How to be a good conversationalist (hint: don’t do these seven things)


Me with one of my very best friends Ragan, as we are about to engage in some good, deep conversation.

So you think you’re a pretty good conversationalist, do you?

Most people think they are. However, I recently read an article that suggested that in our age of social media (verses in-person social interaction), most of us are struggling with our conversational skills.  The article (link below) talks about one big mistake that many people make in conversation: they become a Conversational Narcissist.  This person subtly, or not so subtly, turns the conversation back to himself.  A conversation with a Narcissist (Rob, in the example below) goes something like this:

James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.

Rob: Oh yeah, I’m thinking about buying a new car too.

James: Really?

Rob: Yup, I just test drove a new mustang. It was awesome!  Let me tell you all about it….

Did you see how Rob didn’t give a support response or keep the spotlight on James, but instead turned the conversation right back to himself? Many people struggle with keeping the conversation focused on the other person.  This is probably the number one mistake people make in conversation.  Additionally, many people also struggle with asking the other person any questions at all.  From the article:

Most folks seem to struggle with asking any questions at all and have a very difficult time relinquishing the floor.”

The article goes on to say “It’s fine to share things about yourself, as long you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic.”

The article made me take a hard look at my own conversational skills. I am very introspective and I love deep conversation with good friends.  I really try hard to be a good listener and draw others out.  The only problem is that I have noticed that many people are so impressed with my listening skills that they forget to ask me any questions!!

But I am in no way perfect in conversation. For starters, I am a recovering blabber who used to share WAY too much detail.  Many years ago my employer told me that I went on and on when speaking, which led to me not getting a particular job.  Also, I sometimes have an agenda.   Nope, I’m not interested in selling  you a product, but I might want to sell you an idea.  My husband Erik takes the brunt of this because I’m always pestering him with my ideas about what to do and where to go as a family, or “can we have so and so over for dinner?”  Stuff like that.

So with my own issues in mind, Erik and I (and Ragan, pictured above) have developed a list of conversational styles we have noticed over many years. PLEASE KNOW that this list is intended to be a funny, non-judgmental, yet truthful/helpful look at some of the faux paus that we have consistently seen over the years (and that we, ourselves, have also made).

So, besides the Conversational Narcissist, which is probably the worst, here are the other 6 conversation styles and habits that everyone who would like to grow in the area of conversational skills should avoid:

  1. The Story Topper: We all know this one.   He’s the guy or the gal who always has a better story to share. A better car, a better house, better kids, or a better life. Or conversely, he or she has it worse than you, and he wants you to know that you don’t have it as bad as you think you do. A conversation with a Story Topper (in positive form) can go like this: Me: “Hey Sally! You’ll never guess who I just ran into! Harrison Ford!” Sally: “That’s nothing! I just ran into Justin Timberlake yesterday, and JLo is coming over to my house for dinner tonight!” It can also look like this (in the negative form): Jane: “Man, I’m struggling to lose my last ten pounds of baby weight!” Sally: “That’s nothing! Try having to lose the last 50! You don’t know how good you have it!” You know you’re with a story topper when you feel like that cool story you just shared is not so cool, or that your perspective falls short of reality.
  2. The Topic Changer: This is the person who doesn’t prefer to stay on the topic that you are on; they want to talk about what they want to talk about. They don’t stay on point. Just when you are getting into the topic, for some reason, they change it. You know you’re with a Topic Changer when you find yourself frustrated that you were not able to dig as deeply into something as you wanted to, or you find yourself distracted by the conversation, rather than satisfied.
  3.  The Monologuer: You know this one: the person who wants to tell you every.little.detail. about something that happened to them or what they are going through. OR, if your Monologuer is from another generation, he (it’s usually an old man, let’s be honest) will go on and on about World War II, stories of how it used to be, what is wrong with this world, and his opinion on Donald Trump. It’s like they are just talking to themselves. And maybe they are, since most of us tune them out after about five minutes.  The Monologuer makes you feel like you want to find any excuse to leave the immediate vicinity as soon as possible. The problem is it is almost easier to escape quicksand.
  4. The Foyer Talker: These are folks that excel at small talk and don’t know when to leave the party. They stay in the foyer, continuing on with the conversation, oblivious to fact that you need to put your kids to bed, or clean up the house, or sleep. They are unable to read your body language and they are not in tune with  social norms or cues. You genuinely like this person but you genuinely want them to leave so you can relax and watch TV.
  5. The Agenda-cizers: These peeps try to subtly or not so subtly work in a personal agenda into their conversations. For example: “Hey, did you know I’m selling a new product? I’d like you to hear about it. Perhaps you can work underneath my pyramid scheme, I mean…perhaps you’d like to work alongside of me and make lots of money. Let’s have coffee to talk all about it…”  You feel like you always have to play defense with this person while trying to be somewhat open to what they are trying to sell you, err… I mean tell you.   (PS: I mean no disrespect to those people who use social media to promote something they are trying to sell.  I’m not talking about you.  I’m talking about the person who is pushy with their agenda and they are always thinking about it every time they see you.)
  6. Misc. Other Annoying Personas: The following Personalities deserve “honorable mentions.” The Story-Teller is like the Monologuer only better because they are super interesting to listen to while still being a one-sided conversationalist. The Interviewer asks too many questions and seems nosey. The Taboo Talker freely shares their views on religion and politics (or directly asks you about your views) and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. The Mood Changers either bring the conversation more “up” or “down” in an attempt to deflect their own personal feelings of discomfort.   Finally, the Debaters are always trying to “win” the argument or bring you over to their side with persuasion.   Did I forget any?  Please feel free to comment below.  Let’s all speak freely on this!

