We’ve all been part of a conversation where one person is talking endlessly on one subject or is weaving in topic after topic, while the rest just sit and listen, often dumbfounded. What these ‘conversationalists’ are doing is basically expressing their individual interest in certain topics, when others are left with no choice but to sit and listen about the things they have zero interest in. Here are a few things you can do to participate in or come back into a conversation.
Listen and ask
Listening is as much an art as talking is. Listening means you are focusing on the subject being discussed and thinking about it in the hope that you will respond with a profound observation. If you find yourself in a conversation where one individual is taking the lead, then the best way is to quietly listen to what s(he) has to say and reflect upon the subject matter. Think of at least one good question to ask the speaker. Questions are a powerful way of letting the speaker know that you’re not just listening but also critically analysing her / his comments. This will also encourage others in the group to ask questions, gradually dissolving one person’s lead and giving each member an equal share in the conversation.
Some are born with the gift of gab, the rest of us can develop the skill
Body language isn’t only about keeping your shoulders broad and relaxed, keeping your hands out of pockets and using an appropriate pitch of voice, but it’s actually mostly about exuding confidence. It’s natural to feel bored or even less intelligent when you don’t have much to contribute during a conversation, but don’t lose your confidence. Stand tall and listen attentively. Look at the speaker when s(he) is talking and nod if you agree. Occasionally pass a casual glance at other members of the group; perhaps you might strike a sub-conversation amongst yourself which could be far more amusing. If nothing, take this conversation as a learning platform.
The tone and pitch of your voice plays an important part during conversations. Your whispers or screeches will only manifest your timidity and insecurity. Try to maintain an even tone and volume when you are presenting negating opinions so that it shows your composure and self-assurance. When you speak, use correct pronunciation (eg Wenz-day not Wed-ness-day, peet-za not pi-za) and grammar as much as possible so that you are taken seriously. Language colloquialisms, common phrases and idioms are also fine as long as you are using them appropriately. Many people are conscious about using difficult vocabulary, just to sound intelligent during a conversation. Don’t do that! If you know good word-stock, then go ahead — but if you don’t, then don’t fake it. It will be very apparent.
The best way to turn a monologue into a dialogue effectively is to have sufficient knowledge about the topic being discussed so that you can contribute rationally. When you know what the individual is talking about, you can pose relevant questions to her / him, add more information or challenge his / her theories. The only way you can acquire such a vast expanse of knowledge is by inculcating a habit of reading daily for at least 30 minutes. Search in-depth articles about the topics that interest you and read whenever you get a chance. Keep an eye on the political scenario and economic woes as people usually like to discuss current affairs at social gatherings. Apart from these, educate yourself thoroughly about your profession.
At times you will need to take control of the situation where one individual is bragging about a certain subject matter and the rest of the group is silently listening with very little or no interest. For example, you are at a gathering where a certain person is boasting of her / his scuba diving experiences. In this scenario, you will need to take charge and channel the discussion towards a topic of mutual interest. Start by asking their thoughts on coral reefs in Pakistan, and then skilfully divert the topic towards the breathtaking northern areas of Pakistan, encouraging everyone to share their personal experiences and memories. Remember, not every conversation will warrant you to apply these tactics. Therefore, analyse the conversation and the speaker’s personality before taking any steps. At times, the best policy is to be a silent spectator!
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 3rd, 2016