Before I even start, let me just add that I used to have absolutely no verbal filter. Whatever was on my mind, it came out of my mouth even before my brain realized it was on my mind in the first place. So, by far, I am no expert on proper conversation etiquette and occasionally annoy the crap out of the people I talk to. However, there are still some things I notice in conversation with others that irk me and are important to remember.
1) Start a conversation asking about the other person.
I don’t know how many times someone will start a conversation with me and spend forever just talking about themselves. Or about menial stuff about people or things in their life that I don’t know anything about or don’t care about. Give us a prologue, at least! Sometimes we have entire conversations with someone that is entirely about them and not about ourselves at all. Unless you are a therapist in a one-hour session, these kinds of conversations aren’t conducive to healthy friendship-building. I realize this rule is funky if both people want to try to ask about the other person, but I always find it safe to try to ask first and usually, someone with good conversation etiquette will ping-pong and ask about me. Back and forth. Conversing. Not monologue-ing.
(rule #1 is near and dear to me because I actually had a mentor point this out to me, telling me how hurtful it was to her to have me always enter our conversations with each other starting it completely about myself. Apparently, I never once asked her about herself whenever we met. Lesson learned. And very thankful for her constructive criticism.)
2) Try to make eye contact. Try. Try try try.
Unless you’re wearing sunglasses (which is a pet peeve of mine because all I see is my own tiny reflection in your lenses), there should be no reason why you can’t maintain some sort of eye contact with the person you are talking to. Although, my personal preference is to make 100% eye contact when the person is talking and make maybe 75% eye contact when I’m talking. There’s something really awkward about staring straight into somebody’s face 100% of the time when you’re both talking. Occasional eye glances to the side are nice, but not looking at the person for an entire conversation feels really strange.
3) Don’t change the subject to suit your own interests.
Just because you’re not listening to what the other person is saying doesn’t mean you can go ahead and change the topic so you gain control of the conversation again. If something someone mentioned in conversation makes you think of something else, find a way to ease it into the conversation, not some tangential jump from topic to topic which actually just makes it seem like you’re not even listening in the first place.
4) Avoid talking entirely about yourself.
I guess this is similar to my “avoid monologues” point in #1 but it’s dreadfully important. Even after you’ve started a conversation by asking about the other person and if they in turn, ask how you are doing, don’t monopolize the conversation and talk about everything about yourself without given the other person a chance to talk. It just makes you look narcissistic and uninterested in the other person.
5) Listen, listen, listen.
A friend of mine once quoted her dad saying, “God gave you two ears to listen and one mouth to talk.” It’s frustrating after you’ve shared a ton of stuff with someone in a conversation and instead of acknowledging anything you say, they say something completely off. It’s very obvious if you’re not listening and you can’t try to hide it with “Oh, yeah.” and “Uh huh” and “Totally!” because at some point, the person you are talking to just might ask what you think and if you don’t know what they’ve been saying, you’ll surely look like an ass. The best way you prove you’re listening is using something we in the counseling field like to call “active listening.” Reflect and rephrase something someone said to you, validate what they’re saying, and acknowledge it.
6) Pay attention to non-verbal cues.
Maybe the person you are talking to is looking at their watch (bad conversation etiquette!) or checking their iPhone (horrible conversation etiquette!) and as rude as both those things are, it’s a sign they’re really not engaged in the conversation. You might think, “So rude! They need a lesson in conversation etiquette!” when in reality, maybe you are the one that needs to steer the conversation in a way where they can feel engaged and actually feel like a part of the conversation. Most likely, these non-verbal cues are a sign that you’re either having a monologue, not listening or totally monopolizing the conversation.
7) And since I mentioned it: don’t check your phone!
With the growing ability to have multiple conversations at once (you might be sitting down to lunch talking to one person, but also texting another person, while tweeting to your 1,200 followers about your delicious lunch), it’s hard to resist the urge to check all your social media outlets while talking to someone. Or you get a text message and that classically conditioned part of you that says “must-check-phone-when-phone-go-DINGDINGDING” gets sweaty and anxious. Don’t. Check. Your. Phone. You are having a conversation with one person; have that conversation with that one person. Unless the text message says, “I DROPPED THE BABY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD AND THE CAT IS ON FIRE” please wait until you have a moment to yourself to respond.
8) Ask open-ended questions.
I don’t know what person asks “yes or no” questions in a conversation, but this is especially helpful when chatting with quiet people. As your neighborhood friendly extreme extrovert, if the other person is quiet, my tendency is to dominate and break all conversation etiquette. To avoid this, it’s helpful to ask open-ended questions where the other person can say more than “yeah” or “no” or “I don’t know” but have a chance to share something. Asking questions is really the key. Conversations where the other person asks me nothing ends up being a time where I just sit there and listen to them talk their ear off and if I weren’t an assertive person, I’d never get to really say anything. Questions invite participation in the conversation.
I think those are a few of my personal favorites (ones that I can be guilty of breaking or ones that annoy me the most about other people) but what are some other conversation faux pas that you encounter?