How to Have a Good Conversation

How to Have a Good Conversation

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“Old Boy… is it a guy trapped in a room?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah… basically. It has a twist– just wait for the end of it.” It can be painfully rare to end up in a satisfying conversation. A lot of the time, we talk and we listen, but sincere, deep connection eludes us. “Oil, the yeast and pan… it reacts differently and some more healthy or less. I– like, grapeseed oil is actually really… I like that. I mean it’s very…” We shouldn’t blame ourselves for the difficulties we face in conversations. After all, no one ever particularly taught us how to have a conversation, though it might have have helped. “This is the, um, well it’s not the orbital, is it? It’s the other one. [incoherent] Well, there’s people trying to get to work, people trying to get to school, I mean, so– it’s just so stupid.” Too often, when we meet and talk, we stay on the surface of events. We say what happened, where we went, who we saw; not how we felt, or what it meant to us. We talk about facts, not feelings, which are the only conduits to real connection. “… thing– that’s the issue. It’s like when you’re on that platform you see there’s Royston, Natural Garden City, and Welling Garden City. And that’s the thing– a lot of people are there on that platform and they don’t know that they could change your Alexandra Palace…” Or else, we insist rather than explain feelings, thereby failing to get them into other people’s minds. “… like so amazing. I still got like– even thinking of it now, it’s just like… UHHH! Uh… you know the… yeah, you know when you’re kind of… oh, God it was great. Oh, so good.” Typically, we skirt the raw and intense emotions and head for safe, but bland, adminstrative chat. “I used to eat meat… and then, obviously when me and James broke up and I became vegetarian. I’ve found… just absolutely the most amazing recipe book. It’s literally– I don’t know if you’ve seen it and it’s got like– you can replace… sort of the dish that you would have with meat in it…” Or else, we simply can’t keep a conversation on track. We repeatedly, as it were, open new windows, digressing until the thread is lost. “So I was thinking– I was actually thinking of playing poker this weekend with uh… you know, my mates, but I don’t play anymore because I lost a bit of money last year, and I know. There’s just so much to read now… you know what I mean? I’m more interested in reading, if anything… I am going skiing next week, so… I don’t know, it’s not the kind of place you might read but…” The good news is that we can learn to shape others’ conversations rather than just receive them passively. In a dialogue, there are always what one might term, “conversational crossroads,” with paths that lead either to greater intimacy, or else towards ongoing superficiality. Here is one conversational crossroads: “I’m inviting some friends over next week who I haven’t seen since uni.” At this point, you could go in one of two ways. A surface way: “Oh cool, what university did you go to?”
“Manchester.” “Oh, yeah, it’s really fun. Manchester, yeah. My sister went there. What did you study?” “Business.”
“What– what did you do in the second half for?” “Well, I ended up in Events Management, but yeah.”
“I did French.” Or, you could steer things down a more emotional path: “I’m inviting some friends over next week who I haven’t seen since uni.” “Oh my God, it’s like what? 10, 12 years?”
“Yeah, that’s when I fini– got my degree, yeah. “So, I mean, you’ve all completely changed… I mean, you’ve changed.” “Yeah, I guess I have, yeah. I suppose so. Haven’t really thought about it that much.” “What would you think or say– I mean, if you could see you then now?” Good listeners are like good editors: trimming away what’s superfluous, trying gently to get the speaker to focus on what’s really at stake. “And after my mum died, as you can probably guess, there was quite a bit of stress… um. Well uh, not helped by the fact that my favorite football team at the time, Manchester United, was going through a losing streak–” “So, but you were saying that, um, that your parents got divorced and then literally three months later your mum passed away?”
“Yes. It was all quick… quick quick.” “Yeah.”
“Um, but yeah. I’ve got a friend– uh, Dave, um, or David, as he’s called at work, because obviously that’s a bit informal–” “Sorry, but you were saying like it just– like it all happened really quickly and like when your mum went to the hospital you didn’t actually know she was ill before…” The other great surprise about conversations is how much we like it when people show vulnerability. We always think that what we need to do to get other people to like us is to show how well things are going for us. Surprisingly, that’s actually not very appealing. “It’s so well paid, um… and which is great in terms of, you know, now I can afford, you know, to live in Canterbury which is gorgeous and I love my flat, um… so yeah, it’s been really, really positive, actually.” It’s not that we want others to fail; we just need to know that our own sorrows have echoes in the lives of others. That’s what connects us; strength may be impressive, but it’s vulnerability that builds friendships. “Yes, I guess I’ve… missed her every day since then… which is mad because, you know, I’m a grown man now… got a responsible job, got a family, got my own home, but when it comes down to it… I just miss my mum.” It’s so poignant that we make so much effort to come together, but often don’t manage to connect. The good news is, we can learn how to. The connections we long for are just waiting for us to make the right moves, to secure them. We believe in making the world a more emotionally intelligent place, and to that end, we’ve now also published some extraordinary books, as well as other merchandise that reinforces some of the themes illustrated in our videos. Please click on the link below to see more.

