The Most Crucial Ingredient of a Good Conversation

Elaine Sihera

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Often we meet someone who seems really exciting. We begin to chat to them, we take an interest in them, but, somehow, everything falls flat as we slowly realise that we are really getting nowhere fast, despite the best intentions on both sides. The big problem is likely to be the actual conversation. You might be genuinely interested and show that interest. But if you ask someone a question about themself, and they reply by going on and on, perhaps because they are not in interested in you, they are nervous or they just want to talk about themselves, that will be a very boring conversation. Research has shown that the average person has an attention span of just 90 seconds, before they start to drift. It is longer when they are really stimulated by the subject matter.

What many people do not realise is that it does not take a great deal of skill to have really interesting conversations and make some useful connections at the same time. In fact, all it takes ro connect meaningfully when we meet a stranger is the ability to ask varying questions. Using questions liberally in a conversation ensures that you have the attention of your listener and you will keep that attention, especially if the question is relevant to their achievements and aspirations, if it is not too open-ended and is not too negative. So long as you ask a question, you will encourage a response and, if they ask you a question in return, you have the foundations for rapidly finding out about each other in the most satisfying way possible: through mutual admiration.

Keeping the ball in play
Questions in a conversation are like a tennis game. You pass the ball(question) to your party and they pass it briskly back in the form of a response. Then you return it equally quickly to keep the game in play. Where one person hangs on to that ball (ask no questions), or play it unfairly (just making statements and talking forever), that's a very boring game. Not much enjoyment will come from it because there is little opportunity to play and exhibit your skill (give information or react to what you hear).

Questions lie at the heart of any dialogue. If you have wondered why you didn't make an impression on that guy or gal you were hoping to nab, or why conversations seem to go flat when you participate, it could be because your nervousness caused you to ramble on about yourself, to become tongue-tied or to miss a golden opportunity to ask a key question about your party. Next time you meet someone new, unless questions form an integral part of that conversation you are hoping to have, it is going to be a very boring time for at least one of you! Work out simple but interesting questions beforehand, particularly around the other person's work and leisure, and, in no time, you will seem such an expert at how to engage your friends and dates in the the most enjoyable ways, you will be fighting off all the attention you are likely to have!

How confident are you? Try our CONFIDENCE QUIZ to test how you feel about yourself just now. Low confidence and self-esteem rob you of achievements and success. See if you're being affected by it.

ELAINE SIHERA ( ) is an expert author, public speaker, media contributor and lifestyle columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University. Elaine is a Personal Empowerment and Relationships Consultant. Confidential advice is available on the quiz site. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise, among others (available on as well as her personal website). She describes herself as, “Fit, Fabulous, Over-fifty and Ready to Fly!"


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