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Strong conversational skills will serve you well in any workplace environment or organization. By confidently engaging your co-workers, your boss, and even the most senior people you work with, you will be able to build better and more meaningful relationships. And since opportunities are often granted to those who are well-liked and self-assured, improving your conversational skills can be a major factor in your career growth and progress. Some people come by the gift of gab naturally, but most of us need to make a conscious effort to engage and practise. Here are seven deliberate actions you can take to be a better conversationalist at work.

Listen more, talk less

Ironically, the best conversations occur when you focus on listening rather than on talking. When you listen, you gather information. You gain knowledge that could help you in a variety of ways, but perhaps more importantly, you learn more about the person you are talking to. That allows you to ask deeper questions that encourage further dialogue. Because you show genuine interest, you become more likeable.

Be present

Do not multitask. Talking or (pretend) listening while you also glance over your e-mail or check to see who is phoning you is not a conversation, it is verbal juggling and unprofessional at best. So give the person you are with your full attention. Put away your hand-held device, make eye contact, and be fully present. Your undivided attention is a telling indicator of how much you respect this individual.

Ask open-ended questions

Your goal in conversation is to get the other person talking, and open-ended questions are exceptional tools to move dialogue forward. Questions starting with “How,” “Why” and “In what way …“ solicit the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and interests and can be answered in varied ways. And they provide flexibility because individuals can reveal as much (or as little) about themselves as they want, depending on their comfort level.

Look for points of commonality

Open-ended questions are also very effective in finding things you have in common with other people. When you find topics of mutual interest, they lead to meaningful conversations. And since solid relationships are built on a foundation of shared values, these commonalities will set you build those relationships. While not a question, the phrase “Tell me more about that” is also a great way to delve deeper and keep the conversation going.

Skip the details

Unless you are surrounded by fellow enthusiasts, pontificating about any specific topic does not qualify as conversation. For one, chances are that it is far more detail than is necessary or relevant to the other person. And two, you’re probably talking too much. Remember: listen more, talk less.

Don’t “one-up”

You’ve no doubt experienced the “one-upper” before. If you had a long wait at the doctor’s office, theirs was longer. If your cousin had a complicated appendectomy, then their aunt had it worse. A conversation is not a contest. No matter the topic under discussion, you don’t need to describe an experience or share a story that was bigger or better or worse. Just listen, acknowledge, and ask another open-ended question to continue the dialogue.

Show empathy

Empathy is essential to nurturing strong relationships. It is the ability to see another person’s point of view by putting yourself in their shoes. It is often said that people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Your empathy (or lack of it) will determine how you make people feel. So show people they matter. Be professional. Be polite. “I understand where you’re coming from” or “You could be right,” when said truthfully, builds trust. Even when you disagree, respect others and their perspectives.

The ability to engage in conversation builds rapport and ultimately mutual trust and respect. When you establish strong relationships with the people around you, they become your cheerleaders and supporters as you progress in your career. If conversation does not come easily to you, invest effort in improving your skills. Your future success will thank you.

Merge Gupta-Sunderji is a leadership speaker, consultant and the founder of leadership development consultancy Turning Managers Into Leaders.

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