100 thoughts on “How to Have a Good Conversation”

  1. Step #1: Don't try talking to an ignoramus or immature person 😧 I had a job interview recently, the person conducting the interview was a gem 😢 I havn't met anyone like that in a long while. My sanity has been waning, I don't know if I'll endure this extra month that I have to wait while my background check is conducted. I really don't expect to.

    Maybe the School of Life app for Android will be out tomorrow and save me. Maybe not

  2. Is it just me or does the narrator sound like Maechen from Final Fantasy X?

    You know, the “And that, as they say, is that” guy.

  3. Some very simple but effective tips. Will have to think about this next time I'm with a group, especially a new group because I could really use some work when it comes to face to face interaction. It's pretty rare that I feel like I make a genuine connection with someone. It ALL seems like surface stuff. This could definitely help to crack that outer layer more often and have a worthwhile conversation.Is it me, or do others find online discussion so much easier? Maybe because I have more time to think and word my point. Maybe because the topic (whatever that may be) has already been introduced. I also don't need to worry about my body language, eye contact, tone of voice etc. Or feel so self conscious. I can just get to the point.

  4. Compassion is something I need to incorporate in learning the art of having a good conversation. I agree that no matter how successful you are as a person, you really don't need to show it off on their faces because in that way you can't connect to your listener and connection is one of the main goal in order to achieve a good conversation.

  5. I have Asperger's which was diagnosed very late in life, so these videos are helpful to provide perspective, and help me work on my people skills.

  6. While I like deep conversations I've had too many that turned into just giving away information (ammo) unwittingly to a narcissist 😐

  7. That’s so true that “vulnerability causes good friendships.” I usually like to hear conversations that have 2 do w/ expressing emotions, cuz it makes a conversation last longer. I also like 2 console people and give out advice 2 make them feel better. Don’t u feel the same?

  8. Well, I agree that it's great to share you're feelings with someone, rather just discuss the "small stuff" all the time. However, imagining a conversation with only deep, emotional stuff could be potentially exhausting. Not to mention that you run the risk of coming off as needy and weak- especially if you're meeting new people . I think the "surface" conversation is there for a reason: to forge bonds with people you don't know very well. Then, once you know the people better, those deeper conversations will likely, hopefully, occur.

    Nevertheless, excellent video as always, much appreciated!

  9. Right, but how do you start and actually maintain such conversations? In this video I learned what a good conversation must have in order to not bore anyone;however, how do you start it? Do you need to say something trivial in order to get the vulnerability that is needed? And once you break the ice, How do you maintain that vulnerability? I know how to beat my fears of talking to people, but I often don’t because I don’t know how to(it might be confusing, but I’ll explain it this way: during the Punic wars, Fabius didn’t actually fear a direct confrontation with Hannibal, but he didn’t do it because he knew that any direct confrontation with him will inevitably end in failure; similarly, I don’t talk to people because I am afraid of awkward silences and annoyance of someone(maybe the latter can apply) but because I know that I don’t know how conversations start and are maintained that I don’t)

  10. 3:39 "Good listeners are like good editors – trimming away what's superfluous, trying gently to get the speaker to focus on what's really at stake."

    5:06 "Strength may be impressive, but it's vulnerability that builds friendships."

