The best gentleman can converse with anyone at ease. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received as a young man is summed up well in the epigrammatic statement, “Relationships are everything.” It rings true whether it be personal, professional, or romantic. Everything we do, and almost every emotion whether it be happiness, despair, success, or failure, is based on relationships. Think about your life. You should be able to tie any and all memorable events to this concept. However, if this is the case, the question for all of us becomes, “How do I maximize my relationships?”. It is important as a gentleman to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge of those around us and impart some of our own onto others as well. Relationships form and mature through physical and emotional interactions with other people. One of the most powerful tools at our disposal for solidifying relationships is conversation.
FIRST, AND FOREMOST, A GENTLEMAN LISTENS.
Language, including that of the voice and body, is powerful. When we converse, we share and learn. Whether it’s with a brother of your fraternity or the cute girl at the bar, we use it as the basis of relationships. It’s human nature to want to talk about ourselves; we inherently enjoy and seek out attention. However, no one likes to be around someone that talks all the time without listening. The polite and gentlemanly thing to do, however, is listen. It is a skill not easily mastered, but extremely powerful when used habitually and with intention. Consider talking less in your next conversation with someone. Ask more questions. Truly listen to the answers the other person is giving and respond with sincere interest. You will be surprised what you learn.
Second, a gentleman looks people in the eye.
You know where someone’s attention is when you can see where they are looking. Our eyes inform others as to where we are focused. When you are enraptured in someone’s story, you don’t break eye contact with them. When you are telling a story, you want people to look at you; it all but guarantees they are paying attention. This being said, it is uncomfortable at times to look people in the eye, it can feel awkward. Therefore, this is a habit that must be practiced often and consciously. Additionally, I’ve found that you can learn enormous amounts of information about how someone feels and what they mean if you watch them while both of you speak, without looking away. People reveal much with their body language.
Third, a gentleman enacts proper body language.
It is well-studied that most of what we say to each other is non-verbal. Someone with crossed arms or legs pointing towards a door while speaking to you more often than not isn’t as interested in what you are saying than trying to leave the situation. Obviously there are exceptions to this rule (e.g., the person is cold and trying to keep warm) but it is a general rule that should be followed. This is only one facet of the complex language of the body. The basics are imperative- sit up straight and face the person. Leaning in a little bit towards the person is great as well. Remember, people generally won’t consciously realize what your body language is saying; rather, they will intuitively read what you are saying and understand how you feel about them and what they are saying. We all speak the language of the body, we just don’t realize it. If you ever want to know how to really show someone you’re listening and interested, think (or even better, film yourself) of when you are hearing something that is extremely important to you. You will see how you act in those moments and can recreate at will when necessary.
As you may have surmised from these suggestions, the key to becoming a great conversationalist does not rest on the words you speak. It starts with all the non-verbal aspects of the conversation where you really show your interest and truly hear from the other person. Start with these and make them habit. To the best conversationalists these things come naturally. You will build a fantastic foundation for speaking with people that will take you very far. When mastered, you can move on to the content of the conversations and truly move into conversationalist territory.
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