Spot Your Conversational Blind Spots

Are you looking to hone your communication skills? Improving them can do wonders for your social and professional life. If you’re not sure where you can improve, start taking notice of yourself and other people during conversations. Be aware of differences and assumptions. Say what you need to say when you need to say it. Part of making great conversation is being a great listener, so notice where you can improve your listening skills and ask better questions.


Building Connection and Understanding

  1. Watch other people. Start paying attention to other people in conversation. Notice good conversationalists and pay attention to what they do well, then notice what people who struggle in conversation do poorly. Try to model the good points and do away with things that don’t aid in conversation.
    • For example, notice specific things you like from people who are good at conversation. Notice the way they speak, how close they are to the listener, if they touch the person, make eye contact, or do other positive actions to make things feel comfortable and smooth.
  2. Consider your differences. Everyone lives in their own version of reality, and often, the same event can be perceived differently.[1] Be aware that two people may approach a problem in different ways, and both ways are valid. Additionally, people from different cultures might do things differently than you. When talking to someone from a different culture, be sensitive to what they say and how they say it. If you’re unsure about something, ask questions and seek clarification.[2]
    • A cultural blind spot can occur even in the same country among people speaking the same language. For example, you may not be able to talk about sports or cars or food with enthusiasts.[3]
  3. Challenge your assumptions. If you assume that people understand you and you understand them, problems can occur. Often, information can get “lost in translation” or you may not explain things as clearly as you think you do. If you assume someone will respond a certain way to you, allow them to respond however they might respond.[1]
    • Assumption often lies with the listener. You often don’t remember what people say, but what you think about what they said.
  4. Practice empathy. Whether you’re trying to close a business deal or you’re fighting with your partner, empathy can play a role in how your conversation goes. Be considerate of the other person’s words and feelings. If there’s something you cannot agree on or understand, ask them to explain their perspective to you.[1]
    • Do your best to understand where the other person is coming from and why they think or feel the way they do.
    • Ask, “What influences your decisions?” or, “How did you reach that conclusion?”

Improving Your Cooperation and Communication

  1. Compromise. If you demand to get your way, other people will likely find it difficult to get along with you. If you disagree on something, prioritize the relationship over being right or getting what you want. Be willing to give a little so that you and the other person can be happy. Both you and they may be willing to see things differently in order to increase harmony and decrease stress.[4]
    • Compromise might mean both people making concessions, or taking turns in getting your way. For example, if you can’t decide where to go to eat, find a place you both can enjoy, or take turns choosing the restaurant.
  2. Say what you mean. If you tend to communicate your needs in a subtle or indirect way, don’t be surprised if people don’t understand what you need. Those around you cannot read your mind, so if you need something, say so directly. This will help eliminate any confusion. And remember, you are not responsible for how a person reacts, only for what you say.[5]
    • For example, if you want a drink, say, “I’d like a drink” instead of saying, “Would you like a drink?”
  3. Stay calm. Many people feel anxious while speaking, and the anxiety can affect what is said and how it’s said. Take note of how your emotional states affect your conversation, and focus on staying calm.[6] For example, some people tend to talk more when they’re anxious or talk faster or louder when they’re upset. Managing your anxiety can help improve your interactions overall.
    • If you notice the way you feel affecting the conversation, take a few deep breaths. This can help calm a temper, decrease anxiety, or get you back on track if you’re distracted.
  4. Assert yourself. Maybe you stay quiet or don’t share things even when it upsets you. If you have a want or a need, you should feel comfortable to express it. If you struggle to assert yourself, remember that it’s okay to have your own views, thoughts, and opinions. Even if other people agree with something, don’t be afraid to speak up and share your thoughts.[7]
    • Being assertive also means knowing when to say “no.” While it’s important to be compromising and understanding of other people’s needs, it’s also important to respect your time and other obligations. If someone asks something that’s beyond your reach, say, “I’m sorry I can’t” or, “That won’t work this time.”
  5. Use positive body language. Much of communication is nonverbal, so make sure you’re communicating in a positive way. Pay attention to your body language when you speak, and make any necessary tweaks. For example, try to appear open by uncrossing your arms and legs. Make appropriate eye contact (not too much, but not too little). Lean toward the person or face someone you’re talking to with your feet or hips.[6]
    • If you tend to tap your foot or fidget, people might think you’re anxious or uncomfortable, so try to keep your body mostly still.
    • Keep your words and body language consistent. For example, don’t say “No” while nodding your head “Yes.”

Increasing Your Listening Skills

  1. Focus on a dialogue, not a monologue. If you notice that you’re overtaking the conversation, step back a bit.[8] The moment you notice you’re over-talking, start to ask questions or engage the other person. The conversation should be shared approximately 50% listening and 50% talking.
    • If you’re overtaking a group conversation, take a step back and let other people share. Make sure other people can share their thoughts, opinions, and comments.
  2. Be an active listener. You might notice that you talk a lot, so put your focus on listening more. One of the best ways to improve conversation is to be an active listener. Don’t just listen to the person’s words, understand the complete message that they’re sending. Become a better listener by disregarding distractions, nodding occasionally, and providing feedback. Check in on your understanding by saying, “So what you’re saying is you want it done differently” or, “I hear you saying you’d like some more help.”[9]
    • Give your listener what they want. For example, don’t just jump with advice on something. They may just want to unload or share something with you, so it’s your job just to listen. If they want your opinion, they will ask for it.
  3. Be curious. If you struggle to stay engaged when someone is talking, they will probably notice you are disinterested. Stay engaged with the speaker by finding things to be curious about. Ask open-ended questions to learn more or gain information. Listen for things that they say that pull you in or that you want to learn more about. Asking questions will show that you are engaged and want to learn more.[1]
    • For example, ask, “What influenced your thinking? How did you feel about that? What was that like for you?”
  4. Confirm what you hear. When someone is speaking, make sure you understand them by repeating their words. This ensures that you understand what they are saying without any confusion and allows the speaker to clarify anything that might be unclear. For example, say, “So you want all three papers in by this evening?” In a friendly conversation, reflect by saying, “I hear you saying you need more space.”[10]
    • This can help in understanding when asked a question. For example, if someone says, “Did you walk the dog?” you can respond with, “Yes, I walked the dog.”

Sources and Citations