A conversation doesn’t have to go on for hours to be interesting.
In fact, in most cases, shorter conversations are more memorable because they leave you wanting more.
But nonetheless, being able to keep a conversation going for a long time is still an extremely valuable skill to have.
For instance, if you’re on a date, it is ideal that you and your date have something to say to each other throughout the date. Or let’s say you’re waiting for your bus to arrive while talking with a stranger, it will be great to keep the conversation going till your bus arrives.
But how do you make this happen?
Avoid the self-promotion trap
One of the mistakes we make when talking to people is that we try to make the conversation about ourselves.
We try hard too hard to be interesting. We want to say the right words, tell the right stories, and just show how impressive our lives are.
But this usually kills a conversation.
Why? Well, if you want to make someone have a great time talking with you, you should make them the star of the conversation.
Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. As Robert Greene advised in The Laws of Human Nature, “See each person as an undiscovered world which you would carefully explore.”
You don’t need to talk a lot to make a conversation memorable. In fact, you talking too much will bore people. You know why? We all love to talk about ourselves.
But as the radio host, Celeste Headlee said in her famous TED talk, “A conversation is not a promotional opportunity.”1
In social psychology, there’s a phenomenon known as the mere exposure effect.2
The effect basically explains that we tend to move towards or get attracted to things and people that are familiar to us.
Interestingly, research on interpersonal attraction reveals that just by merely seeing someone often, they become more attractive to us.3
How is this related to keeping a conversation going?
Well, the thing is, when we talk to people, we want to defend our values. Impulsively, we tend to attack people for having contrary points of view especially in matters concerning religion and politics – which are usually very important to us.
But this however only makes them farther away from winning their hearts. What you want to do is find similarities and put emphasis on them.
Bury differences. As the psychiatrist Mark Gulston advised in his book, Just Listen, if you want to bond with people during a conversation, don’t try to win them in arguments, win their hearts instead.
Make them the star of the conversation
In her book, How to Talk to Anyone, the psychologist Leil Lowndes gave an interesting way to keep people glued in a conversation. Her trick?
Spot and celebrate their uniqueness.
Nothing makes us feel better than talking about our achievements. It feels us with a great sense of importance and meaning.
To apply this rule, all you have to do is pay attention to any achievement – small or big – mentioned during a conversation. When you spot it, hold on to it.
Here’s the gist of the problem.
When people say something great about themselves, like how they won the award of the best graduating student in college, our first impulse is usually to say something great that we accomplished as well.
Don’t do that.
Instead, ask them how they did it. Complement them on how great it is for them to do a thing like that.
Ask them when it happened, how it made them feel, or how much of a badass they are for pulling it off.
Always create a conversation around people’s achievements. They’ll find it difficult to stop talking about it. Plus, they’ll absolutely love you for it.
Don’t use a conversations to fish for sympathy
When it comes to keeping a conversation going, our greatest enemy is self-absorption.
When you are self-absorbed, you have a higher tendency to want to use a conversation as a means to attract sympathy from others.
A conversation isn’t a medium for you to rant about all the things you find depressing about your country. Don’t start talking about how you wished a certain politician was dead.
Ranting about the things you dislike kills conversations.
Sure, life can be difficult, and sometimes we might impulsively want to let out some of our problems.
But trying to attract sympathy from a random conversation never comes off well. Keep your problems for close relationships.
Don’t forget that people may not remember what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel. Try to always keep the conversation positive. A happy mood is more likely to make people want to talk more than a sad one.
Assume you are on a podcast
Podcasts go on for up to three for one reason: There is a genuine interest in the topic by those having the conversation.
During discussions, true curiosity and interest unmistakably show through your body language. You can’t fake being interested.
This is why Robert Greene advised in The Laws of Human Nature, that we see everyone we come across as an “undiscovered country” with a unique psychological makeup we will carefully explore.
Looking at the world this way will naturally awaken your curiosity.
Look at it this way:
Your thoughts, ideas, and your experiences are already familiar to you. Therefore, see a conversation as a rare chance to step out of that familiar world into new territory.
Be excited about what you might find.
Most articles on having better conversations usually include advice like, “make eye contact, or nod your head.”
They are all great. But chances are, you’ve had great conversations where you did all these things without even thinking about them. You know why? You were genuinely interested in the conversation.
Interest makes you ask questions. It makes you pay attention. It makes you be in the moment.
Having a great time conversing isn’t an act. It’s a product of genuine interest.