Small Talk 2: Keeping a Conversation Going

Three Friends Laughing

To learn more about Getting a conversation started, refer to the blog earlier this year, Small Talk 1: Getting Started and Knowing What to Talk About.

Once you’ve started a conversation, there are a few different skills to keep it going. First, use “signals” to show you’re interested and to see if they are interested in the conversation.

Verbal signals are things you say to let the other person know you’re listening and interested, and things they say to let you know they’re listening and interested. Here are some examples:

  • saying “Yeah” or “Mmm-hmm” or “Uh-huh” or “Okay”
  • saying “I didn’t know that,” “I hadn’t heard that,” “That makes sense,” or “I never thought of it that way”
  • stay on the same topic that they are one, ask follow-up questions about that topic
  • watch out for topics that will make the other person uncomfortable or confused—if they seem uncomfortable, try changing the subject
  • respond within a very short time, or if you need time to gather your thoughts, you can say “Let me think about that,” or “Well…” or “Hmmm”
  • don’t interrupt
  • if they seem uncomfortable for any reason, try switching to a new subject

Ask yourself, “Is the other person giving me verbal signals that shows they’re interested? If they’re not, should I go ahead an end the conversation? Or maybe change the subject?

Nonverbal signals are ways you use your body to show that you’re listening and interested, and ways they use their body to show they’re interested and listening.

  • eye contact: look at them in the eye–not constantly, just every few seconds (this can be an especially challenging skill for people with schizophrenia, try practicing it if it’s hard for you)
  • nodding briefly then they’re talking, not all the time, just here and there
  • raising your eyebrows while nodding can show interest
  • voice volume should be loud enough to be heard easily, but not shouting
  • lean forward a little
  • make sure your face expression matches the emotion of the conversation (if someone’s talking about something funny, smile, and if they’re talking about something sad, have a serious expression); this can be a challenge for some people with schizophrenia, practice this skill if needed
  • don’t stand closer than arm’s length, face the person or stand kind of to the side

Are you giving signals that you’re interested? Are they? If they aren’t, think about ending the conversation or changing the subject.

If the other person is giving signals that they’re interested, but you’re not sure what to talk about, refer to Small Talk Part 1 earlier in this blog to get ideas of topics to starting talking about. Once you’ve started on a topic, you can ask follow-up questions to keep the conversation going. For example, if the person mentioned they are going to a baseball game this weekend, you could ask one of these follow-up questions:

  • “What do you think of how the Twins are doing this season?”
  • “Do you go to baseball games often?”
  • “What other sports do you watch?”
  • “Do you play any sports yourself?”
  • “Have you ever been to a St. Paul Saints game? They’re super fun.”

Another example of follow up questions would be if the person just said that they are going out to dinner with family this weekend:

  • “Where are you going? Do you like that restaurant?”
  • “My favorite restaurant is Pepito’s in Minneapolis, what’s yours?”
  • What’s your favorite type of food? Why?”
  • “I’m not a chef, but I do like cooking. Do you? What do you cook?”
  • “Do you have any restaurant recommendations?”

If you run out of questions or things to say about a topic, you can begin a new topic (see Small Talk 1-Appropriate Topics for Anyone in an earlier blog). If they still don’t seem interested or you can’t think of anything else to say, it might be time to end the conversation: see Small Talk 3-Ending a Conversation for helpful techniques for doing so.

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