When was the last time you had a really great conversation? If you spent much of your time talking about yourself, odds are the conversation could have gone better.

According to Jean de La Bruyere, a great conversation focuses much more on bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself.

He who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you!

Cicero, writing back in 44 BC, shared 10 rules for having great conversations:

1. Speak clearly.
2. Speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn.
3. Do not interrupt.
4. Be courteous.
5. Deal seriously with serious matters.
6. Deal gracefully with lighter matters.
7. Never criticize people behind their backs.
8. Stick to subjects of general interest.
9. Do not talk about yourself.
10. Never lose your temper.

In Playing to Win, we are reminded that in most conversations our default mode tends to be advocacy, or argumentation in favor of our own conclusions and theories.

An alternative mode is “assertive inquiry”, where individuals advocate their view as a possibility, and not as the single right answer.

“This is how I see the situation, and why; to what extent do you see it differently?”

“It sounds to me like your argument is this; to what extent does that capture your argument accurately?”

“It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. I’m not sure I understand how you got there. Could you tell me more?”

If you’ve ever taken an improv class, you know that the key to success is keeping the conversation going. No one is allowed to create a block by saying no.

Whatever one person says, the others know they must accept what they hear and build upon it. Our natural tendency to say “No” is replaced with “Yes and…”.

As you take the time to converse with others this holiday weekend, remember the tips above and increase your number of great conversations!