Think about the most awkward conversation you’ve ever had with someone. Now think of a conversation you could have had with someone if only you knew how not to let the conversation die. The answer to this lies in one question and If you are here, it’s safe to assume that you have definitely asked yourself, “Why do I have a hard time holding a conversation?”
Conversations can be very diverse. It can be fun, informative, engaging, boring, and at times even difficult. But what’s worse than being a part of a challenging conversation? Not having the conversation!
While starting and holding a conversation can be very easy for some people, many of us might not be born with that skill. But does that mean that you can never be good at holding conversations?
Holding conversations can be learned. Just like we learn to talk, drive, and make excel sheets, holding a conversation is yet another activity we can learn. Or rather, Holding a conversation is an art; at least I like to see it that way. And since it is an art, there is always room for improvement. So even if you are good at holding conversations there will still be something you can gain from this blog.
Why is it so hard to hold a conversation?
While your reason for having a hard time holding a conversation might be very different or situation specific, here are a couple of common reasons why people find it hard to hold conversations:
1. Social Anxiety and awkwardness
One of the major reasons why anyone for that matter would have a challenging time holding a conversation is because of social anxiety. To understand this point, it’s important to first understand what social anxiety is.
Social anxiety is a chronic fear of being around and interacting with other people. It has its roots in fear of embarrassment and fear of rejection. It could also stem from the individuals being too conscious of how they carry themselves in front of others.
In the case of conversations, social anxiety prevents you from carrying on a conversation by bombarding you with thoughts like:
- What if their opinion is very different from yours?
- What if I say something that offends them?
- What if they don’t find it funny, it’ll end up being awkward.
The fear of being judged by others unfavorably or rather being rejected can come in the way of expressing your honest opinions. Social anxiety can also increase conformity.
2. Not being able to process the information
At times the reason for not being able to come up with ways to continue a conversation could be because you aren’t able to effectively process the information. It can be attributed to factors like hunger, distraction, daydreaming, sleepiness, or more.
3. Trouble understanding others
Sometimes the way others communicate could end up being a barrier to processing the information.
They could either be very fast talkers or have an accent that you find difficult to comprehend. There is also a possibility that they switch languages while talking which whom you are not familiar.
4. The topic isn’t interesting enough
Yet another possible reason for having a hard time holding a conversation could be the fact that the topic which is being discussed is out of your interest area.
If I had to give you my example, I’d probably be very invested in a conversation on public speaking or communication for that matter. While on the flip side if the conversation is about different ways to cook fish, I might not be as interested considering my vegetarian diet.
5. The other person isn’t interested
At times the reason for not being able to carry the conversation could be outside of you. One such example is when the person or people you are talking to don’t show any interest in the conversation. So even though you might want to continue or carry on a conversation, the disinterest from their side would simply demotivate you from doing so.
How do you tell if someone is not interested in talking to you?
a. You can see it through their behavior
If you see the person you are talking to looks lost. Or that their reactions don’t correspond to what you are saying, like if you ask “Where did you keep my charger?” in the middle of the conversation and they say “Yes that’s very true.” These are obvious signs of them not having any interest in what you are saying.
b. They constantly interrupt you
Yet another way of knowing if someone just isn’t interested in the conversation is when they constantly keep interrupting you. Either they want to add to what you are saying or share their stories.
They might also be interrupting you with random thoughts they come across while talking. Let’s assume you are talking to someone about the floods and they interrupt you by saying something like “Oh shit! I don’t recall where I kept my car keys today.”
c. They are constantly distracted
Their lack of interest can either be noticeable like if they constantly keep checking their phone. Or it can be difficult to point out if they are daydreaming or just lost.
6. Too interested in yourself
We all tend to share stories while we talk. However, when you try to circle back all topics to talking about yourself, the conversation may actually become very annoying. So even if the other person had topics and ideas they wanted to talk about with you, they would rather avoid them and try to end the conversation as soon as possible.
What do you call someone who can’t keep a conversation going?
There are two kinds of people who find it difficult to keep a conversation going, the one who thinks about others’ perspectives of them and others who only think about themselves.
The latter is known as conversational narcissists. Conversational narcissists tend to engage in a shift response as opposed to a support response.
What do we mean by that?
Support response is when you try to extend your support to the person talking by ensuring that the focus stays on them. So for example, if someone tells you that their head is hurting, your support response might sound something like “I can totally understand, did you have any meds yet?“
On the other hand, Shift response is when we try to shift the limelight to ourselves. In the above example, a conversational narcissist would say something like “Oh I remember this one time I had the worst headache of my life...”
This near obsession with talking solely about yourself is very unattractive when trying to hold conversations.
What causes someone to be a conversational narcissist?
There are two very contradictory reasons that could cause someone to be a conversational narcissist.
