Communication is the bedrock of human civilization. What makes us unique is the ability to have incredibly detailed and productive conversations, which proves crucial in close to every imaginable professional setting. If you are looking to take up more responsibility at work or starting as a fresh recruit in a firm, knowing how to start a professional conversation is essential.
Being a good conversationalist will significantly help you achieve professional excellence and better performance at the workplace. With this basic, must-have skill, you will understand your colleagues, superiors, and subordinates more clearly, thereby making your job easier and reducing miscommunication or conflict in the workplace. More importantly, knowing how to start a conversation, especially with the bosses or superiors you report to, can catapult your career and help you distinguish yourself from your peers.
Ice-breakers to start a conversation
There is nothing more awkward than uncomfortable silence when two individuals get an opportunity to converse. It is in such situations that knowing how to strike up a conversation comes in handy. One of the best ways to get the conversation flowing is with the help of ice-breakers. Ice-breakers are of different types and forms and may include engaging questions or even a well-timed and appropriate joke. The following is a list of ice-breakers you can use to learn how to start a conversation with someone. These are just a handful of examples, but as long as the question prompts or encourages conversation while being contextually appropriate, it can be classified as a good ice-breaker. Some examples include:
- What are you currently reading?
- Which is your favorite movie of all time, and why do you like it?
- If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?
- What, according to you, would be the ideal vacation destination?
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
- If you could meet any historical figure, either alive or deceased, who would it be and why?
- What is your go-to beverage?
- Which is the best book you have ever read?
- Do you have a pet? Are you a cat person or a dog person?
- If you become a millionaire tomorrow, what would be the first thing you buy with the money?
How to strike a professional conversation – 13 ways with examples
While you may be fairly adept at knowing how to start a good conversation, more often than not, professional settings are a whole different ball game. Knowing how to start a conversation with a professional is the hard part and might require some practice and experience to master. However, keep these following points in mind, and you will be able to have stimulating and fluent professional conversations.
- Ask for information: One of the best ways to strike up a conversation with a professional at a conference, at work, or even an online meeting, is to ask a question seeking information. The question may be extremely simple or even one that you already know. For example, if you run into a colleague at a conference who you have not yet got the chance to speak to, you could ask them when the chief guest will be making his address.
- Compliment the person: Giving someone an appropriate compliment can do wonders to their confidence and brighten their day while at the same time giving the both of you something to talk about. A simple example would be telling your colleague that you like the suit/dress they are wearing, which could help you learn how to make conversation with anyone.
- Comment on a pleasant event/observation: Another excellent addition to knowing how to begin a conversation is the art of making relevant and pleasant comments. It could be a comment on a football game that took place the night before or something as simple as the weather. For example, 'The coffee tastes so much better now that we have a new coffee maker.'
- Introduce yourself: Sometimes, the best way to start a conversation is to greet the other person and introduce yourself. For example - 'Hey, my name is Emma. I started work on Monday, and I just wanted to introduce myself.'
- Ask for help: Asking for help, even with the smallest of tasks, goes a great way in developing a professional rapport with another person. Asking someone if they could help you learn how to operate the new printer or let you borrow their stapler could help build a healthy conversation.
- Offer help: One of the best ways to establish a foundation for conversation is to earn someone's trust and respect. This can be achieved by offering help with anything, which shows people that you are genuinely concerned. An example of this would be offering to help a colleague put away some old, heavy binders or asking them if they would like a cup of coffee when you are on your way to grab one for yourself.
- Talk about a shared experience: If you want to start a conversation with someone and make them feel comfortable, talking about something that the both of you share in common would be the way to go. This could be a shared interest in the local sporting team or a mutual friend. Example: 'I hope you watched the match last night; the guys were absolutely on top of their game!'
- Ask for their opinion: By asking another person for their opinion, you show them that you value their inputs, which could help you make an enriching conversation. A good example would be asking them what they think of the new café that recently opened just down the street.
- Offer praise when due: Another excellent way to start up a conversation is to praise the individual for their performance or achievements. If a person in your organization was recognized for their contributions at work or otherwise, appreciate them for their efforts and let them know that you hold them in high regard.
- Show them that you are genuinely interested: People love talking about things that they are passionate about. Express your interest by bringing up topics that the other person is interested in, such as their favorite dish, a sport they love, or an author they adore.
- Encourage them to talk about themselves: If there is one thing most people share, it is the joy that comes from talking about oneself. Individuals naturally like to talk about themselves, their family, their experiences, and therefore, encouraging them to do so is a surefire way to start a good conversation. Example: 'I saw a picture of your cat on Instagram the other day. How old is he/she?'
