I am officially addicted to the Netflix series Stranger Things (I know– I’m a little late to the party). If you’ve seen the series, you also know that one of the main characters, Eleven, isn’t exactly … talkative. In the first season, Eleven says just under 300 words (more or less). Why? Because she was raised in a secret government facility by a crazy man.

So, that’s her excuse…but, what’s yours?

Teenagers in the U.S. send more than 100 texts a day and are more likely to text friends than to meet face to face. We are obsessed with our screens, but there are many circumstances where our success will depend on how well we can communicate in person. Consider these tips whether you are preparing for an interview, working on a group project, or just want to have a good conversation with friends.

    • Remember nonverbal cues. There are two parts to communication, the verbal and the nonverbal. Let others know that you are confident and engaged in the moment by giving a firm handshake, sitting up straight or leaning slightly forward, and making eye contact. You can use these strategies in an interview or even while sitting in a lecture.

 

    • Don’t multitask. Obviously, it is distracting to be checking your phone during a conversation, but it is also distracting to be thinking about other things. Try your best to be present and not thinking about the assignment you have due next week or what you did over winter break. People can tell when you’re distracted and it makes them feel less valued.

 

    • Listen and learn. When I taught kindergarteners, I’d frequently say, “Let’s close our mouths and open our ears.” TBH, I also use this with high schoolers and adults. It’s natural to want to talk because it makes us feel in control, but listening is an integral part of learning. It’s hard to truly listen when you are constantly thinking about what you have to say, so instead of listening to respond, listen to understand. (Don’t follow Sheldon’s example in this video).

 

    • Don’t “one-up”. When someone is sharing the details of their breakup with you, it’s not the time to divulge the horrors of your ex. Leave your own experiences aside because instead of communicating “I know what you’ve been through”, it comes off as “You think your life is bad? Listen to this…” (Watch this SNL clip of what not to do).

 

    • Ask questions. This is the best way to make a conversation #deep. Don’t ask just any question. Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions begin with “how”, “who”, “what” or “why”. Instead of asking an interviewer, “Do you like working for this company?” ask, “What do you like and dislike about working for this company?”

 

    • Be honest and authentic. Being authentic to yourself means being honest about who you are. When asked about a topic you are unfamiliar with, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know. Making up answers or trying to appear like a person others would like will come across a bit disingenuous (fake). 

 

    • Savor the silence. I once thought that silence in a conversation was my enemy and that it made things uncomfortable. This meant that I thought I needed to fill the silence with comments and the conversation felt more like a marathon than an enjoyable experience. The silence in between comments gives time to each person to think more deeply about each other’s statements, so embrace it!