1. They have very low self-esteem
Conversational narcissists like to keep all the attention to themselves. This means that they seek validation and acceptance from the people around them. They want to be heard and the only way they feel they can do so is by bringing in their self-centered stories in every conversation.
2. They have very high self-esteem
Besides seeking validation, narcissism can step from having a very high image of oneself. So if you encounter a conversational narcissist who also tends to be very defensive and argumentative, the chances are that they have very high self-esteem.
Research conducted by the University of Kentucky defined narcissists as argumentative and controlling people who have very high self-esteem. Thus proving that there is no point in trying to drain your energy in reaching an agreement with these people.
How do you deal with a conversational narcissist?
There are three basic things that you can do when dealing with a conversational narcissist.
1. Understand the context of conversations
Let’s say you are having a conversation with a conversational narcissist. You are well aware of their habit of talking solely about themselves so you are bound to get annoyed by them.
But before concluding yet another time that the person just keeps talking, check the context of your conversation. Is the topic such that requires the person to speak a lot and share their stories? Well in that case they are not at fault. but it is their similar past behavior that comes in the way of our quick judgment.
2. Try to empathize
While it’s not the most ideal advice, yet as a fellow human try to empathize with them. And especially now that you know the possible reason behind their such behavior, you should all the more be empathetic to them.
3. Choose mental peace
Lastly, we understand that talking to a conversational narcissist is extremely draining and borderline toxic; so if you have tried your level best to deal with them and it hasn’t worked, choose mental peace. What we mean here is slowly zone out of the conversation.
How can I get better at holding conversations?
There are many ways you can improve upon your ability to carry on a conversation. Here is a list of the many ways you can have a good time holding a conversation:
1. Rid yourself of limiting beliefs
Think about it how many times have you convinced yourself that you are bad at holding conversations by saying things like:
- I have a hard time having conversations.
- I am not good at continuing a conversation.
- I have a hard time carrying on a conversation.
- It is difficult for me to keep the conversation alive.
Thus the first thing that you need to do to improve your ability to hold conversations is to put all these limiting beliefs in a trash can.
Instead affirm positive and encouraging thoughts like “It is very easy and smooth for me to keep others engaged in an engaging conversation.”
2. Conversational Intention
In order to keep the conversation going, understanding the intention or purpose behind the conversation can be very helpful. Finding out this purpose is very easy. You just have to get answers to 4 simple questions:
Who? What? When? Where?
So essentially trying to understand who you’ll be talking to. Knowing what you would be talking about is also quite crucial. In case what is unknown, you can try to gauge the things the people would love talking about.
Getting answers to the when and where an aspect of it would give you time to mentally prepare yourself to meet the person and have the conversation.
3. Number-based questions
Famously known as Jerry Seinfeld’s Conversation Hack, its name speaks for itself. Jerry Seinfeld used such number-based questions to try and make small talk with the fans who would line up to get a picture with them. He would ask questions like:
- How far will you have to travel to reach home?
- How long have you been living here?
- At what time did you guys reach here?
In short asking questions that can be answered through numbers. Be it time, quantity, amount, or any other numeric variable.
Bookmarking conversations is similar to how we use bookmarks while reading. That is to come back to the same conversation at some point later. When you say something to bookmark a conversation, it gives you an opportunity to continue the conversation at some later point in time from where you left off.
Let’s assume you are having a conversation about a newly opened café in your locality and the other person recommends you to try it. A very simple bookmark you can use is “Definitely, I will try it and give you a review of my experience there.”
So the next time you want to start the conversation you can simply start by talking about your experience at the café. Such changes to continue the conversation would have been skipped had you simply said “Definitely, I will try it.”
5. Conversation sparks
Conversation sparks relate to the topics that could easily gain the interest of the people you are having a conversation with. It could also be a topic that interests you.
Picking out topics that interest others is recommended as it will prompt them to come up with ways to keep the conversation going. Thus riding you of the sole responsibility to carry on the conversation.
On the other hand, picking out a topic that interests you would make it easier for you to come up with subsequent topics in a flow. Thus helping you enjoy holding a conversation rather than making it a task for you.
6. Encourage reciprocity
What better keep the conversation going than to ask “What about you?” once you are done talking?
Encouraging reciprocity goes a long way in creating valuable bonds. It shows that you are not simply focused on your ideas or point of view and are willing to know about their perspectives as well.
7. Avoid one upper
One upper are statements meant to outshine or undermine the statements made by someone else. An example of a one upper would is given below:
Alissa: I’m so excited to tell you that last week we bought the house I was talking about the other day.
Tim: That’s wonderful! Did I tell you about the lake house I bought last month? You have to see it. It is huge!
One upper is conveniently used by conversational narcissists. But at times we may end up using it as well. So basically don’t try to make others feel bad by minimizing what they are saying and giving them something to compare their situation with.
