Conversationally Speaking

"I developed the Conversationally Speaking workshop and have written this book to fill in this gap and teach these skills in an interesting, straightforward, and nontechnical manner."

- Conversationally Speaking, page 2

Alan Garner teaches ordinary people conversation skills. It’s easy to talk loosely and make noise. However, I think the goal of interaction is mutual connection as opposed to making random and untimely noises. Few people know how to effectively formulate words and use appropriate nonverbals to communicate. The good news is that every person can learn and apply conversation skills to daily life.

Alan prefers to equip others through in-person workshops, but decided to capture conversation best practices into book-form. Conversationally Speaking is a book that translates academic and technical research in communication into a quite practical and relevant handbook for all those who seek to develop their conversation skills.

This book is super awesome and helpful. Improving conversation skills is the evident theme throughout, but each chapter is unique and well-worthy to expound upon. Conversationally Speaking is meant to be applied and revisited on a regularly basis. Below are my favorite chapters that I intend to practice often…

  • Asking Questions That Promote Conversation
  • Listening So Others Will Talk
  • Taking Advantage of Free Information
  • Handling Criticism Constructively
  • Conveying Meaning by Motion
  • Reducing Anxiety in Social Situations

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Get a Dual Perspective

"Having a dual perspective means thinking not just in terms of what you want to say and hear but also in terms of the other person’s interests."
- Conversationally Speaking, page 9

A dual perspective requires humility. Humility is to consider others better than yourself. Humble people ask questions like, “How can I benefit this person?” or “How can I empathize with this person’s feelings?” People ought to consider their conversation partner’s interests and seek every way to cater your words to their betterment.

Here’s a practical way to accentuate a dual perspective… Ask the other person what activities interest him/her and find an activity you both enjoy. Seek to benefit the other person and then look for mutual benefit. For instance, your acquaintance expresses his interest in golf, theatre, and investing to you. If you despise theatre and investing, talk about golf. Common interests fuel conversation. If all the activities your conversation partner enjoys are boring to you, suck it up. Practice humility and engage in their interests. You may learn something new! Not every conversation will provide mutual benefit and not every conversation should provide mutual benefit. Even still, you should always seek this mutual outcome. Conversation requires engagement from two parties. The quicker you arrive at a topic you both enjoy, the easier it is to continue conversation. This dual perspective mindset initially benefits others and will normally reciprocate benefit to you.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Be Specific. Be Direct.

"The most common way to express admiration is to deliver a direct positive. This type of compliment tells people in a straightforward manner what it is you appreciate about their behavior, appearance, and possessions."
- Conversationally Speaking, page 23

Stop speaking vague and general words. Tell others exactly what you like about them. Be specific and be direct. Instead of saying, “I like your shoes”, try this: “Bob, those tan loafers go well with your khaki pants”. Bob would most likely enjoy the second statement because it is thoughtful and observant. People want to be recognized in a genuine, specific way.

Providing details and specifics naturally improves your credibility. It’s easy to say, “I like your shoes”, but more challenging to add context to such an opinion. If you improve awareness and strive to be specific, there should be no issue in bringing heartfelt value to another person. Consequently, others will enjoy conversing with you.

Additionally, being direct and specific encourages good behavior. Whether it is a complement or reprimand, the listener must clearly understand the sender’s message in order to respond appropriately. This skill develops with premeditation and practice. You should mentally plan and role-play scenarios, and always search for those small opportunities to speak openly.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Ask Questions

"Ask questions, show interest in the response you receive, and then attempt to link those responses to your own knowledge and experience"
- Conversationally Speaking, page 58

Ask questions. Lots of them! Actually, don’t ask too many questions. Questions are simply a means to enter conversation. You should ask questions that promote conversation. Don’t ask just any type of question if your goal is to encourage conversation. Yes/No questions are typically starter questions that should quickly dissolve. Open-ended questions are normally the way to go! Instead of starting sentences with “Who” or “When”, try “How” or “Why”. If conversation stops, either leave or ask an open-ended question.

Try to stay away from cliché questions because they generally elicit cliché answers. There is such a thing as an open-ended question that is too open and cliché. For example, Americans like to respond “Pretty good” or “Not bad” to the question “How’d it go today?” Also, stay away from initially asking difficult questions. In an effort to make your conversation partner comfortable, ask a simple question that they should obviously know.

Questions are a crucial instrument to equip a person for a good conversation. The right question will help you maneuver through any conversational cross-point and is a genuine way to connect with others. Once you ask a question, listen actively! When it’s your turn to respond, try to express their reality using your own words. Asking questions ought to benefit your conversation partner as you intend to give them an opportunity to speak. Use questions liberally and wisely.

Take the dual perspective, be specific and direct, and ask good questions. Seek every opportunity to benefit your conversation partner as you express genuine interest in them. Conversational speaking is a skill. You must practice every day. Try focusing on one element of communication at a time. Perhaps this week, do all possible to handle criticism constructively by asking for details and agreeing with the truth. Next week, intentionally practice another aspect of communication. Opportunity awaits us every day. We just need to engage and enjoy every occasion.

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Jonny Petrucco

ABOUT Jonny Petrucco

I was born and raised in a home with two parents who love me and two older sisters who tormented me (just kidding, we actually get along!). I learned about frugality and work ethic working in my Dad's business since age 8...
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