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10 Ways to hone your conversation skills

A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening.

Coherent, confident conversation could be argued as the basis for a more civilized and united society.

I talk to all kinds of people every time I'm on duty at the firehouse. Speaking to people and helping them understand what is happening while on an scene I've been called to for a medical emergency is not only a requirement for me to do my job to the best of my ability, but it's just plain respectful as a human being. Not only do I need to make sure and communicate appropriately with the people that I serve, I need to make sure that I can communicate appropriately with the people that I work with for 48 hours at a time.

I have put a great effort into honing my communication skills in order to do my best to let people know that I am listening to what they have to say as well as communicate to them the things I need to. Here are 10 ways I've learned to have better conversations with those around me. I hope they might help you too!


1. Don't Multitask

Be present in the moment. How do you feel when you're talking to someone and they take their phone out to answer a text, then give you a half-hearted, "uh-huh" while they text their other friend? While interviewing patients, it is crucial for me to document what they are telling me. So, what do I do? I openly tell them that as I talk to them and ask them questions, I will be documenting what they tell me. Be present!

2. Don't Pontificate

I avoid offering my opinion unless I'm asked for it. However, when there are times when a conversation is happening around me that I feel like I might be able to contribute to in a positive way, I ask, "can I give you my thoughts on this topic?" Do your best to go into a conversation with the mindset that you are on a quest to learn something new.

"True listening requires a setting aside of oneself" - M.Scott Peck

Sometimes its a good idea to set aside your personal opinion and just focus on what the other person has to say. This shift will be noticeable by the person who is speaking and they will be more willing to open up and be vulnerable if they feel that what they have to say is being received in a non-judgmental way.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Everyone you know knows something you don't. When you ask open-ended questions, you allow the other person to have a chance to provide their perspective and possibly display something that you may not know. Remember, every conversation is an opportunity to learn something new.

4. Don't Stifle Your Own Thoughts

As the conversation continues, there will be thoughts that will come to your mind. Don't stifle them. Wait for a chance to bring up the very things that have come to your mind.

5. It's OK to Admit You Don't Know Something

When on an emergency scene and it has been decided that the patient needs (& has agreed to) go to the Emergency Room, sometimes I'm asked questions like, "How long will the wait be?" or "How long will I have to stay at the hospital?" These are questions that I won't know the answer to. So, I openly admit to not knowing and that those questions would be better directed to the staff at the ER. This way, I have let them know that I am listening and that I am willing to provide them a resource for the question they asked.

6. Keep it About THEM

Don't turn the conversation to your experience and how it might be similar. If someone is struggling with losing a family member, don't bring up how you lost someone. It's not about YOU. Keep it about THEM.

When this happens, it diminishes that person's feelings and experience. They won't feel like you are listening, but they WILL feel like you don't care.

7. Avoid Repeating Yourself

Unless the person you are talking to is seeking clarity, don't repeat yourself. It's condescending. I've been on emergency scenes where family members may not understand what is happening and since they have never been in such a situation before, they aren't able to calm themselves.

Recently, I had experienced this exact situation. The patient's girlfriend was confused as to what was happening and began to have a hard time breathing. In my efforts to calm her, I answered her questions as she asked them. This included repeating answers to questions she had already asked. I handled this situation by rephrasing the previous answers I had given her. I went into a little more depth every time she asked, "what's going on?" Once we had her boyfriend stabilized and secured in the ambulance, she personally thanked me and told me that I made her feel calm in a situation she had never experienced or witnessed before.

8. Stay on Point

Don't get lost in the minutiae of the details when having a conversation. Focus on the topic at hand. After introducing myself, asking their name and getting their birth date, I ask my patients, "what brings us out today?" Sometimes they are able to stay on point. Sometimes they get lost in the weeds. For example, they may start to say things like, "Well, several years ago..." or they may start telling me about every doctor's appointment that they've ever had. None of that information is relative to the reason they called 911 today. It frustrates me as their healthcare provider, someone who is there to help them in their time of need. Imagine the frustration you incur upon the person you are talking to when you get lost on the details that don't really matter.

9. Actively Listen

It sounds simple. But this can be the most difficult point of all. A long time ago, I heard a saying that goes like this: "Interested is Interesting". If you are actively listening, those who you're talking to will actively open up to you.

"If your mouth is open, you aren't learning." - Buddha

"Active Listening" is called "active" because it takes effort. Be genuine. Be focused on the person/people you're having a conversation with. Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.

10. Keep it Brief

"A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to spark interest, but long enough to cover the subject" - Unknown

Nothing else needs to be said about keeping it brief.


Go out and talk to people today. Talk to a stranger. Talk to a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. Talk to you wives, your husbands. Talk to anyone! And be prepared to be amazed.

- Ryan

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