversations (the ones that turn into battles) could be avoided by staying in more regular contact. In other words, a chat a day can keep the arguments at bay.
  • Every conversation is a potential learning experience. We can all make our lives richer by understanding the experiences of others. Having a conversation with someone is like exploring the pages of an encyclopedia full of valuable knowledge.
  • How other people see you greatly influences how they approach you in conversation. If there are negative sides to your reputation as a communicator, work hard to change them.
  • Try to avoid the Blame Game. Use "I" statements rather than "you" statements when talking about your thoughts and feelings.
  • Unless you're able to recognise your own feelings, you won't be able to express them clearly and be open with other people. If you are not able to recognise other people's feelings, you'll only ever understand part of their picture.
  • Many misunderstandings arise from faulty assumptions about all kinds of facts and feelings. So when in doubt, say what you mean and encourage the other person to do the same. Hinting isn't good enough.
  • Blaming the other person for not understanding you - or for you not understanding them - is pointless. While you can't be responsible for the other person's efforts, you can for your own.
  • Don't bring up important issues where there isn't the time to deal with them properly or if the circumstances are wrong.
  • Use the opening part of a conversation to be up front about why you'd like to talk and what your main point is. You'll engage the interest of the other person and help them understand what follows.
  • Talk in a way that's about real things, real experiences and real feelings. Aim to be the central character of your stories.
  • Once the conversation has finished, it's too late to say the things you left out.
  • Regularly summing up what you've said can transform the quality and accuracy of your conversations - and instantly eliminate many of the knock-on problems caused by misunderstandings.
  • Don't just listen to the words, listen to the 'music' as well, including body language and voice quality. Also, look for clues in what is not being said.
  • Listen with as little prejudice and as few presumptions as possible. Avoid snap judgements. Let your understanding develop like the image on a Polaroid film as the information comes in. Try to avoid responses that are criticisms in disguise. They are likely to sabotage the conversation.
  • Empathy is about demonstrating that you understand. You can best do this through words that reflect the other person's meaning. So take care to feed in plenty of Highlights as you go along.
  • Be willing to recognise when you don't understand or need to know more. The other person will respect you for your efforts.
  • If you're not clear, try, try and try again. It may not be your 'fault' that you're feeling fuzzy. It could be that the other person's thoughts are unclear. Encourage them to be concrete and specific about all the ingredients of their story.
  • From time to time, feed back a summary of your understanding to confirm that you've got it right.
  • The best decisions are those people reach for themselves. So be lean on the advice but generous with the help and support. Men in particular feel the need to solve other people's problems - especially those of their partners. This can cause friction when all the partner wants to do is unload her day's experiences.
  • If a conversation is failing to work because of negative feelings on either side, deal with this issue separately.
  • It's an important way to establish and demonstrate our closeness to people. Also, gossiping is good for you. It helps you stay in touch with the details that make daily life easier to organise.
  • Offer helpful feedback based on a straightforward description of the behaviour and its impact. Before you
    offer advice or guidance, always make sure you have enough information.
  • Being genuine is at the heart of all worthwhile communication.














20 April 2008