How to Have a Basic Conversation

Some people have the gift of gab; the right words come out at the right time effortlessly. For others, having a conversation could be daunting, awkward and stressful! In this article I’ll go over some tips and techniques I’ve developed that anyone can use to have a basic conversation. The following material is suitable for anyone who has acquired speech and language typically but struggles with making conversation. Before one learns how to have a conversation, one needs to know what’s in a conversation. Conversation Components:

  1. Greetings
  2. Questions
  3. Responses
  4. Comments
  5. Farewells

So, how do these components come together to create a conversation? The following table demonstrates how conversation components typically occur and lists the order of basic level conversation between two conversation partners, persons #1 and #2: initiating, maintaining, and ending the conversation. Conversation Components Combined

I. INITIATE THE CONVERSATION

CONVERSATION ROLE EXAMPLE
Greeting from #1 “Hi.”
Greeting from #2 “Hello.”

II. MAINTAIN THE CONVERSATION: “CHORUS”

Question from #1 “How are you?” or “Great weather we’re having!”
Response from #2 “Fine.”
Comment from # 1 “That’s good.”
Question back from # 2 “How are you doing?”
Response from #1 “Good.” (or “Well” for prescriptivists)
Comment from #2 “Great.”
Question from #2 “So have you seen any good movies lately?”
Response from #1 “No” or “Yes, there’s…”
Comment from #2 “Sounds cool.”
Question back from #1 “How about you? Have you seen any good movies lately?”
Response from #2 “Yeah, I just saw…”
Comment from #1 “Sounds interesting.”

III. END THE CONVERSATION

Farewell #1 “Well, it’s been nice chatting with you. I better get going.”
Farewell #2 “Yeah, it was nice talking to you too. See you later.” OR “Bye” OR “Have a nice day”, etc.

Pay particular attention to section II. Maintaining Conversation; what keeps the conversation going is taking turns with questions, responses, comments (QRC) over and over again-what I like to call “conversation chorus.” The more times you repeat the conversation chorus, the longer the conversation you’ll have. Think of the acronym, QRC, to help you remember to question, respond, and comment. Ready for Conversation So now you know all the components involved in a conversation, but how do you do it? Where do you start? There’s a hierarchy of easier and harder tasks in a conversation.

LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY CONVERSATION TASK
Easy Responding to questions
Medium Asking questions back
Difficult Commenting
Most Difficult Initiating/Asking the first question

As you can see, responding to questions is much easier than initiating questions. For those who are not yet ready to initiate questions, you should first focus on responding to questions that are asked to you. Once you get comfortable with responding to another person’s questions, you can then try to ask questions back to the person who has initiated the conversation (rather than having the pressure of starting the conversation from scratch). Note: Asking questions back is important because it’s what keeps the conversation going. For those who still don’t know what questions to ask, just ask the same question back that the other person asks you-what I like to call the “copycat” game: Conversation Copycat  You can let someone else do all the hard work and still keep a conversation going! For example, person# 1 below is more comfortable with initiating questions and commenting, while person# 2 is doing a good job keeping the conversation going by “copying” the same question back after responding to the person #1’s question:

Copycat Dialogue

Person #1 What’s your favorite color?
Person #2 -Yellow.
Person #1 -That’s cool.
Person #2 What’s your favorite color?
Person #1 -Blue. Why do you like yellow?
Person #2 It makes me happy. Why do you like blue?

Play Commentator  So you always wanted to be a sportscaster or news commentator, here’s your chance! Once you get comfortable with asking questions back, try throwing some comments into the mix. Commenting can be nonverbal (no talking) and indicated by a simple nod of the head, verbal, or a combination of both.

EXAMPLES OF VERBAL COMMENTS
Mhmm.
Huh!
Cool.
Wow.
Awesome.
That sounds interesting/fun/exciting…
How about that!

Note: Making comments are important because they show your conversation partner that you are interested in them and listening to what they are saying, which also keeps the conversation going. Once you’re comfortable with responding to questions, asking questions back, and commenting, you can try to initiate some conversations. Ready to Roll When starting out with initiating conversations it’s a good idea to think about questions you can ask anyone versus questions that could be relevant to certain contexts. For example, you cannot ask anyone, “Who’s your favorite teacher/professor?” (Well, you can ask anyone that question but it may be awkward if they don’t go to school.) You could ask, “What’s your favorite food?” to anyone. In fact, asking “favorite” questions is not only an easy way to think of a question but can help you get to know a lot about the other person’s likes and interests fairly quickly and can give you an idea about what you may have in common with the other person to chat about; next thing you know, you’re off to another conversation! The Favorites

EXAMPLES OF FAVORITE QUESTIONS
What’s your favorite food/restaurant?
What’s your favorite movie/book?
What’s your favorite type of music?
What’s your favorite band/musician?

Once you get comfortable with asking “the favorites” trying asking a variety of “Wh” questions that could be related to “the favorites” sprinkled with some yes/no questions. “Wh” questions include “who, what, where, why, when” and the related “how.” Initiating A Conversation Using Favorite, Yes/No, And Wh- Question Types

QUESTION TYPE EXAMPLE
Favorite Question What’s your favorite band?
Yes/No Have you ever seen them perform?
Wh? Where have you seen them perform?
Wh? When?
Wh? Who’s your favorite member of the band?
Wh? Why?
Wh? What’s your favorite song that they put out?
Wh? Why do you like that song?

Balancing Act Now, try reading the items in the above table out loud. What happens if one person asks all the questions? You get an interview. And what happens if one person responds and then does all the talking? You get a soliloquy. And neither an interview nor a soliloquy a conversation be. I.e., when both people in the conversation ask approximately the same number of questions and take the same amount of time to respond, you have a balanced conversation. Equal # questions + Equal Length responses = Balanced conversation. Considerations  There’s so much more to having conversations. This article discussed starting, maintaining, and ending conversations. Intermediate and advanced conversation components include:

  • Questions to change a topic
  • Bridging questions
  • Add-on comments
  • Bridging comments

And we must not forget to mention the conversation behind the conversation- body language -to be discussed in another post. For now, hopefully you have found some tips in this article to help you have successful basic conversations. Remember-the reason we ask questions and make comments is to show other people that we are listening and interested in what they have to say. When both people in a conversation seem like they’re listening and interested in what the other has to say, the conversation will naturally keep going. Happy talking! 🙂