Here is an excerpt from Tim Herrra in the NYT, under the title “Three [sic] Tips to Have Better Conversations“:
To be a true conversation superstar, try these tips:
Be attentive and give eye contact.
Make active and engaged expressions.
Repeat back what you’ve heard, and follow up with questions.
If you notice something you want to say, don’t say it. Challenge it and go back to listening.
For bonus points, wait an hour to bring up that thing you didn’t say earlier.
And keep in mind that when you say something declarative, seek out the other person’s opinion as well.
Those seem mostly wrong to me, and perhaps better targeted at the median USA Today reader who has to make small talk at a company picnic. I would suggest some slightly different tips, admittedly not for everyone in all situations:
1. Set up the conversational premise so you, and the other person, have easy outs, if it is not a good match.
2. Don’t assume the conversation will last an hour. Rapidly signal what kind of conversation you are good at, if anything going overboard in the preferred direction, again to establish whether the proper conversational match is in place.
3. If you notice something you want to say, say it.
4. Be worthy of a good conversation.
Rinse and repeat. I would stress the basic point that most conversations are bad, so your proper goal is to make them worse (so they can end) rather than better.
What is conversation for anyway? I don’t even recommend being charming, or trying to be charming, unless a work situation is forcing you to do so. Let yourself be sullen when the mood beckons. Feel free to let eye contact lapse. Don’t repeat back what you’ve heard. Say something surprising. Be willing to go meta. Most of all, try to establish a “we actually can have a more genuine conversation than we thought was going to be possible” level of understanding, taking whatever chances are needed to get to that higher level of discourse.
By the way, do not use alcohol, not if you wish to learn something or maximize your powers of discrimination.