The verbal and non-verbal signs that you are a conversation killer and what you can do about it

Are you finding yourself in a lot of awkward silences? You may be a conversation killer and not even realise. Never fear, here are some expert tips so you can stop being a conversational vampire.

Have you ever had a conversation abruptly end and you’re not quite sure why? Or maybe you’ve found that when you join a conversation, others seem to leave it?

Or, is there someone you know that seems to just drain all the life from a conversation like some sort of conversational vampire?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you or someone you know may be a conversation killer. Yep, that’s right – an ender to all thing’s chit chat.

In a world where communication is key – from everyday personal relationships, through to work or even navigating the ever-changing COVID rules, ensuring our conversational skills are of a certain quality and that we aren’t inadvertently ending conversations prematurely, is essential.

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So, what, or who is a conversational killer?

Psychologist and owner of Triple Threat Consulting Lauren Florko tells Body+Soul that “a conversation killer is anything in your language or behaviour that blocks or alters your intended message. This can include the chosen words, tone, body language, emphasis and/or facial expressions.”

She believes that recognising how you are framing your language by being mindful of the specific words you are using is important in being a good conversationalist and to avoid killing a conversation.

Florko says that there are some common mistakes conversation killers make in how they frame their language and the specific words they use that can end a conversation quick smart. Some of these conversation killers or blockers include:

Trying to prove that you are right: Framing your language with phrases like: “Let me tell you what happened/the facts,” or “You are wrong.”

Telling the person what they “ought” or “should” do: “You should have done it this way.”

Threatening the person with “or else’s” or “if you don’ts”: “Fix this now or else.”

Negating their own experience: “Most people don’t react like this,” or “You aren’t thinking straight.”

Jumping to assumptions: “Clearly you have an issue with them,” or “You have a problem with any routine.”

Minimising: “If you think that’s bad…” or “That’s nothing, what I had to do was…”

But as well as what we say, it can also be the way we deliver our message through non-verbal communication that can kill a conversation.

Non-verbal communication specialist, Sophie Zadeh from My Alcomy says “negative nonverbal behaviour, including body language and expressions, can be a sure way to kill a conversation, especially when displayed together.”

Zadeh identifies three key non-verbal forms of communication that can make or break a conversation.

Folded arms: “People fold their arms because it brings comfort when experiencing discomfort.

While there’s nothing wrong with folding arms per se, the behaviour is often perceived negatively, because it’s a blocking mechanism–a physical barrier between one person and another. Without this barrier, the perception is one of openness and comes across as warm, welcoming and honest.”

The orientation of your body: “The orientation of a person’s body can make or break a conversation. If the whole of your body (head to toe) faces towards your conversation partner, they feel like they have your full attention and respect,” she says.

Facial expression: “In terms of facial expression, it’s always good to enter into a conversation with a smile. A genuine smile immediately puts people at ease because it signifies friendship.

If your conversation does start to get heated, your expression, for example, anger, could potentially kill the conversation, depending on how well you control it.“

How do you avoid killing a conversation?

The good news is there are lots we can do to avoid being a conversation killer. Firstly, through awareness.

“Becoming more aware of your nonverbal behaviour is the first step in controlling how other people perceive and respond to you,” Zadeh says.

“Without awareness, you can’t make small modifications which can provide a more positive experience and outcome,”

Secondly, by using open body language

“The best way to maintain open body language is to get used to using hand gestures while talking, with hands relaxed by your sides or resting on a table as you listen,” Zadeh says.

“There are many benefits to talking with your hands, including appearing more interesting and engaging. Your message also becomes easier to understand.”

Finally, Florko says that reframing your language into a more open style can be beneficial.

“For example, rather than trying to prove you’re right, discuss your own contributions to the issue by saying: ‘I recognise that I didn’t ask you earlier how things were coming along’.”

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher with a strong interest in mental health. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.