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How to improve your conversation skills

A good verbal exchange can be inspiring and can boost your energy

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One of life’s best gifts is a good conversation. It costs you nothing, you enjoy the process, and you are left with positive feelings and a desire to get to know the other person — and maybe whatever you were talking about — a little better. A good verbal exchange can be inspiring, and it can boost your energy. There is no downside to having a good conversation.

Sometimes the most awkward part is getting started. Some people are naturally shy and find it scary to try to strike up a conversation, even if it’s with someone they are acquainted with, let alone with a stranger. For the painfully shy, doing the latter is almost impossible. Although there is nothing wrong with being a shy person, it can limit you in a number of areas, especially this one.

One of my mentors, the late Dr. Albert Ellis, was a very shy man who wanted to push past it, and he did an experiment back in the 1960s that if he tried to repeat today might get him arrested.

He sat on a bench in New York’s Central Park and asked every woman who passed by out for coffee. You might think the experiment a failure, as only one woman said yes and she didn’t even show up for the date. On the other hand, he definitely got over his fear of asking someone out.

Ellis also created cognitive behavioral therapy, wrote 72 books, and was still doing weekly lectures at the age of 90. Obviously, he did not let his shyness hold him back, and he taught himself to converse not only with individuals but also with large groups.

If being able to strike up conversations is something you’d like to get better at, there are countless opportunities for doing this, and making it a goal is the first step.

Then, if you’re up for it, I suggest going to a local meetup and shaking as many hands as you can and exchanging names, what you do and business cards (if you have them).

The networking part may be helpful in other ways, but the idea is to get comfortable talking with people you’ve never met before. If you can do it in one environment, you can do it in another.

If you need to start slower, perhaps going to a religious service or checking out a social or cultural group that interests you would be less intimidating. You may run into someone you know, and even if you don’t, I can’t think of any place that would be more welcoming. Many organizations have designated greeters to make newcomers feel at ease with being somewhere new.

These are just a couple of examples of actions you can take to reach out and expand your life. Make it your goal, and go for it.

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is an award-winning psychotherapist and humanitarian. He is also a columnist, the author of eight books, and a blogger for PsychologyToday.com with nearly 35 million readers. He is available for in-person & video consults world-wide, reach him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com

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