- Make a simple observation: If you are in a shared workplace, observe anything unique that you noticed to start a conversation. For example, you could mention the fresh coat of paint in the conference room or the new computers that were recently installed at the office.
- Talk about the weather: If all else fails, there is always the weather to fall back on. You could mention the recent bouts of rain or snow or talk about how sunny it is. Example: 'I love the climate today. The sun is a refreshing change from all the rain we have been getting.'
How to be a fantastic conversationalist
- Remember to breathe: If you are to be a good conversationalist, you must not come across as stressed or tense at any point. The best way to have a good interaction is to relax and take your time to build the conversation.
- Pick positive and future-oriented topics: Always talk about positive things and avoid the negativity that could hamper the conversation or ruin someone's mood. Ideal topics would be an upcoming conference, a new project, or future travel plans.
- Put people in a good light: Do not bring up conversations that put the other person in an uncomfortable situation. Instead, have conversations that allow people to feel good about themselves.
- Share the limelight: If you are having a conversation about a team achievement or an individual achievement of your own, ensure that people feel like they are part of the success. Never make a conversation all about yourself, as this might cause people to get disinterested.
- Respect boundaries and differences: Never bring up topics that may force people out of their comfort zone or highlight differences. For example, a person might not be willing to talk about their political opinions or private matters. It is, therefore, important to respect people's boundaries.
- Find common ground: An excellent way to initiate conversation is to find things that the both of you share in common, be it an interest in old and classic films, paintings, sport, or food, and then speak about them.
- Listen: The most crucial part of having a conversation is to listen. Unless you can receive and process the things that the other person is saying, you will not be able to contribute to the conversation and carry it forward. Failing to listen might also make it seem like you are uninterested or behaving rudely.
- Ask open-ended questions: Ask questions that are open-ended and encourage the other person to think and give not only simple answers but also elaborate ones that they can explain. A good example of such a question would be – 'What is one skill you would love to possess and why?'
- Be genuine: Ensure that you are not attempting to be artificial or indulge in conversation that makes you uncomfortable. Always be real, and if you do not wish to continue a conversation, politely excuse yourself.
- Set conversational goals: A fruitful conversation is one that always heads somewhere and fulfills your conversational goals. These goals can be as simple as getting to know each other better or understanding others more intimately.
- Don't stress if someone does not remember you: It is natural for people to forget names or fail to recognize people. Do not feel bad, and do not hesitate to reintroduce yourself to people.
- Try to remember people: Try your best to remember people, their names, and some basic details about them. This helps build future conversations.
- Always be ready with some current news that you can discuss: Keep yourself up to date on some current events that could make for an interesting conversation with someone else.
- Try to meet more people: Always put yourself in positions where you can interact with more people and further hone your communication skills.
- Have a business card: Conversation is not only about the present but also about paving the way to a stronger relationship in the future. Leave a channel of communication open at all times with the help of a business card.
- Request for their card/take down their information: Show interest in the other person and ask for their business card or contact information to enable future conversations.
- Do not debate or argue with the person: A good conversation is one where there is a calm exchange of ideas and opinions. No attempt must be made to engage in any sort of debate or argument while having a professional conversation.
- Display genuine interest: Always show genuine interest in what the other person is saying and ensure that you do not come across as rude or curt when engaging in a conversation.
- Master small talk: Not all conversations need to be deep and meaningful. Small talk can come in handy when you have nothing else to talk about and want to avoid uncomfortable silence.
- Follow up on your conversations: If you have spoken to someone about something that interested you or something they are interested in, remember that and incorporate it in future conversations. It is vital to follow up on conversations to show the person that you are interested in getting to know them better.
Tips for starting a conversation
- Use open body language: A closed body language with folded arms or lack of eye contact will not facilitate conversation. Instead, opt for open body language by facing the person and making eye contact as they speak.
- Listen actively: Listening is key to a good conversation, and if the other person is not given enough opportunities to express themselves, they might lose interest or feel offended.
- Exude confidence: You must be confident and try to overcome the nerves or anxiousness you might feel while trying to start a conversation.
- Ask for contact information and follow up: Always exchange contact information and follow up on the conversation that you had to show the person you are interested in and are looking forward to more interaction.
With the help of these tips and suggestions, you are certainly on your way to being a master conversationalist and will be of great help in job interviews. Most interviewers look for conversational cues and judge how you respond to questions under pressure. Being confident, speaking with clarity and respect, and being yourself will help you ace any interview. This is why being a good conversationalist almost surely gives you an advantage at a job interview.