Ask LH: How Can I Improve My Conversation Skills?

Ask LH: How Can I Improve My Conversation Skills?

Hey Lifehacker, I seem to have trouble with speaking to other people (even though I levelled up to 100 in Skyrim). No matter how I talk or who I talk to, they don’t seem to “get me”. I’m often talking to a friend, colleague, client or family member, thinking I’m acting normally, only to be told told I’m “forceful” or condescending. Often another person says the exact same words I said and they don’t get called out. What am I missing to make people react to me normally? What could I do to communicate better with others? Thanks, Lost For Words

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Dear Lost For Words,

Communication is a tricky thing no matter which way you approach it, and the simple truth is that there’s no one-step solution that will work in any given situation, simply because successful communication is a two way business: it’s not just in what you say, it’s also in how it’s interpreted by the other party or parties.

It could well be that the relationship between two people you watch saying “the exact same thing” is an entirely different one to your relationship with them; I know for example that conversations I have with that other Kidman chap can sometimes be confusing to outsiders and suggest we’re very combative; that isn’t necessarily so.

It’s also possible that if you’re being told you’re forceful, it’s because you’re, well . . . forceful. That might be appropriate in some settings but not others, and simply stepping back might make a difference. Communication isn’t entirely verbal, and if you’re physically standing right next to somebody (especially if you’re taller than they are) it can seem intimidating, even if you’re a friendly sort at heart.

It’s tough to judge this with new acquaintances, although this is something Lifehacker has covered previously. From the sounds of it, though, these are more personal situations, although possibly expanding your circles and conversation groups might aid you in expanding your conversation style.

If it’s the case that you’re seen as too forceful because you’re rather direct, it may help to make a little small talk around subjects using the FORD technique; while it can be a little painful when it feels like you’re dancing around the topic you really want to discuss, if the person you’re talking to is more comfortable with you it’s possible you’ll find the overall conversation flowing more freely and in fact more productively.

Any Lifehacker readers got other tips on how to turn a more forceful personality into an all-round talker?

Cheers Lifehacker

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    • The replying part is important too, you can’t just give ‘dead’ answers such as yes, no, maybe etc, otherwise the conversation will quickly hit a dead-end and you’ll be stuck standing there awkwardly.

  • The non verbal stuff for sure.

    You can get away saying almost anything while smiling.
    People will generally feel pretty uncomfortable if your in their personal space.
    But I think asking for a few examples of what makes you seem forceful will reveal the truth – try asking a close friend for their view (via a face to face conversation).

    • Agreed. Most of face-to-face conversation is body language and expression, this is probably where the ‘forcefulness’ is coming from not the actual verbal content of your conversation.

  • Isn’t poor communication skills (understanding appropriate tone, language, body language, etc.) a sign of autism? Maybe it is a mind form of that.

    Just throwing it out there.

  • 1. Get a job in a customer service role, and talk to as many people as you can. It’s one of the best ways to ‘level up’ your social skills. You meet new people constantly, and you only have moments to make a good impression. Practise makes perfect.

    2. Relax and talk to people naturally, letting your personality shine through.

    3. Know yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you have a tendency to mimic others and this can come across awkwardly. Build a strong sense of self and self-worth.

    4. Avoid sarcasm. Go for cool irony instead.

    5. Don’t mock people. Give compliments to others regularly.

  • This may be out of the ball park but what your describing is how many people with Aspergers describe their attempts at social interaction. Although aspergers is (or was if you subscribe to DSM V instead of ICD classification of disorders) on the autism scale people with aspergers tend to have a high IQ in the normal sense of the word but a low social IQ. They tend not to recognize the unspoken social cues others take for granted such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Because of this they are often taken to be condescending, aloof even overbearing or forceful

    • There is a lot more to aspergers (and it’s not well understood even by most medical professionals) but just basing it on what you’ve described it may be worth investigation

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