Do you remember the first time you had a conversation that went beyond surface chat? If so, how old were you? What was the subject? We don’t necessarily recall details of many conversations in our lives, but isn’t this an incident that should be special enough to warrant lucid recall?

As children, we may ponder and even ask how certain things work. Some kids even vocalize wisdom that seems beyond their years, but I think it’s safe to say it’s rare for them to engage in conversation that digs into the depths of life and living.

Once the brain has developed enough, deeper thought can be plumbed and articulated. I would judge this to be in the teen years, but it’s a gradual process for most of us and the depths reached may not be terribly significant until adulthood. This of course depends upon natural intelligence, environment and formative experience.

Thinkers and Conversationalists

There are those in this world who seem to spend a lot of time in thought and who want to share what they think. These individuals run the risk of simply being annoying, making us listen to what they have learned or in some cases what they have opinions about when they haven’t necessarily formulated the opinions without harvesting actual data. Taking a the lion’s share of conversation time is not the habit of the great conversationalist. Those skilled in worthwhile conversation do have something interesting to say, but they speak their piece efficiently and succinctly. They then listen. There is a natural flow and balance to it all. So, the real thinkers and true communicators add value to a discussion. When two or more people gather with these kinds of skills and dynamics, the result is often electrifying.

Those who communicate well, meaning they issue and receive communication in this balanced way, have certain traits or acquired skills. I always like to do sufficient research to write something worthy of being read. Today, I came across an outstanding article that provides the elements of great conversation. I wish I had written it. I found it on a website called Thought Catalog. The article title is “13 Little-Known Secrets Of Great Conversationalists.” It is written by Kovie Biakolo, a woman I had not heard of until today. I’ve now looked her up and found she is a freelance journalist who writes about culture, identity and the arts. Her work can be found in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, TIME, among other publications. She relates the little-known secrets of being a great conversationalist expertly. Following are my Top Seven from her list.

  1. Do a lot of reading on various subjects.
  2. Have friendships with people who are diverse in a broad spectrum of ways.
  3. Ask meaningful questions, deepening and enriching the discussion of a given topic.
  4. Listen attentively
  5. Debate with the intent to learn (not to win). Debating to engage in a lively exchange of ideas is stimulating.
  6. Appreciate the silence. Reflecting on what has been said and collecting thoughts are part of the process.
  7. Relentless curiosity. Wanting to receive data and other people’s views enhance the dynamics of conversation.

It can be seen from this list that those who master the art of conversation are special people indeed. To be well-read, friends with people of highly diverse backgrounds, a query-oriented listener, one who doesn’t make debate competitive, who can comfortably add silence to the discussion and who is hungrily curious–these are qualities not found simultaneously in many individuals.

Satisfaction in Conversation

You’ve felt it, right? Coming away from a conversation feeling stimulated, awakened and even fulfilled? Maybe for us average people, it doesn’t happen that often. Too seldom, I would say. There were two studies by Professor Matthias Mehl and a team of researchers at the University of Arizona in which they sought to learn whether having deeper, more meaningful conversations would enhance our well-being. In both studies, the results showed this to be true. People engaging in substantive discussions actually were more satisfied and happier for having participated. It also suggested that more social interaction added to the level of happiness.


I close this article with a few quotes which convey the joy deep conversation can bring.

“A conversation is so much more than words, a conversation is eyes, smiles, the silences between the words.” ~ Annika Thor

“Night air, good conversation, and a sky full of stars can heal almost any wound.” ~ Beau Taplin

“When is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture? But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew?”
— John O’Donohue in Conversation – The Sacred Art by Diane M. Millis