  11. I keep coming back to this video every few months. It's good to know how I can form some really intriguing conversations

  12. What a helpful video ! I will definitely be using these techniques! I want to develop closeness with people

  13. Sorry my question is irrelevant, but what are the English accents of the narrator and the people around the table? Is it British? But what particularly? It is so beautiful 😭 I wish I could hear it more or speak like that

  14. I got a few minutes in and slammed my hand on the table.
    From my life's experience, I was expecting something entirely different from the video – although, in hindsight, what I was expecting made no sense for the channel.
    I always like deeper discussion, and its the only type of discussion I try to have and am good at.
    So my problem is, when faced with a room full of strangers and no circumstance that sets us in a circle of conversation, or no pretense that they would give me more attention, I don't know how to small talk my way into a conversation with them – I can't make that first step. If anything else happened, where they could see my humour or intellect, we would be fine; I'm fine with friends of friends because I have a foot in, and it's plain sailing from there, but when I'm alone, my goodness.

    Does anyone have any tips to offer in that regard? How does one make those first small-talk steps to allow this kind of conversation to be acceptable?

  15. After implementing some of this stuff and being more mindful during conversation, I've concluded that I'm not the problem. The same thing someone may find interesting when talking to their best friends, they find boring when talking to anyone else. People are anti social

  16. There's one part I don't get. 4:00, when the girl steers the conversation back to the stressful period that happened to the guy, is that a positive or negative example? Because to me it seems like she focuses a lot on that stressful period when the guy may not have wanted to touch on that sensitive topic too much.

  17. I like watching some of these videos and feeling like, hey i have this one figured out already!
    I'm great at conversing but so many of these School of Life videos give me outlooks I never imagined before.

  18. I didn't think there were people who were worst conversationalists than me but then I watch the people in the video and wow…

  19. Really well presented. Well done. I love the crossroads analogy. Nowadays when I become aware the conversation is at the crossroads I push through my fear and say Something more authentic.

  20. This seems to be the most competitive civilised comment section on YouTube, I mean people use complete words, no abbreviations, no slangs, proper punctuation, cool.

  21. Your book prices are really high… I mean I would love to buy a book which would cost me Rs.500/- or something

  22. Too many links! I'd like to find your book but there's like 15 fucking links. I clicked 3 of them then gave up, fix that shit.

  23. I'd like to see a flashback on what would be considered good conversation at the university phase of life additionally to see what worked and what needed work then too.

  24. This was great. I have trouble with conversations and was wonder how to to did deeper than the surface. Hopefully I can try to use this.

  25. @Shaddy Purpp
    or maybe there is so much to be curious about in this world,
    but society has taught not to be curious because then you're "busybody"
    or maybe people dont have their priorities straight and the only thing they're grown curious about is, well its pretty sad to say this but, sex. I blame this to be the reason of oh so many relationships ending with cheating.

  26. This video is sooo good. It's like a tutorial on how not be an absolute bore. Even if it were, that's okay. This video is very constructive, not punitive at all. Great stuff.

  27. is there a way to have a good conversation without negativity? loss, fear, anxiety, depression, abandonment ain't exactly the most fun topics.

  28. This video is awesome! I'd love to see more examples of good conversations so that I learn to use them in my own life. Does anyone know where else I can find examples good conversations? like in similar videos, interviews, movies, etc.?

  29. Well I don't know about your countries. But in Germany, in a bigger group (4-9 people) I never had a conversation about feelings. It's how work sucks, making jokes and being funny, politics, games and sometimes the next holidays and maybe plans. If you try to dig deeper, it usually starts to get weird. Dunno.

  30. I usually feel like there's something wrong with me because I don't have any friends but then I see a video like this of 'people and their friends' and I feel better about not having any. I realise it's a decision I've made and not an accident.

  31. The thing is with vulnerability in conversations is it can quite easily come across as attention seeking and that can really set off some people.

  32. Well, learning this will cost you a lot. As vulnerability connects us, at the same time it exposes us. Some people may want to learn from you, and learn you but at the same time a high, sweet level of risk is that they're gonna stab you with the very information.

    Soo… dear friends, we'll have to open ourselves seeking friends and companions. On this path, there'll be tons of times when we get drunk, spill the things we should never share in the first place, get smashed, burned, stabbed after. All and all this bitterness, I'm just saying, may the God(s) give us the blessings. And don't you, ever, give up.

