Professional Development

How to be Engaged in Conversation

Emily Dawson
By: Emily Dawson
Nov 4, 2020 • 7 min read

How to be Engaged in Conversation

Sometimes, it is hard to be conscious and mentally ‘there’ during long conversations. Whether it’s one on one, a group presentation, face to face, or virtual, showing that you are listening and engaged is an important part of being a professional. You should be doing key things to show that you are in the moment and respect the person speaking.

engaged in conversation

Pay Attention

This may seem like a given point, but it should be mentioned. It can be easy to dose off or let your mind wander during a conversation that is not captivating or too long. Ensure that you are awake, and alert ready to listen to what the person presents in a conversation in front of you. Ways to show that you are paying attention is being mindful of what is said and making eye contact.

Eye Contact

As mentioned previously, making eye contact is an important part of showing that you are paying attention. If you are locking eyes with the speaker, they see that you are engaged in their topic. Make sure that you maintain eye contact even if they do not. If you were to look at the people around you or your environment, they might think you are disinterested. Also, make sure your eye contact isn’t too intense. You want a soft glance and maybe a slight smile if the speaker locks eyes with you. This gives them a visual affirmation that you are listening to them.

engaged in conversation

Listen

There is a difference between hearing and listening to a conversation. Hearing is just perceiving sound, where listening is understanding what is being said. Listening requires concentration and attentiveness. You’ll want to listen to the conversation in other ways, which will be laid out in the rest of this how-to guide.

Body Language

Check your body language, especially when you are in a group setting. If you are slouched or too relaxed, the speaker may read into that as boring and not wanting to listen. The best body language to have if you are sitting down is slightly leaning foreword without your upper back touching your chair. Keep your hands visible, either on your lap or a table, so that it doesn’t look like you are fiddling. If the conversation is happening in a meeting or a conference, it might be a good idea to take notes, and that is another way to show you are engaged through body language.

engaged in conversation

Affirmations

There are two types of affirmations, verbal and silent. If you are in a small group or one on one in a conversation, verbal affirmations are appropriate. This would mean brief comments like “oh, ok,” “I see,” “mmhmm,” or “gotcha.” These should be moderately low in volume so as not to distract the speaker or people around you. Silent affirmations are nodding, meaning you are agreeing and understanding what is being said. This is more appropriate in a large group setting and can be used in small groups.

Ask Questions

You may have come to some questions as a result of actively listening and paying attention to the conversation. If you are at a large presentation, there will likely be a period in which you will be able to answer those questions either midway through or at the end. Save your questions for those periods, write them down in your notes for when that time comes. Asking questions shows that you have been engaged in the conversation and lets the speaker go deeper into a subject. Even if you fully understand the matter they are speaking on, if there is an aspect you think could be better clarified for other people in the room, it would still be good to ask!

engaged in conversation

Reiterate Points

This means that you repeat back what is being said to the speaker more simply or differently what has already been said. This shows that you understand the conversation. This can be phrased as a question, for example, “are you saying that-?“ or “Do you mean-?” This also allows for clarification on important points the speaker was trying to make. Another way of doing this is by asking open-ended questions. They allow the speaker to clarify what you asking without a simple yes or no answer.

Add Comments

Throughout the conversation, you may have developed opinions or a different perspective on what was being said. You can add these comments aloud throughout a conversation in the correct setting. These would be “I believe” or “I think” comments that will productively add to the conversation. These comments should only be made if they provide a new way of looking at the topic or a deeper dive into it. They should not de-rail the conversation and take it in an entirely new direction that could be off-topic. Adding comments show that you understand what is being said and interpret it on the spot.

engaged in conversation

Respect the Speaker

This is more of an etiquette point but still shows that you are engaged. Remember to wait for the speaker to pause or completely stop before asking a question or adding a comment. Engaging in conversation is all about respecting the speaker and showing that you care about them and what they have to say. You should avoid making any comments that may distract or interrupt the speaker. These conversations could be based on opinion so remember to avoid prejudice and keep disrupting thoughts to yourself.

Staying engaged in a conversation is an easy way to show that you are a respectful and attentive professional. You tell them that you absorb everything that is being said and apply it in some aspect of your life or work. These tips will help you achieve that trait!

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