Mastering the art of conversation: 7 habits of highly effective and persuasive communicators

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Ever notice how some people have mastered the art of conversation? It’s like having interesting and engaging chats with everyone they meet and creating connections is effortless for them. The conversation just flows.

And the thing is: you can tell that the people they’re talking to are really enjoying the conversation too and want to keep talking. These conversation pros put people at ease and break down their walls, turning strangers into friends in one simple conversation.    

Considering all of us communicate every single day, we could all stand to be better communicators, right? But how?

I’ve been observing how people communicate for years and I’ve noticed, among all the different styles and techniques, there are a few key habits that all of the most effective and persuasive communicators share. Today, I’m sharing the top 7 habits I’ve seen across the board. 

I’m always working to improve my communication, and if I can help you get better at it too, that’s a plus. And who knows, maybe you’re already doing some of these things and you’re well on your way to being a top communicator already.

1) They lead with curiosity (not judgment) 

Without realizing it, most of us fall into the trap of starting conversations with preconceived ideas and judgments. It doesn’t make you a bad person or anything it’s just part of being human.

“It is impossible to meet someone and make zero internal judgments about them” confirms Marwa Azab Ph.D., professor of psychology and human development at California State University, Long Beach.

One of the most powerful things I’ve seen the best communicators do is to start with a curious mind. Sure, they make judgments like the rest of us but they set them to the side and don’t allow their judgments to sway the conversation. They lead with curiosity instead. 

All this really means is, instead of letting their judgments and assumptions dictate their questions they keep an open mind and allow their conversation partner to speak their truth. It’s trickier than it sounds but it can transform a conversation.  

2) They ask open questions

We’ve just talked about how great communicators lead with curiosity and ask questions, right? But they don’t just ask any old questions at all. They’re intentional about asking open questions. 

Open questions typically can’t be answered by one-word answers like “yes” or “no”. They encourage people to share more freely giving them room to reveal not just their answers but also their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. They can really open up about themselves. 

And here’s the kicker: People love to talk about themselves. “Studies show that hands down, our favorite topic of communication is, you guessed it, ourselves” notes psychiatrist Samantha Boardman MD

On average people spend 60% of every conversation talking about themselves and this figure jumps to 80% when they communicate through social media. By asking open questions, you’re indirectly inviting them to talk about themselves without restriction. 

The most effective and persuasive communicators know that people love to talk about themselves and they tap into this by asking lots of open questions. 

3) They listen actively

Communication isn’t all about asking questions though, listening is just as important. And the best conversationalists out there have their listening skills down. 

They know that listening is about more than just replying to what someone has said but being fully engaged in the conversation. It’s not just hearing the words, but also understanding the true meaning and intent behind them. This is known as active listening and it’s super important. 

You might be wondering why this is such a vital part of being an effective communicator, I know I wondered when I first heard about active listening. What it really comes down to is listening is all about how you make the other person feel.    

“Ultimately, it shows respect and value for the other person’s needs, concerns, and ideas as the listener is actively signaling the other person matters to them,” explains Sabrina Romanoff PsyD

Active listening is another one that sounds easier than it is but it’s something all of the best conversationalists have mastered.

4) They use people’s names 

If there’s one thing humans like more than the opportunity to talk about themselves, it’s hearing someone else use their own name. I bet you didn’t realize just how egotistical we all are, right?

American writer and lecturer, Dale Carnegie famously said, “Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” and it’s true.

Using someone’s name in conversation is a simple but effective way to be a better communicator. It shows respect for them and helps to build a connection. Studies have even found that hearing your own name triggers unique activity in the brain. 

Next time you meet an excellent communicator, take note, chances are they’ll probably be in the habit of using people’s names in conversation. It’s a simple and effective technique that you can use too. It’ll enhance your communication and make you more persuasive so why not try it out? 

5) They say “and” instead of “but” 

This next one is a little trick that is so simple, you won’t believe it. I’ve only learned it recently from communication coach, Vinh Giang. I’m finding it works especially well during conversations where there’s some conflict with the other person. 

It’s pretty tempting to use the word ‘but’ a lot when you’re having a friendly debate with someone. The thing is: this immediately creates the sense that you’re not fully on board with what they’re saying, or that you’re about to challenge their ideas.

A simple trick is to replace that ‘but’ with the word ‘and’. Now all of a sudden, instead of being on different sides, it feels like you’ve taken what they’re saying on board and you’re building on it. It’s like you’re on the same team now, tackling the problem together. 

When you’re disagreeing with someone, it’s even more important to be an effective and persuasive communicator because it helps you to get your point across and create a solution that feels like a win-win for everyone involved, this little trick is a great way to do it. 

6) They don’t interrupt

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where you’re trying to get your point across but they keep interrupting you? It’s pretty frustrating, right? 

Interrupting others is a bad habit that a lot of people have developed. It’s like they know that you’re speaking but they can’t help themselves but to add their two cents. I admit, I’ve been guilty of this one in the past but I’ve realized the error of my ways and I’m working on it. 

I’ve heard people who interrupt make excuses like ‘If I don’t say it now I’ll forget’ or ‘It just popped into my head and I had to say it’. None of these excuses make interrupting others okay and it has a very negative impact

“Interrupting most likely damages the rest of the conversation” explains Julian Treasure, communication expert and five-time TED speaker, “the interrupted person may well feel belittled and offended, giving rise to anger, resentment, and unwillingness to be open from that point.”

Masters of communication are all about making their conversation partners feel seen, heard, and understood. They want to make them feel special and encourage them to share which is why they never interrupt others, no matter how much they want to share their thoughts. 

7) They tell stories

Last but not least, the most compelling and persuasive communicators out there tell stories. 

Too many people try to rely on facts, figures, and statistics to persuade people to make decisions, to spend money, or to change their behavior. The thing is: numbers alone don’t work. 

A good story, on the other hand, can change the world. And the reason is simple: stories evoke emotion, they make us feel. We can relate to stories. We imagine ourselves and our loved ones in those stories. We don’t just hear it, we feel it. 

My old coworker, Paul, was an amazing storyteller. He could make any event sound thrilling. His storytelling skills made him not just a top salesman but also the most liked person in the office.

Like Paul, most great communicators are also excellent storytellers. And they’re not afraid to share personal stories even in a business context to deliver a powerful message and ultimately persuade people to get on board with their ideas. 

If you want to be up there with the best of them, it might be time to brush up on your storytelling skills. 

The bottom line

Have you noticed the theme that’s running through each of the habits of highly effective communicators? 

Being a great conversationalist is all about connecting with others, giving them space to express themselves, and connecting with their emotions. It’s more about the other person than you. 

Even though it might sound easy, it takes a lot of work to develop these habits, but they’re well worth the effort. 

Cat Harper

Cat is an experienced Sales and Enablement professional turned writer whose passions span from psychology and relationships to continuous self-improvement, lifelong learning and pushing back on societal expectations to forge a life she loves. An avid traveler and adventure sports enthusiast, in her downtime you'll find Cat snowboarding, motorcycling or working on her latest self-development project.

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