I will conclude with just one simple rule that each of us can follow to instantly bring our Conversational IQ up 100 points. Here it is:

Consider the other person.

That’s it. Not rocket science.   Just think of two little words help you: PING, PONG. Engage in a game of ping pong by answering their question with just enough detail to keep things interesting, and then PING the ball (the conversation) back to the form of another question.  When there is a pause, hopefully, they will ask you a question, and PONG the ball back to you.  You talk, they talk.  Ping, then Pong.  The goal is that the conversation is a mutual exchange of opinions and ideas.  Share enough, but not too much, unless they dig you for more detail.

Just a couple more things you can do: Don’t hog the floor. Hit the ball back to them.  Share interesting details, but don’t go on and on.  Read their body language.  Ask them questions.  Respect their answers.

If you ask the other person lots of good questions and do a few other normal, human- kindness, non-selfish things, everyone will love you and think you’re the coolest person around and they will leave your presence wanting to spend more time with you. Why?  Because you’re a good conversationalist and you make them feel good by listening to them, thereby affirming their dignity as a human being!

But wait – what if they are a conversational narcissist and/or they don’t hit the ball back to you? I am going to leave my thoughts on that in the P.S. section if you are interested.

In conclusion, if we all consider the other person, and ask good, engaging questions, everyone will leave the conversation satisfied and happy, with the relationship being strengthened and deepened.

So who wants to get together for some good, deep convo?

I’ll bring the coffee!


PS: What to do when the other person is a Conversational Narcissist or a Monologuer or just doesn’t want to play PING PONG with you in conversation?

    • One, let the conversation go flat and see if they PING the ball back to you with a question.
    • Two, you can ask them another question, and hopefully with this round you will begin playing PING PONG again and it becomes a mutual exchange. However this can be dangerous as it may feed into the problem behavior, leaving you frustrated.
    • Three, just say what you want to say as though the other person actually asked you a question.   Just take the floor. Even if they didn’t give it to you.
    • Four, be patient and just let the conversation go naturally. Conversation should be a natural, enjoyable exchange. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. One person may talk more than the other one. It’s really all up to what you want in a relationship.   If you have something to say, just remember that John Mayer song: “Say What You Need To Say.” Don’t wait for a transition or a question. Just say it!!!
    • Finally, when they start to rattle on, drink another glass of wine. 🙂

To read about the Conversational Narcissist, click here:


Infertility and Adoption – How I made peace with both


My college girlfriends, at the start of their baby boom.  Me, in the back, with my career.

