How To Join A Conversation Without Being Rude

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Suits and Sneakers talk – a forum where business leaders share key experiences that have shaped their careers. There were three main speakers, but the guest speaker that I found gave the most valuable presentation was 947’s Anele Mdoda.

The focus of Anele’s talk was mostly about her career and, being a radio and TV personality, it centred around conversation tactics. Although I enjoyed her whole talk, there was one line that really resonated with me – “When speaking to someone else, be as interested as you are interesting.”

This really struck a chord with me because so often we get so caught up in our own lives that we focus on ourselves and forget to shift focus to others when engaging socially.

A lot of what Anele spoke about linked to emotional intelligence (EQ). Put simply, emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. So basically, it’s about being aware of your own emotions as well as those of others.

This was an overarching theme in Anele’s talk as she shed light on how having EQ has been crucial in the success of her career. I think this is an incredible lesson in dealing with people in any situation as it forces us to think more analytically, which gives us perspective.

I’ve thought a lot about that over the past few weeks and so I thought it would be helpful to put together a few points that I believe will help in knowing how to engage with others.

1. Know when to join a conversation: It’s usually perfectly acceptable to tactfully and naturally join a conversation if you truly feel you could add value to what they’re saying. But before you do, take a moment to think about if what you’re going to say is really going to add value from their perspective, or if it’s more about you wanting to be heard. If it’s simply because you want to have your say for your own reasons, it’s more often than not a bad idea and will likely be seen as rude. Just because you can hear a conversation, it doesn’t mean you’re invited to participate.

2. Know how to join a conversation: There’s a difference between joining a conversation and hijacking a conversation. There’s nothing wrong with being sociable, but know when you’re being friendly and when you’re being intrusive. If you’re compelled to add to the discussion, remember you’re essentially an uninvited guest to their conversation. Keep this in mind and don’t steal the show or overstay your welcome.

3. Know how to converse: A conversation is give and take. It cannot be all take. If you’re going to chew someone’s ear off about your life or views and not let them get a word in edgewise, know that they are going get bored very quickly and likely leave that conversation feeling resentful. Don’t be selfish. Just like you have experiences and stories to share, so do they so give them the opportunity to share them with you. No matter how mundane you think they may be, everyone wants to be heard, so if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t engage.

4. Know your audience: Just because you want to say something, it doesn’t mean you should. Being able to know what is appropriate to say in different social settings is critical in mastering conversation etiquette. Be aware of who you’re talking to and what their expectations and views may be. There is a line – don’t cross it.

5. Know how to be present: It’s very easy to see how much someone respects you and what you have to say by the amount of attention they give you while you’re speaking. So be present in the conversation and give them your undivided attention. Easy ways to show you’re interested is don’t be on your phone and make eye contact to show you’re engaged.

6. Know when to get out: Part of having EQ is knowing when to leave a conversation. It requires more attention and awareness of others rather than yourself. If awkward silence starts to happen, the reaction isn’t necessarily to talk more; it may be your cue to leave. Similarly, if you notice their eyes wandering or their body language gets anxious or fidgety, it’s time to wrap things up. Again, it’s about being aware of how the other person or people feel and respecting their time.

As social beings, we enjoy speaking and connecting with others, but as with anything in life, there’s a way to do it. Engaging with others is an art and not everyone is innately predisposed or aware of what is and is not appropriate. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are key. Any social interaction should be an exchange so be mindful of how much you’re talking and how much you’re giving others a chance to be heard. As Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”