“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” – Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

We humans are social beings by nature. One thing our earliest ancestors have learned the hard way is that we need each other in order to survive. It was only when they learned the power of cooperation and teamwork that our species’ chances of survival, reproduction, and colonization increased.

While our technologically-advanced and human-dominating present time doesn’t require us to team up against jawed and clawed creatures anymore, communication is still an essential part of our daily lives. There are many ways we communicate with each other, but conversation is one of the most important ones there is.

Conversation allows us to liberate ourselves from pent-up feelings of sadness and frustration. It also plays an important part in personal relationships because when we talk about our feelings, we help gain an understanding of each other. Other than that, conversation allows us to expand our social circles and form business relationships with others.

The art of conversation is all about connecting with the other person. It’s more than just saying words and relaying information. An excellent conversational skill is a good skill to have because with that, it’s easy to persuade, make friends, and build powerful connections with other people. Here are four conversational hacks you can try to be more effective in conversations.

 1. Give a firm handshake

Handshakes have long been an important nonverbal form of communication. From a simple form of greeting to sealing business deals of all kinds, a handshake represents mutual agreement and promise between two people. In today’s modern world, it is especially significant in business scenarios.

Management experts at the University of Iowa declared that handshakes are “more important than agreeableness, conscientiousness, or emotional stability.” Knowing how to implement this simple gesture properly can be a basis of whether you’ll get the job or not.

Always be prepared. When you’re meeting new people, make sure your right hand is free. If you’re sitting down, stand first before shaking someone’s hand. Keep your hands out of your pockets, smile warmly, and make eye contact with the person you’re shaking hands with.

A hand extended with the palm down expresses dominance, while palm down means submission. The ideal handshake is having the palms perpendicular to the floor and with a grip firm enough to express confidence, but not enough to break the other person’s wrist. Pump twice – from the elbow, not from the wrist – and have it linger for 2-3 seconds.

Practice doing your handshake and watch it work wonders when you’re meeting new people or prepping for a job interview.

2. Make the other person feel important

In order to have people thinking you are good at conversation, it’s always important to pay attention to what they’re saying. Let them know you’re interested in what they’re saying by maintaining eye contact, nodding, or interjecting short replies such as “Yes, that’s true” or working what they’re saying over in your head and repeating it back to them in a summarized version. For example:

“I had a hard time sleeping last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about the horror film I watched before going to bed.”

“Must’ve been a really scary film. Which one was it?”

Another method that can help you bond and build understanding with the person you’re talking to is mirroring. It’s a powerful tool that we subconsciously use all the time. We unconsciously switch our body posture or facial expression to mirror that of the other person’s when we feel connected and engaged with them.

Though it already happens without us knowing, you can still utilize this technique intentionally in order to build rapport with another person. You can start by observing the other person’s body posture and facial expression and subtly mirror that position and expression.

It will help you instantly communicate empathy and understand the feelings of the people around you. It’s basically a non-verbal way to say “I am like you” and “I feel the same,” allowing you to feel more connected with others on an emotional level.

3. Remember that conversation is a two-way effort

“A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.” – Truman Capote

In order to keep a conversation going, ask open-ended questions. Don’t ask questions that elicit a one or two-word response, unless it’s the first question you asked. When someone tells you something, respond with a question that asks them to go deeper into the details. It’s a way to subtly ask someone to reveal more information about them and to get to know them on an emotional level. For example:

“Who’s your favorite FRIENDS character?”

“Joey.”

“Me too! What did you think about his relationship with Rachel in the last two seasons?”

By asking open-ended questions, you’re letting the other person get more engaged in the conversation. You are offering them the opportunity to talk about themselves, making them feel listened to and special, and they’ll like you more for that. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

In the event that you run out of things to ask and say, consider the parrot methoda form of “active listening” that gets the conversation going. It works simply by choosing a keyword or phrase from what the other person just said and repeating it in an inquisitive tone. For example:

“That’s a lot of bubble wraps!”

“It’s for an art exhibit.”

“…an art exhibit?”

“Well, I’m planning on making a sculpture out of bubble wraps. It will be my entry for the art exhibit next month.”

The parrot method is an effective way to show you’re listening and you’re truly interested in what the other person is saying, but use it sparingly. If you use it too much, it will begin to sound too obvious and childish.

4. Be okay with silence

For most people, especially extroverts who are used to constant chatter, long silence in the company of another can be awkward and uncomfortable. But silence, when used in conversation, is actually comfortable and essential.

Silence makes the conversation flow naturally. Because when you try to say something just for the sake of filling the silence, it will sound forced and fake (because it is forced and fake). So next time an uncomfortable dread of silence takes over a conversation you’re having, just allow it to happen until either one of you actually has something substantial to say.

Silence also gives you and the other person a chance to think and process information after either one says something. That way, both of you will have a better understanding of what either one has to say and take more away from the conversation.

When talking to someone, wait for at least 5 seconds to 1 minute after the other person stopped talking before replying so you’d have a chance to absorb the information and to make sure they’ve already said everything they wanted to say. Otherwise, you might be interrupting their train of thought and you’d seem disrespectful.

And when it’s your turn to talk, also give the other person a chance to respond and absorb what you just said. You can’t talk for 30 minutes straight without expecting the other person to keep up with what you said or still keep the same interest. If they don’t get a chance to talk, they probably won’t want to stick around for the conversation.

If you just start seeing through the discomfort of silence, you’d realize how essential it is for two people to really understand each other. When you and the other person gain a deep feeling of understanding, it will lead to a strong foundation for a relationship and future conversations.

The power of conversation

Conversation is an important part of our daily lives. Whether it’s for business networking or engaging with your social circles, mastering your conversational skills is always useful and will help you become a better leader, co-worker, and likable friend.

While the techniques mentioned in this article provide useful, actionable advice on how you can be a better conversationalist, the important thing is still to let your personality shine. After all, our differences as individuals are what make conversations fun and colorful – each of us has our own unique stories to tell.