Keeping another person engaged in conversation is an art. It cannot be assumed that others will be interested in what we are saying, and failing to pay attention to that fact can cause a person to become boorish, irritating, and repelling. Who wants to be the person that sends others scurrying for the nearest exit?
There are some disciplines or tools that will keep others engaged. Paying attention to these tools requires some attention and work, but it pays high dividends.
1) Talking nonstop causes people to start looking for a way out of the conversation. “When on earth is this person going to shut up,” is a common reaction to the nonstop talker. The technical term for this is logorrhea. Diarrhea of the mouth is a little more indelicate way to say it. We’ve probably all gotten stuck at a party with this person, and we couldn’t wait to move on.
2) Focusing a conversation exclusively on one’s self is a big turn off as well. Human beings like to be able to share the stage in a conversation. Questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “how is your week going,” are ways of showing interest in the other.
3) No one likes to be around a person that is always a critic or a downer either. This person has never found a piece of bad news s/he doesn’t like. This listener will typically express to others a feeling of depression or discouragement after talking to such a person. Such “down” talk doesn’t accomplish anything or produce hope. It almost seems to rejoice in hopelessness.
4) Offering a “competing” story also has a way of shutting down conversation. Rather than acknowledging the story a person has just told and asking for more details about it this person will offer their own personal version of what was just expressed. “I had something that happened to me that was more, farther, bigger, more confusing, more complicated….” You get the idea. Part of being a good listener is to pay courteous, respectful attention to what the other just said rather than one-upping them.
5) Only having one subject is also a big turn off. There’s no substitute for being well-read. Knowing what was on the front page of the newspaper or what new book you are reading are great ways to spice up a conversation and make it compelling.
Good conversations are a gift, and they don’t happen accidentally. They always occur in a context where there is give and take, respect, attention, and intention. If you get tagged as being self-centered, boorish, or uninteresting, people will run for the exits in order to avoid being stuck in a dead-end conversation.