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The art of listening and contributing to a great and valuable conversation. 14. April 2016International relocation requires you to learn about a new environment and make new friends. Although cross cultural understanding can make this process easier, it is far from enough. While the ability to "small talk", as discussed before, can set the stage for a meaningful exchange, the art of active listening and participation, will ensure you acquire a valuable experience, which in turn will help in building a network and aid in the adjustment to your new home.

Here are 8 ways to start and maintain a good conversation, which will provide a valuable experience to both you and those you are discussing with. 

  1. Do not multitask; be present. In many conversations, we think we can quickly check our mobile, read an SMS, plan the evening's dinner, or work out what to do before we go home. We excuse it by convincing ourselves that we get the gist of the conversation. However, details are lost, our conversation partner notices a lack of interest and gets too much time to talk before you respond, resulting in more conversational filling and more dull conversation. Rather, be in the conversation, respond, and find what is of interest. It's much better to leave  early if you need to do other things.   

  2. Do not lecture. If you just want to talk without attending to any counter argument, differing opinions or interjections go home and write a blog. When you are in a conversation, see it as an opportunity to learn more about the topic under discussion; everyone has something to contribute, be it a different view, perspective or even a clarifying question (you may be such an expert that the question requires information that seems unnecessary, even foolish, to other, non-experts).

  3. Ask open ended and simple questions. This is easier said than done, as we generally want to confirm our own perceptions, by asking questions that confirm our view. For example, you have heard about a friend's stressful traffic story, involving an accident: Asking : "Were you scared", demand a "yes" or "no" answer. Asking: "How did you feel" or "what was your immediate reaction" allows your partner to elaborate.

  4. Go with the flow. When you are present in a conversation, you are often inspired with many ideas and potential questions; some that allow you to relate the subject  to yourself. Let them go! As you think of your clever response, you stop listening. Remember, not all “clever” questions are worth asking,  and by focusing on an early part of the statement, you signal you have not been listening, and can create a stilted conversation. Focus on the best question or comment you come up with when it is your turn in the conversation.

  5. Do not equate your experience with theirs. All experiences are personal, so  if someone is telling you a personal story, do not see it as an opportunity to hijack the story and talk about yourself. This is about them! Rather, use your experience to ask relevant and insightful questions. Be empathic - ask questions such as those in 3.  Share your own experience later.

  6. Do not repeat yourself. When a conversation partner starts repeating, it acts as a cue to multitask (as discussed above); rather than strengthening a point, repetition bores and distracts. When you have a point, stick to it and tell it once, then stop and allow for a response.  If there is no response, this is probably indicative of a point less useful in the conversation.

  7. Stay out of the weeds. When listening to a story, very few, care about names (unless they know them intimately), exact dates and places. If not highly relevant to the story, forget the details, leave them out, focus on the main point.  If your listener is keen to know these details, you can expect the questions will be asked.

  8. Listen. We love to talk, and we love when other people listen to us. Indeed, we get a dopamine rush from it. This is a problem. Keep your conversations short and to the point. Allow for a response. Further, while we can talk at about 225 words per minute, we can listen at about 500 words per minute. This means we have spare mental capacity when we listen, and the mind wants to fills in the added time with other stuff, (therefore the urge to multitask). You need to combat that instinct and listen actively. Also, adjust the speed and complexity of your language to your audience, you can speak faster and more advanced to native speakers than those who have it as a foreign language.


Remember: You want to listen with the intent to learn, not to listen with the intent to reply.


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