Without doubt, the ability to communicate well with others is one of the most important skills that we can poses, and developing these skills can bring great rewards, both for personal and professional reasons.

We revere great orators and teachers. We gravitate towards people who are good conversationalists, and communication skills are often top of the list of what employers look for most in a new employee.

With this in mind, I’ve been looking at some of the ways we can try to improve this.

1) Knowledge is Power:

If you want to improve your conversation, there can be few better ways to do it than to increase your knowledge. A gentleman should be well read. Regardless of whether this be fact or fiction, current affairs, ancient philosophy, or anything in between. Not so that he can show off, but so that he can hold his own in formal and informal situations.

In modern society, with audio books and the vast array of lectures on sites like YouTube, increasing your knowledge has never been easier. Grasping ideas, listening to how others phrase their theories, and the range of vocabulary that they use will undoubtably improve your own communication. As Thomas Low Nichols wrote, back in 1873: “…as conversation is the life, the nervous circulation of the social body, we should try to talk well. To do this we must have intelligence, knowledge, facts of interest, things and thoughts, ideas and sentiments, which others may wish to hear…” (p73).

2) Clarity

This is one I’ve worked quite a bit on, and has yielded great results…particularly when put under pressure. Sometimes you just need to take your time….take a breath to create a bit of space, and think about what you want to say…as clearly and concisely as possible. As with my last point, the more you develop your knowledge and language, and understand how others communicate, it should become easier to find the right words to say what you mean.

3) Take Turns

This might seem obvious, but is an important one to remember in terms of good manners and maintaining your good character…particularly if things get a little heated. One person should be speaking at a time.

4) What Not To Say

The general rule in polite company is to avoid anything likely to offend or provoke arguments. The classics being religion and politics. These can turn a dinner party into a battle-ground. If others bring these topics up, a gentleman should always tread carefully, offering a careful change of subject….or, as my grandfather used to say, if in doubt, say nowt.

5) Avoiding Conversational Narcissism

This is an important one and is worth spending a bit of time grasping if you want to make a good impression. I first stumbled upon it many years ago in this post but have since read the book that this is based on* and recommend it.

Conversational narcissism happens when someone purposefully, and often consistently, turns the subject of a conversation back to themselves and their experiences. This can be quite blatant…(we’ve all met someone who claims to know more than everyone else and has ‘been there’ and ‘done that’). But it can also be quite subtle.

As Deber (2000)* discusses, there is almost always a point where a conversation can go in two different directions: to support the initial speaker in what they are saying (usually by asking open questions), or to divert the attention to the person responding. These are know as…

The ‘support-response’ and the ‘shift response’

So…for example, you’re colleague tells you that they’re angry with a situation at work. You have a choice. You might ask them why they feel like this? Maybe discussing ways they could address the issue (a support response, keeping the emphasis on them). Or you might tell them about all the times you’ve been angry with a similar situation and what you did to try and resolve it (a shift-response).

Your friend might tell you, excitedly, how they just got back from seeing a great band. You could ask them about their experience….(a support-response) or, you could tell them how many times you’ve seen the band yourself or how you don’t like that band, offering up some that you think are better (a shift-response).

Both responses might be appropriate in some situations – we often need to draw on our own experiences to keep the flow, as in the first example. But conversational narcissism is more extreme, and the shift response in these cases can be seen as just rude and domineering (as in the second example), rendering the initial speaker completely passive in the conversation.

6) Pay Attention!

People love attention. Children love it more than anything else and will create chaos in order to get it. As adults we often have to suppress the urge to shout and act the fool, but we still love it when people listen to us and are truly engaged by what we have to say. There is possible no better tip for improving your communication than to stop and listen. Properly! Put the mobile phone down, stop thinking about what you fancy for dinner or what you’ll be doing next week. Instead…just listen…and

7) Treat Every Conversation Like an Opportunity to Learn!

As Barker (2016)* states in “Improve Your Communication Skills” you should always “assume meaningful intent” i.e. assume that the person speaking wants to convey something important to you. Just give them the opportunity. If you treat every conversation like an opportunity to learn, you can’t go far wrong. As previously mentioned, people love it when you pay them attention and if you ask the right questions, I’ve found that people will reveal some really interesting things about themselves, and, again, just hearing how others communicate their ideas can help you understand how to communicate better too.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that you found it useful. I love to hear your ideas and feed-back on the things I discuss, so leave a comment if you wish…and don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. (:

References and Recommended Reading:

Barker, A (2016) Improve Your Communication skills Kogan Pages*

Derber, C. (2000) The Pursuit of Attention – Power and Ego in Every Day Life. Oxford University Press *

McKay, B & K (2019) The Art of Conversation: How to Avoid Conversational Narcissism

Nichols, T.L (1873; 2015) How to Behave Amberley Publishing. *

Sargent, E; Fearon, T. (2011) How to Talk to Anyone. Pearson Education Ltd. *

*please be aware that I’m part of the Amazon UK Affiliate programme, so if you buy anything through some of the links provided, I may get a small percentage. This helps towards the blog and I only ever post things that I genuinely recommend.

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