The crucial conversation etiquette rules. The appropriate ways to make conversation and entertain others on a social occasion.
What conversation etiquette is
Conversation etiquette is the set of rules to properly make conversation on social occasions. Such rules include:
- How to start and end a conversation.
- How to deal with others and group conversation.
- The mistakes to avoid.
Follow conversation etiquette to properly build relationships and socialize with others.
General conversation etiquette principles
Conversation etiquette is based on two main principles:
- Getting to know the other person and building relationships.
- Avoid conflicts.
- Avoid being too direct or inquisitive.
Conversation etiquette rules
1) How to start the conversation
A conversation should be a natural consequence of small talk. Start by making small talk to find common ground with the other person. Then, as you find a topic that is interesting enough for both parties, you can elaborate on it.
You can signal that a topic is interesting to you by asking questions and keep elaborating on the answers. The other persons should send similar signals if the topic is interesting for them too.
2) Keep the conversation going
To make pleasant conversation, it is important to take turns talking. Say a few sentences and then let the other person reply and talk. The crucial factor is closing your sentence by prompting the other person to answer a question or elaborate on what you said.
Listen more than you talk. If you do not know what to say or do not have an opinion, you can keep the conversation going by asking questions or switching topics.
It is perfectly appropriate to switch or mix conversation topics to keep the mood light and avoid going too deep on a single topic. However, try not to break the flow of the conversation.
3) Show positive body language during a conversation
Show positive body language while you talk or listen to the other person.
Make and keep eye contact. Do not look around or over the person’s shoulder, as it signals a lack of interest. However, do not stare as it may intimidate or embarrass the other person.
Your torso and your feet should point in the direction of the other person. If you turn them away from the person who is talking, you signal the intention to leave the conversation.
4) Manage group conversations
During a small group conversation, it is important to participate and to make sure that everyone in the group has the chance to talk. If you notice that someone is not talking, it is polite to engage them and invite them to talk. “I liked that movie too. John, have you seen it already?”
Avoid making long statements or talking for over 30 or 40 seconds. You can talk for about a full minute to make a complex argument. However, do it no more than once or twice during the same conversation.
5) Avoid monologues
Avoid talking for longer than one full minute. Otherwise, people may get bored or even annoyed. A conversation is not about getting attention or pushing our thoughts on a topic. Its main goal is to socialize and get to know others.
In general, it is not polite to interrupt someone. However, it is appropriate to prevent someone from making a monologue. Try to jump in by expressing your opinion, “Right. However, …” or “I agree. Also, consider that …” Another way to break someone’s monologue is to steer the conversation and prompt someone else to jump in, “Jane, what do you think?”
6) Choose light and general conversation topics
It is best to choose light and general conversation topics. Avoid any topic that may be controversial, annoying, or embarrassing. Such as religion or politics. Avoid very specific conversation topics where only a few people will be able to contribute. Instead, try to steer the conversation towards general topics that allow everyone to participate.
7) Avoid escalations and conflicts
It is important to prevent the conversation from escalating or turning into a conflict. Stop the conversation as soon as you notice that the discussion is heating up. Do the same if you notice that one or more persons are alienating themselves from the conversation.
You can steer the conversation in a different direction by changing the topic. A polite way to do so is by asking someone a related question. If someone persists in the escalation, you can end the conversation by agreeing to disagree on that topic.
8) How to end the conversation
It is best to keep conversations short. After a few exchanges, it is perfectly appropriate to switch to another topic. To leave a group or a person, find an excuse and add a compliment. “I am going to get another drink. It was nice meeting you!” or “I need to go and say hello to the hosts. I haven’t talked with them yet”.
Conversation and small talk
A small talk is a light form of conversation. It is particularly appropriate when you meet someone for the first time and you need to build rapport. A conversation usually requires a larger effort and more time. Thus, it implies that we already built some rapport with the other person.
Conversation etiquette at work
Conversations are not most appropriate in the workplace. Making small talk is perfectly acceptable to ease others into a professional discussion or business meeting. However, it is best to avoid long conversations as they may drain time away from professional activities and signal a lack of productivity.
Conversation etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst conversation etiquette mistakes.
- 8/10. Talking about controversial or too personal topics.
- 7/10. Making a monologue.
- 7/10. Not paying attention to who is talking.
- Do conversations end when people want them to?: harvard.edu