I like to listen to stories. If you can tell me a captivating story, I will probably want to be your friend. However, listening for long periods of time can be exhausting.
Very few people understand the art of conversation. Have you ever felt completely drained by a chatty, self-absorbed storyteller? These people don’t know how to ask questions - they just know how to talk.
I also love to tell stories, but I'm better at sharing with people who make me feel comfortable or seem genuinely interested in what I have to say.
Otherwise, I don't open up easily. If my companion is dominating the “conversation”, I shy away. Trying to fight for speaking rights is almost as tiring as having to listen to a non-stop talker, and it’s seldom worth the effort.
So, how can you and I have better conversations? Find a reason to be genuinely interested in the other person, even if you don't think you share anything in common.
If you dig deeply enough, you can find something interesting about anyone. Make discovering another person a game you play with yourself. Dig until you find something interesting, and you will ultimately gain more respect for the other person.
Take turns. Keep track of how long you have been talking. Limit yourself to your most compelling stories. Before you open your mouth, ask yourself - if I were the other person, would I really want to hear this story? Pick and choose what you share. If you share only the best stories, the other person will most likely find you more interesting and ask you questions too.
Ask follow-up questions. If you struggle with this, pretend you’re a journalist for the New York Times who has been assigned a very important story. You want to impress your editors. What questions can you ask your subject to extract the most interesting information?
Try to avoid hot-button issues like politics and religion, unless you're prepared for conflict. Sure, these topics can ignite a stale conversation, but you should be ready to face the consequences.
Please, for my sake and for everyone's sake: be self aware. We all want to share, to feel like our presence is acknowledged. If you do catch yourself talking excessively about yourself, make a joke about it. Say, "Sorry, I got a little too excited. I've been rambling for a while. Why don't you tell me something about yourself?” How are you? is always a good place to start.
Laryssa Wirstiuk is a writer and teacher in New Jersey. Her recently revamped blog is Comma 'n Sentence.