How to Engage in Conversation

Three Parts:Starting a ConversationKeeping a Conversation MovingAvoiding Negative Behavior

If you're shy or anxious by nature, you may worry you're not a good conversationalist. It's important to stay engaged in any conversation, whether professional or personal, so the other person feels valued. When you start a conversation, remain calm. Try to find an observation or insight to get the conversation going. From there, ask questions, listen, and offer insight. This will keep the conversation moving. Avoid interrupting or over sharing, as this can make the other person uncomfortable.

Part 1
Starting a Conversation

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    Practice ahead of time if you're prone to anxiety. If you're going to a social event, it's okay to practice. Many people feel more relaxed if they give themselves time to prepare conversation starters ahead of time.[1]
    • You can write down a list of potential conversation starters. You could, for example, talk about an assignment if you're making conversation in class.
    • You could even practice in the mirror ahead of time. While it may sound a little silly, if you're often nervous about starting a conversation this can be helpful.
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    Smile and make initial eye contact. When trying to begin small talk, scan the room. See if there's anyone not talking to someone. Try to make brief eye contact and offer a smile. You can then approach this person to begin a conversation.[2][3]
    • When you approach the person, try a simple greeting. You can say something like, "Hi" or "How are you?"
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    Find a good conversation starter. It can be hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. However, there are many ways to initially engage with someone. Use a quality conversation starter to get the ball rolling.[4]
    • Conversation starters should be personal and reflect genuine interest. Instead of commenting on the weather, mention something the other party can relate to. You should also bring up something of genuine interest to you. It's hard to feign interest, and people want to converse with those who are generally invested in them.
    • For example, you're at a party at a friend's place. You see a casual acquaintance there who you know just took the bar exam. You're interested in law, as your brother is an attorney. You can say something like, "Hey, how did the bar exam go?" This is a great way to begin a conversation.
    • If you're very nervous, you can look for something nearby to discuss. While this is less personal, it can work in a bind. You can, for example, comment on a painting on the wall.

Part 2
Keeping a Conversation Moving

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    Ask questions. People want to feel that the other person is interested in them. A great way to keep a conversation running smoothly is to ask a series of questions about the other person.[5]
    • Ask questions about what the other person is saying. Make a rule that, before you bring up your own experience or interests, you ask at least one question about what the other person said.
    • For example, you're talking about a mutual interest in hockey. Ask something like, "Did you play hockey as a kid?" before talking about your favorite teams.
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    Listen to the other person's response. Oftentimes, people have a tendency to be planning their own responses while listening to another person talk. Refrain from doing this. It's important that you genuinely listen to what another person says.[6]
    • Remember to engage in only one thing at a time. When a person is talking, pay attention to what they're saying. Keep your mind focused on the present moment instead of planning what you'll say next.
    • It's inevitable that you will think of something that relates. That's okay. It can be good to have some response ready, but don't spend time thinking of how to word your response. You can figure that out after the other person stops talking.
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    Pause between your sentences. This is important. You want to give another person the chance to jump in. Even if you have more to say, you want to make sure the other person has a chance to relate or respond.[7]
    • Make a point of pausing for a second between sentences. If the other person does not say anything, continue talking.
    • However, the other person may have a chance to convey interest in what you're expressing. He or she may have something to share or contribute. If the person wants to end the conversation, a brief pause can give him or her the opportunity to do so smoothly.
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    Remember information. If you want to be engaged in conversation, attention is key. You should actively try to remember what the other party said about a given topic. When appropriate, you can bring this up later. This can show you're engaged and interested in the other person.[8]
    • What is this person passionate about? What does he or she do for fun? These are things to keep in the back of your mind. If you're able to bring them up later, this shows you were listening.
    • For example, a friend told a story about fishing with her dad. A few minutes later, an opportunity comes for to share a story about your father. You can say something like, "Oh, you know how you went fishing with your dad? My dad took me once as a kid, but it was a complete disaster..." You can then tell an amusing anecdote.
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    Attempt to relate. This can help you form a connection with the other person. As they share their own hobbies, interests, and passions, see if there's a way to relate to this. This will help form a mutual understanding between you and the other person.[9]
    • Be genuine when trying to relate. If your relation to the situation is a stretch, people will pick up on this. Do not force the conversation. Wait for a moment you can genuinely relate to.
    • For example, a friend is talking about a movie you've never seen, but then mentions how it was kind of like a TV show you like. Take this opportunity to say something like, "Oh, yeah. I've seen that show. Yeah, I like films and TV shows that have kind of confusing plots too."
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    Allow the conversation to come to a natural end. Most conversations will run their course. You and the other person may have exhausted discussing a topic. You may notice natural pauses coming between topics and enthusiasm will have dwindled slightly. In this case, gracefully leave the conversation on good terms.[10]
    • Give a reason you have to leave the conversation. At an event, you could say you need to meet up with friends or run to the bathroom. If you're conversing at work, you can say you need to get back to a task. For example, "Well, I should catch up with my friends."
    • From there, express gratitude for having had the chance to talk. For example, "It was really great talking to you."
    • Then, restate a few things that were discussed. This shows you were engaged and attentive. For example, "I will have to check out that book you mentioned."

Part 3
Avoiding Negative Behavior

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    Speak clearly and avoid mumbling. Some people mumble when they are nervous, which can make it hard to the other person to understand what you are saying. Remind yourself to speak in a clear voice and enunciate your words.
    • One way to remind yourself to enunciate is to repeat to yourself, “Enunciate, Articulate, Exaggerate.” Say these words out loud and speak every syllable of each word in a clear, audible voice.[11]
    • You might also practice speaking clearly before you have a conversation with someone. Say some of the things you want or expect to say in a clear, audible voice.
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    Do not over share. Many people get nervous and over share information. You may also misread social cues, and think the conversation is becoming deeper than it actually is. Try to avoid this tendency. In conversation, stay calm and avoid sharing too much information too soon.[12][13]
    • Remember, there's a good chance this person knows someone you know. Avoid bad talking friends, family members, or colleagues.
    • You should also avoid sharing very private information, especially with strangers of acquaintances. For example, avoid talking about or asking someone about their income, health problems, family issues, abilities, differences, or the amount of food they eat.
    • If an event includes alcohol, you may loosen up a bit, but try to remember to avoid over sharing. Do not, say, complain about a breakup or tell your life story.
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    Avoid trying to one up the other person. Many people find this obnoxious and rude. Always having to have the better story, the worse problems, or the more exciting life comes off as annoying. It's okay to share anecdotes that are relatable, but avoid slipping in your own anecdote every time someone else has finished a story. This can come off as one-upping.[14]
    • One way to avoid one-upping is to keep the focus on the other person. Ask questions about things that the person has mentioned and comment on what they have shared as well. For example, if someone mentions a recent vacation they took, then you might say something like, “That sounds amazing! What sights did you see while you were there?”
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    Limit use of certain phrases. If you're at a crowded event, it can sometimes be difficult to hear the other person talking. However, use tact when asking for clarification.[15]
    • Phrases like, "Huh?" and "What?" come off as too abrupt. It can make the speaker feel awkward.
    • If you need clarification at any point, try something like, "Excuse me?" or "I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing. What was that?" These come off as more polite.


  • Allow the conversation to unfold naturally. At times, you may have had something to contribute. However, the conversation went in another direction. Let this go. You can share this thought at another time, in a different conversation.

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Categories: Conversation Skills