8. Try Mirroring
Mirroring is a technique where you try to shift the energy of other people to match your energy.
We often unknowingly mirror other people when they yawn and in other situations. Mirroring can give be a solution to your “Why do I have a hard time holding a conversation?”
Mirroring other people matching their energy and then slowly shifting the energy of the entire conversation by making small changes in the way you behave will encourage similar shifts in their behavior too.
An example of this would be if you are talking to someone who seems very upset. You may want to initially imitate or match their low energy. Slowly you can start to shift your energy by opening up yourself a little like talking with your arms open or adding smiles or chuckles here and there. You would then be able to notice a similar shift in the people you are talking to.
In this way, you can actually take control of the conversation again and not let it drift.
Check out our video below to understand mirroring in more detail:
8. Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is a very good way of carrying on conversations. It would encourage others to talk more openly about the topic. And while actively listening, you can try to pick out the next topic from what they are saying.
9. Try blurting
Blurting is the act of simply talking about everything that is going on in your mind. Blurting can actually be a great way to hold a conversation. Let’s say the conversation has reached the awkward silence phase, What d you do now?
You can simply bring back the spark of the conversation by saying something like
On thinking a little more about it, I feel we can also take a look at so and so aspects besides what we just talked about, what do you think?
10. Ask questions
While we have already talked about open-ended and numbered questions, asking any questions during conversations is amazing. Asking questions would a. provide you more clarity and b. keep the conversation going.
11. Show your interest
Showing your interest in the conversation can actually reinforce others to keep talking and to transition smoothly across topics. The lack of interest on your part could be taken as a sign to end the conversation as quickly as possible, Hence, try avoiding it.
Why can’t I hold a conversation on text?
Holding a conversation over text can be quite challenging as you might get delayed responses. Also, it is difficult to gauge if the response is genuine or if it has offended someone, which can be easily figured out through their body language.
You might end up being too conscious over text and might not say what you truly feel due to the clichéd long texts.
How can you hold a conversation over text?
Here are a couple of ways you can actually have a better time holding a conversation over text:
1. Try to end your text with a question
Often when we are texting, we might assume that the other person will carry on from here but then all we get is a notification that says that the person “Liked your message.”
And it is a possibility that on their end they assumed that the conversation had ended. So if you would want to not have a hard time holding a conversation, try to end your text with a question. It could be as simple as “What do you think?” or “What about you?“
This would ensure that you are not only interested to talk to them but are also genuinely interested in understanding their point of view.
2. Send voice notes
How many times have you typed out a text and then hit the backspace because you realized that the text was too long?
Long texts are often seen in a very negative light. But then how do you express everything that you want to say?
Send voice notes!
Voice notes are a very convenient way to say whatever you feel like. Plus it helps the other person understand your mood by your tonality and way of speaking.
3. Be direct
Don’t try to build suspense when talking over texts. Try to be as direct as possible. This would avoid any sort of misunderstanding. Further, if the replies aren’t quick, then it steals the excitement of creating suspense in the conversation.
4. Add emojis and GIFs
Emojis, stickers, and GIFs are great tools to express over texts. It is very easy to misunderstand statements over texts and these emojis can help in avoiding them.
Let’s say you text something that is meant to be a joke, but you have not followed it up with laughing emojis. And now the person is offended.
So, to avoid being misunderstood, try using emojis, stickers, or GIFs, whatever you can relate to and are comfortable using.
5. Be patient
Lastly, the most crucial thing that is required from you to not have a hard time holding a conversation over text is patience.
Be patient if they take some time for replying, or if their texts are shorter. Try to be patient in terms of explaining and reexplaining what you mean in a text so as to work on any misunderstandings.
Apart from all of these quick tips you can follow to have a good time holding a conversation, don’t forget to be yourself!
Say things and talk about topics that you are most comfortable with. And enjoy the conversation.
Holding a conversation is not always easy. But it is also not something that can not be worked upon.
There are various reasons that could come in the way of you trying to hold a conversation. It could include having social anxiety, not being able to process the information, not being able to understand what the other person is saying cause of their accent, or fast speaking. It could also be because either they or you are only concerned with talking about yourself.
To get better at holding conversations, you can try to first rid yourself of the limiting belief of “I can not hold a conversation.” You can try asking number-based questions, open-ended questions, or any general questions for that matter which give the other person a chance to continue the conversation. You can also try understanding the intention of the conversation or try bookmarking the conversation to continue it at some later point in time.
Apart from that you can try using conversation sparks or try mirroring and shifting the conversation in a way that is more in line with your mood and interest.
Lastly, do not forget to enjoy the conversation.
Besides the blog, if you feel that talking to a communication coach can help you improve your conversations, head to Frantically Speaking. We will be more than happy to help.