    Why the heck am I writing this anyway. burst out laughing

  33. Real talk, some YouTube channels are only fun to watch when your drunker than your uncle in Vegas. This is one of them… because when you’re done it sounds like bullshit.

  34. I think the most important is just makes fun, then people will like us and conversation will be pleasant

    Where is books which they mantioned? I dont see it in description

  35. People usually gravitate towards me and i might have figured out why.
    I wonder about a lot of things. I ask people about things, even things i already know the answer to, i do it to connect with them, always asks questions ever since i was a kid, and some times i actually learn something.

    I just figured out that people love answering questions, it makes them feel worthy, and have knowledge. I know that many people know things i don't, so i always ask out of curiosity, and i listen to the answer, remembering the answer, and improve myself as a part of it, sometimes quote the answer back to them and say stuff like ''Ahh, that makes sense now, i didn't know that''

    So i think the key is to be genuine, and speak the truth, and wonder about things around you, try to learn, everyone knows something you don't.

  36. "That's what connects us. Strength may be impressive, but it's vulnerability that builds friendships." Beautiful, made me think a lot, thanks.

  37. The great problem is people don't have enough empathy these days. All they want to talk about or hear about is about their selfish goals. Nobody cares about other's accomplishments. Those will actually enrage them or depress them. Why are people being so violent to each other? Lack of empathy. True love, in a sense. If you love somebody, you won't make him/her feel down or less worth than yourself. You're doing some great work here Mr. Alain De Botton. Thank you.

  38. You know what. I made the most friends when i was just myself younger in school. now I've gone down this path where I try to look good and impress people but I've lost sight of what makes a good friend. Being vulnerable and real. Being a good friend requires sacrifice and willingness to listen and understand and share what the other person goes through. This video makes that point so well

