The conversation is both an esoteric art and a mundane, everyday occurrence. Despite the fact that you can go through dozens of conversations in a single day, lasting anywhere from seconds to hours, it can be difficult to achieve the outcome that you want from each of them. The waters of conversation are inherently muddied — different conversational styles, opinions, emotions, and perspectives all contribute to unproductive conversations where people don’t see eye-to-eye. The age-old adage “think before you speak” attempts to address this, but fails to clarify what exactly you should be thinking before you start speaking.
Often, strong emotions can lead to words you regret later on. In the heat of an argument, they might seem reasonable and even justified, but when the anger wears off, you might realize that they were uncalled for. The more stressed and angry a person is, the less of an effective communicator they become. While you’re in the middle of an argument, the last thing you would want to do is to back down, but that is exactly what you should do.
Not all arguments are necessary, and it becomes easier to see that with a rational mind. When you notice yourself getting heated, ask yourself if you should really say what you want to right now. This is one case where you shouldn’t listen to your instincts. Instead, give yourself the space to calm down and steer the conversation back to the more productive territory.
Your goal when you speak to people will rarely be a shouting match, so learn to reign in your sharper tendencies. If you can’t clear your mind immediately, learn how to postpone the conversation. Ask your conversation partner, “Can we discuss this later?”
Criticism can be a touchy subject for anyone. That is why, when offering any form of advice, make sure it is actionable for the other person. You can do more harm than good by focusing on areas that they will not be able to address, turning them self-conscious and stressed instead. Take for example someone that has been running late because of their car breaking down. Rather than commenting on how they should get a newer car, help them identify alternate forms of transportation such as the bus or the train. Being able to point them in the right direction towards addressing their shortcomings will build more trust rather than blaming them for circumstances outside their control.
In addition, if they do take your advice, be sure to take notice and compliment them. People are naturally fearful of doing wrong, so getting feedback that they are on the right path can do wonders for their confidence and their rapport with you.
People are naturally biased towards their own worldview and ways of thinking, which can sometimes lead to being inconsiderate. Empathy is highly important in connecting with people, and acknowledging that you are unaware of their circumstances is the first step towards understanding them. If someone misses a deadline, it may not always be due to laziness or poor time management.
Maybe they are dealing with difficulties at home, maybe they are going through a rough period for their mental health, or maybe they’re dealing with insomnia — you don’t know what unseen troubles are plaguing your conversation partner. Most of the time, it goes unsaid. Many are afraid to talk about their personal struggles and don’t want them to be seen as an excuse.
Simple compassion and consideration can go a long way. Even if you may not be able to help them with their situation, acknowledging their unseen difficulties will make the conversation easier for both of you.
If you are in a stressful situation, your first instinct will be to express that stress through your words. People will often resort to dramatic language, which tends to elicit strong feelings in whoever it is directed to. For example, if you send out a message to your friends saying, “I can’t stop working on this assignment until the deadline tonight or I’m gonna fail this class!” and they are unsuccessful in calming you down, then that can lead to their own stress, creating an unproductive feedback loop.
Instead of immediately resorting to panic and dramatic language, consider exercising calm before you spread your stress to others. Rather than the first example, you can send a message saying, “I have to work on this assignment all night, but I’m hoping to finish it before the deadline.” While the situation is still stressful, you can have a better conversation by being a calming influence.
The last and perhaps the most important way of thinking is just to keep listening. You can enter into a conversation with a goal you want to achieve, but that does not mean you should rush the process until you get what you want.
Giving your conversation partner the space to express their thoughts will help you learn more about them, and thus guide how you approach conversations with them in the future. People appreciate being listened to — what they will not appreciate if you pretend to listen, before jumping to talk about your own agenda when it is your turn to reply. Additionally, listening does not have to be entirely silent. You can ask insightful questions to show them that you are invested in understanding them.
When having any conversation, it is always important to be able to take a step back and consider your response. Think before you speak, and follow these ways of thinking to help you achieve your goals when you speak to people.