Posted on: May 17th, 2012 by Jen Mueller


“Yes, it’s not difficult, you just listen to what she says and say something appropriate in response.”

“To what end?”

– An exchange between characters Sheldon Cooper roommate Leonard Hofstader on TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory

The exchanged printed above made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it.  That was the point since it’s part of a hit television sitcom.  In case you’re not familiar with the show, the star characters are brilliant scientists who often get in their own way because they’re socially awkward.  It’s funny on TV, but much less so in real life.  Unfortunately, this kind of situation plays out in workplace environments daily.

Ask questions and listen to improve conversation skillsToday’s world is driven by technology.  We email, Facebook, Tweet and text but often overlook the art human interaction and real communication.  Being able to successfully engage in small talk is a lost art, but when done effectively can be lead to great success.   Here’s how it happens: A face-to-face conversation goes a long way in building trust and mutual knowledge.  That establishes rapport, and leads to comfortable business interactions and social situations.  Your ability to communicate successfully will put people at ease when they’re around you.  They will enjoy talking to you and working with you.  Ultimately that translates to more productivity at work, and more opportunities to advance.

The key to getting started – you need to think like a journalist.  Be more interested in asking questions and listening rather than talking.   Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

  1. Find ‘safe’ topic, like sports as a conversation starter.  ‘Did you watch the game last night?’  There’s no right or wrong answer, you’re simply getting the ball rolling.
  2. Ask a follow up question.  ‘What did you think?’  The socially awkward person would let the conversation die after the first answer.  You know better, ask a follow up.  Most of the time, people are flattered you are taking an interest in them.
  3. Show interest.  It’s as easy as nodding your head in agreement.  Your body language will go a long way in conveying interest.
  4. Nothing wrong with short and sweet.  A conversation doesn’t have to last 2 hours.  A 30 second exchange can be just as effective.  The point is to engage someone in a conversation, and let him/her know you’re interested in what they have to say.
  5. Identify a starting point for next time.  If you discover the person you’re talking with is a huge football fan, make a note to ask him/her about their favorite team every so often.  Or if it’s bad reality TV, ask them about a favorite show.  They’ll appreciate the chance to talk about something they’re interested in.


Happy talking!


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