  39. Thank You (All involved with this video and it being here), for making an attempt at helping us with our process of connection with others … specifically through good conversation. However, there is no way something so complex as a good conversation can be explained so briefly. There is no …"here's what to do and not to do" … UNLESS we want to go through All the factors involved and they are many. We All need to think a bit more about the conversation we both have and do not have with others. This video makes some good points … but only covers certain aspects of conversation in a superficial way. SPECIFICALLY … this video may make it look like it's a good thing to keep 1. interrupting someone to bring them back to something when they are moving away from that topic. 2. And a comment is made that it is important to show our vulnerabilities "to build friendships" … Showing our vulnerabilities IS important at some point in any relationship … but we do not want to do this until we can fully trust the other to 1. Fully understand our vulnerability 2. to not speak to others about out vulnerabilities. And …
    Conversations with people we do not really know well … will be different from conversations we have with those we know. Granted we can have less surface conversations with just about anyone who also craves deeper conversations but it will not happen often due to most people simple having no desire to have anything BUT surface conversation. This is a factor in people not feeling very close or connected to others … and when we don't feel close or connected, we are more reluctant to have deeper conversations (aka, works both ways).
    Someone mentions in a comment below that the hard part of a conversation is getting people to listen with the intent of understanding versus listening with the thought of how they are going to respond. This is an excellent and factual point. Someone else responds to that comment with … "It isn't so hard to understand what someone says as it is to understand what they want to say." … another excellent point … although this point needs further exploration. We can get into all sorts of problems when we think we know what someone is "really" saying versus what they say … best to not guess about what someone means best to ask for clarification.
    For a conversation to be good for (lets say 2 people) it has to meet their idea of what a good conversation is … and that can be quite varied. Now granted many conversations do not really lead to … a deeper understanding of something or someone or a better feeling of connection and closeness … BUT maybe that is not what is desired from that conversation. So …
    1. First thing to consider IF you are wanting to have a good conversation with someone is … a. Why am I wanting to converse with this person? b. Am I wanting to make an important point about something or bring up an important issue or am I just wanting to be polite in introducing myself to them … am I hoping to get to know them (a little) OR (a lot)… am I just looking for someone to share a few drinks and jokes with … am I seeking a brief encounter or hoping for a friendship to develop … just what is my goal in conversing with this person? If the person is someone you already know well … you still need to think about your goal in bringing up a specific topic or in attempting to get into deeper explorations of either each other or a topic.
    2. Timing … means a lot in conversation. Someone may want a deeper conversation BUT just not when you are attempting. When you are wanting a conversation it can work wonders to Make Time for the conversation … No distractions (including others coming into the conversation or others calling …etc … And when the person you're wanting to have better connections is busy or watching something they are enjoying …It's not the time for you to start a conversations with them.
    3. A conversation is a two way street … Each of you need equal time to talk and to ask clarifying questions and to respond … If you tend to speak more than you listen you need to be aware of this problem … it can shut others up and make them never want to talk with you. (if just two … and note: good conversations are much more challenging if there is more than two … best left for very close friends) … Each of you need to want to be there having a conversation … and each of you have equal right to choose a topic (aka start talking about something that is either important or entertaining) … However, what you choose may not be interesting to the other … so you have to be open to each of you taking stabs at different topics until one comes up you are both interested in talking about. Pay attention to if you are going into a lecture or rant mode versus conversation. Interrupting someone when they are speaking is rarely a good thing … Try hard not to do it UNLESS …they are not conversing anymore just going on with no consideration as to what you are experiencing … (there are exceptions to this rule which are mentioned later).
    4. Good friends need to know there will be times when the other just needs to talk (to vent or to ponder) … this is not a conversation … they just need someone to listen and perhaps let them cry … whatever … this is fine in a close relationship AS LONG as both of you do this for each other (when required … not an common event) … does not work well if only one vents while not allowing the other to equally (in general) … in close relationships there may be long periods of time when only one needs to vent and perhaps does not tolerate the other venting well (a time of healing from grief is one such instance).
    5. IF this is a "Getting to know You" conversation … more than anything else there needs to be a careful degree of respect to the others level of privacy …You don't know them well yet … Do not push them to answer questions or push them to talk at all … If you feel they need encouragement to talk more about something you can say … If you wish to talk more about "It" I will listen … just let me know.
    6. If someone ask you a deep question … and you know it may take you some time to flesh out a proper answer …WARN them that it could take an hour to answer that question … and only if they really want that deep of an answer do you begin AND even then … allow them opportunity to ask clarification as you go … keep an eye on them to assure they are still engaged and understanding ask them if they are following you, if you are not sure (hopefully they are making eye contact (as should you be doing) and they are nodding their heads and making other facial movement that let you know if they are with you. If they try to insist you give them a brief answer to something that cannot be answered briefly … tell them so … You Can refuse to answer questions.
    7. Stories are NOT conversations … Yet, personal stories can be great ways to get to know each other … and can be a good kick off point for deeper conversations. If you are just meeting someone you need to be careful about "Telling Stories" a good approach is to ask if someone is interesting in hearing a story about ??? And do not make it more than a 10-15 minute story unless you are either a great story teller OR this person is Really getting into to you. Better yet is to say …hey, you want to take turns at telling stories about ???? Always keep a balance of time … It Is Not All About You.
    8. Because conversations can be complex in nature … depending on so many factors …. Try not to strictly follow ANY Rules Except …. Be there in that moment, if you are thinking about something else, you need to, end the conversation … Be Honest …. AND remember to give the other person equal opportunity to talk and respect their time and privacy.
    9. "Nervous Talkers" can ruin conversations … but is not their intent to ruin … they may not be noting how much they are talking (or how loud) If you really care about the person you can, with respect and gently, say something to the effect of … "Excuse me but you may not be noticing how much you are talking and how little time you have given me …. " If they get angry …. then they may never be a good person to have conversation with and they may not even care about what you have to say.
    10. Good conversations require at least 2 people who equally want to hear the other talk and care about them and what they say. Do not waste your time talking to people who do not listen to you.
    Superficial conversations seem to be all that some people either want or have time for … OR perhaps they don't want deep conversations with You. However, if you want deep connections … deep conversations are required … That means you want to really know this person and understand them … and you want them to know and understand you …. you Take the Time to have the conversations … Remain respectful and Honest, and Good Luck! Love & Peace and Good Conversations to All

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