Conversationalist Skills From Dale Carnegie

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the top conversationalist skills you should know? What makes someone a good conversationalist?

Conversationalist skills can help you communicate better with people and build stronger relationships. With these conversationalist skills, you’ll be able to exert more influence in conversations and situations.

Read more about top conversationalist skills and how you can apply them to your life.

Building Conversationalist Skills

Good conversation skills can be taught. Using the lessons in How to Win Friends and Influence People, you can learn how to be better at communication.

1. A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

One of the mot simple conversationalist skills is to use someone’s name in conversation.

  • A name is a person’s identity. It makes her unique among all others. Remembering it and calling a person by it makes her feel important. Saying the name is a subtle and welcome compliment. Forgetting it or misspelling it is a crippling mistake that suggests you didn’t care enough to get it right. 
    • Politician maxim: “To recall a voter’s name is statesmanship. To forget it is oblivion.”
    • “The executive who tells me he can’t remember names is telling me he can’t remember a significant part of his business and is operating on quicksand.”
  • A name is one of the most important words in a person’s entire vocabulary. A person’s name to her is far more important than all the other names in the rest of the world combined.
  • People pay loads of money to have their names remembered after they die (naming buildings, having park bench plaques dedicated to them).
  • Tactics
    • Use it multiple times in conversation. This will help you remember it and also sweeten what you have to say to the listener.
    • Try to tie together the name and details about a person to form a longer-lasting image.
    • If an unusual name, ask how it’s spelled.
    • Bother to get difficult to pronounce names correct, eg names from foreign languages.
    • Address mass emails warmly.
    • Get to know your customers’ names, especially if you operate a retail store.
    • Get to know servicepeople’s names when you interact with them frequently.
  • Examples
    • Carnegie stories
      • As a child, Carnegie had a large litter of rabbits. He promised that anyone who helped him pick clovers and feed would get a rabbit named after her.
      • Later, Carnegie wanted the business of the Pennsylvania Railroad, run by Edgar Thomson, so he named the local steel mill “Edgar Thomson Steel Works.” 
      • He wanted to merge with the sleeping car company Pullman. When Carnegie mentioned the new company would be called Pullman still, Pullman became far more eager.

2. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

Another one of the easiest to use conversationalist skills in to be a good listener. This seems obvious, but can always be improved upon.

  • You can be a good conversationalist merely by 1) showing genuine, undivided interest, 2) getting the other person to talk
    • Even better, give sincere appreciation and praise. Tell them how fascinating the stories are, how you wished they had their knowledge of their experiences, how you must get together again.
    • You don’t even need to talk yourself, if the other person doesn’t invite you to.
    • [Again, this must be GENUINE. Saying “that’s so interesting” listlessly without any elaboration quickly shows insincerity.]
  • A person’s life is the most important life to that person. “A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China that kills a million people.” Allowing someone to talk makes that person feel important and flattered.
    • [Especially if your “stature” is relatively higher than the others. This is my personal theory about why people describe presidents to be incredibly engaging “like you’re the only person in the room.” Not only are presidents already very skilled at focusing on people in conversations, but it feels even more precious knowing that you probably don’t deserve Bill Clinton’s attention.]
    • “If you want enemies, excel your friends; if you want friends, let your friends excel you.” Talking about your own accomplishments makes people feel inferior and envious.
  • Often angry people just want to be heard. Customers get progressively tired of being rejected without having their voice heard. If you listen to them with quiet patience, then graciously acknowledge your mistake, they’ll often be pleasantly surprised and dial back their demands. 
    • “Thank you for coming to me with this. You’ve done me a great favor, for if you feel this way, it may annoy many other customers. So I’m eager to hear about what you endured.”
    • They may consider themselves crusaders for a cause, but once they feel important and heard, they get all the venom out of their system.
  • Bad conversationalists talk without concern about the other person. “They are concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open.”
  • Tactics for good conversation skills
    • To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other people will enjoy answering.
    • Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.
    • Ask famous people genuine questions about their backgrounds. They may invite you to get to know them better.
    • Everyone has gone through what they feel to be tough times, and they like to reminisce about them if they’ve overcome them. Ask about this.
  • [Sometimes when good listeners get together it’s an amusing struggle to get the other to talk more.]

Conversationalist skills are something you can learn and practice. Over time, you’ll develop good conversation skills.

Conversationalist Skills From Dale Carnegie

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  • The 6 ways to make people like you
  • How you can give feedback to others and improve their behavior
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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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