It happens to the best of us (even those of us, like me, who can chew ears off talking ourselves into oblivion): a conversation stalls. Maybe you're talking with someone new or maybe you're chatting with a colleague with whom you've worked before, but, either way, there's a lull in the conversation. The silence is awkward, and you're not sure how to keep the ball rolling.
While, in the grand scheme of things, these moments don't mean much of anything (and your conversation partner probably feels just as awkward as you do, if they even care at all), no one wants to have dull conversations. After all, being an effective communicator who can keep the energy going is a valuable skill to have as a professional.
Fortunately, there are simple conversation techniques you can use to keep the other person engaged, interested and wanting to talk. All it takes is building rapport, gaining comfortability and keeping confident.
Here's how to keep the conversation going (and why you should want to at least try).
Why Is Keeping a Conversation Going an Important Skill?
Why would you want to keep a conversation going? Well, keeping the conversation going is an important skill to have because it can help you both in your social life and in your career.
In your social life, for example, you'll be able to meet, talk to and confidently get to know more people with whom you might become good friends. In your career, you'll be able to network, find more success in job interviews and even bond with coworkers. Ultimately, if you can keep conversations going so that, eventually, they evolve beyond surface-level talk, you have more opportunities to get to know people with whom you might befriend or work for or alongside.
It's not uncommon for conversations to have bumps in the beginning, especially if you're just getting to know someone. But rest assured that, just because you don't know someone doesn't mean that you have nothing to talk about; in fact, you have everything to talk about because you have everything to learn about each other.
Of course, conversations are two-way streets and, if talking to the other person is like pulling teeth, it may not be worth your energy trying to keep the conversation going. They might not even be interested in talking to you or in talking about the subject you've been discussing — but it's at least up to you to pick up on those social cues and respond accordingly. Besides, picking up on the vibe of a situation is also a valuable skill to have.
How Can You Keep the Conversation Going?
How do you continue a conversation that's on its way to dwindling out completely? Here are seven tips.
1. Keep Open Body Language
Studies suggest that keeping open body language makes you a better conversationalist; after all, a huge chunk of our communication is nonverbal. In fact, UCLA research has shown that only seven percent of communication is based on the actual words we say. Meanwhile, 38 percent comes from our tone of voice and the remaining 55 percent comes from body language.
People will feel more comfortable around you if you know how to make yourself appear open and receptive to hearing what they have to say.
You might also want to mirror your conversation partner's body language.
"Mirroring body language is something we do unconsciously when we feel a bond with the other person; it’s a sign that the conversation is going well and that the other party is receptive to your message," according to Talent Smart.
Ultimately, body language and other nonverbal communication styles are just as important as verbal language when having a conversation.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions of Them
This is simple advice, but it's easy to take. Ask questions of the person with whom you're speaking — particularly, open-ended questions. This compels them to open up and talk with you — and research shows that people love talking about themselves, anyway. Just be sure that you don't ask anything too personal or private right away, and stay away from inappropriate topics such as politics and religion when you're first meeting someone especially. Stick to general questions about their work and interests instead.
3. Talk About Any Known or Learned Common Interests
Once you get to know the person a little more, especially as you begin asking them questions, chances are that you'll learn of a common interest. Say, for example, you're both into traveling. You can ask them more about their travels, letting them know that you're a big traveler, too, and opening up about some of your own travel stories. You might even find that you've done some of the same travels and have even more to chat about than you thought.
4. Comment on Your Surroundings
If you're talking in an environment that contains some element worth noting, you can acknowledge it and talk about it. If, for example, there's a song playing in the background that brings back a memory for you, maybe you want to mention it and ask them about that time period in their lives or their favorite kind of music.
5. Mention a Recent, Current or Upcoming Event
There's always something coming up that you can chat about — whether it's asking them how they're preparing for the impending snow storm, bringing up something that happened in the news that day or asking them what their holiday plans are, there's certainly a way to discuss a recent, current or upcoming event.
6. Ask Them to Tell You More About Something
If the person with whom you're talking says something interesting to you, ask them to tell you more about it. If, for example, they mention that they've recently started a new side project, ask them to share more details about it. The chances are that, if they brought it up, it's probably something they enjoy talking about.
7. Hold Eye Contact
Holding eye contact is important in a conversation — that's why eye contact is a major public speaking technique, too. It lets the person (or people) with whom you're speaking know that you're attentive and engaged.
On average, we hold eye contact for seven to 10 seconds — longer when we’re listening than when we’re talking, according to Talent Smart. But make sure that when you're both listening and talking you're holding eye contact.
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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.