Improve Every Conversation With One Simple Tactic

by Sarah Winfrey on 1 April 2014 3 comments

Conversation is an important part of everyone's life. Whether you make your living conversing with people or have a job better suited to an introvert and only converse with others a few times a week, it's important to make the most of each interaction that you have with another person. (See also: How to Spice Up Conversation)

Even the conversations that take place outside of work are important. After all, your friends and family need to know that you love them and care about them, even in the middle of a disagreement, and no matter how heated it gets.

If you want to improve the quality of all of these conversations, no matter the type or with whom, there's one simple thing that you can do: Simply repeat the last two or three words that your conversation partner says. Do this early and strategically, and you'll find all of your conversations improving.

Why Does It Work?

Empathy is widely recognized as fundamental to treating people well, understanding their needs, and learning how to motivate them. And listening is one of the best ways to communicate your empathy. (See also: How to Be a More Positive Person)

At its most basic, listening is a pretty straightforward concept. You hear the words that someone else says, and you process them for meaning.

However, good listeners do a lot more than that. They also listen to what is behind the words. This means that, when they are hearing another person's words, and especially when they are processing them for meaning, they also take into account the other person's tone of voice, body language, and what they know to be true about the person's current circumstances — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Taking all of this into account adds to the meaning of the words a person has spoken. It contextualizes it, and can even change it, depending on the situation.

In addition to actually listening, it's important to show that you are listening. That way, the other person knows that you are processing all of the information they are giving you, and therefore, that you care about them and the conversation. There are many ways to do this, but repeating the last few words that they say is one great (and unusual) method for showing that you are listening.

It might even make you listen better, because in order to repeat those words, you have to actually hear them.

How Does It Work?

Sometimes, people feel silly trying to repeat what others have said. It feels...well, repetitive. How could something so simple ever possibly produce good results? It encourages the other person to continue. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better)

So if your friend says, "I feel really stressed," you can respond, "Really stressed?" This invites your friend to explain why they are stressed, or to continue on with telling you any other things that they might be feeling.

You do have to be a bit careful when and how you use this technique. After all, if you repeat the last two or three words every single time someone stops talking, it will get obvious — and annoying — pretty quickly.

When Does It Work?

This technique works in any conversation because it shows your conversation partners that you are listening and helps build a rapport with them. In fact, hostage negotiators incorporate this technique into their repertoire for that very reason. They want the hostage taker to feel like the negotiator is on his side, or at least understanding where he is coming from. (See also: Negotiate With Confidence)

Obviously, this sort of rapport is not necessary in very practical conversations. If your friend says, "I'm going for coffee," you don't need to say, "For coffee?" Instead, use the technique when you're trying to take a conversation deeper, when you're trying to prolong a conversation but you don't know what else to say, or when you particularly need someone to trust you — like when you want them to confide in your or confess to something.

This technique has been shown to help in other types of stressful conversations, like negotiations, especially when you use parroting early in your interaction. If you want a positive, peaceful result, letting the other party know early on that you are on their side makes them more amenable to giving you the things that you want.

If you feel skeptical, try this for a day or so and let us know how it goes. That's what I did, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much faster I was able to get to the heart of the matter in a couple of difficult situations, and how much more open a difficult person was to having a conversation at all.

Have you tried this conversation technique? Please share in comments!

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Matt

Ahh yes, the classic 'trick someone into thinking you care how they feel but using one simple technique you learned on the internet'.

You know what also improves conversations? Actually paying enough attention to ask someone why they're stressed, rather than just saying the last few words again.

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Guest

Fully agree, Matt. This 'technique' is a substitute for real thought and engagement, and entirely cynical and transparent. We had a colleague who did this, and it drove everyone absolutely bonkers! A much better tip - be real, and be really interested.

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laurie

Excuse Matt the cynic. I supervise mental health therapists who often try to read between the lines of what I say, stonewalling real conversations. I love this idea and plan to try it tomorrow.vThanks for the tip!