Many years ago I body-doubled as a full time student at Liberty University as well as an almost full-time lounge waitress at The Ground Round, serving beer and Long Island Ice Teas to mostly semi-drunk rednecks, err…people. I often joked to friends that I was a good Christian college student by day, and a wild cocktail waitress by night.  But that story is for another post.

When it was slow at the restaurant, I would often dream about my future. This is how my future would play out:

First, I was going to find my wonderful husband at Liberty because that’s what all the other girls were doing. Secondly, we would marry and proceed to have four healthy, biological children (two boys and two girls) two years apart, and stop having children when I turned 30 because after the age of 30 you ran the risk of having a child with medical issues.  Thirdly, I would start my career after my kids were in school and finally, we would all live happily ever after.

And that’s exactly how it all played out.


I can tell you with a smirk on my face that the opposite occurred in almost every way!

After college (in which I graduated very much a single young lady) I began an awesome, yet intense professional career (you can read about it here.) When I turned 25, I met a wonderful guy named Erik and we began dating.  He was an amazing guy and after a few months, I had a sneaking suspicion that he just might be ‘the one.’  But then one day he dropped a bomb on me: he told me that many years ago he had undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer which had left him unable to have biological children.  He delivered this news right before Christmas because I had planned to bring him home to meet the family.

“I need you to know this now, in case you change your mind about bringing me home to meet your family and dating me. I really like you, but I would understand if you feel we need to break things off,” he said to me with sadness in his eyes.

I was devastated and moped around for a few days, wrestling with the decision to stay in a relationship with Erik. However, I had a strong feeling that if I broke things off with him, I would deeply, deeply regret it all the days of my life.  Again, that sneaking suspicion that he was the one kept coming back to me.  Erik was an incredible guy who was very deep, Godly, and intelligent.  That was my version of the Trifecta.  Plus, I knew that if we ever wanted kids, we could always adopt.  So with much prayer and tears, I said YES to Erik and thereby gave up the dream of ever getting pregnant, ever feeling the kick of a baby in my growing belly, and ever seeing our genetic traits come alive in a new human being that we both created.  In summary, I was choosing infertility.

After I prayed, I had a peace that I had done the right thing. Erik and I continued dating, he met my family, we got married, and the rest is history.  And I have never regretted my decision to marry Erik, not even for a second.

So you would think dealing with infertility would be “easier” because I knew about it beforehand rather than being surprised by it after marriage, right?

I think the answer (for me) is yes and no. Yes, in that I knew it all going in and therefore, wasn’t surprised.  And no, because I learned that even if you know about something beforehand, it doesn’t make it that much easier to deal with.  It just takes the edge off, really.

What also made it hard is that I did some research and discovered that in a few cases, men were able to gain their fertility after several years following their chemotherapy treatments. Somewhere deep inside a tiny seed of hope was planted.

So how did the sting of infertility manifest itself? I found myself jealous and comparison-prone when all of my college friends went through their “baby boom.”  I can’t remember the number of baby showers I attended to support my friends with forced (and sometimes real) smiles, gazing at their huge bellies while I looked down at my (mostly) flat one.  I also wrestled with the occasional “trigger.”  For me, a trigger is a “reminder” of what should have been or what could have been if only (fill in the blank).  Three common triggers for me came on Christmas (yet another Christmas and still no baby), my birthday (wow, I’m another year older and still no baby), and of course the mother of all triggers – Mother’s Day!!

Other triggers included finding out that a previously infertile couple was now expecting. Of course I was overjoyed for them but also painfully aware that they had indeed left The Club, while we were still active members of it.  As I mentioned, I also wrestled with comparison.  Many of my best friends started their families very young. While I was blazing through my career, they popped out multiple babies.  It was weird watching their children celebrating their fifth birthday while I had nothing cooking in my own personal oven.

People also accidentally say insensitive things to infertile couples. I heard things like:

“Slow down and just relax. It will happen!” … “All in God’s perfect timing!” and … “Oh, I understand what you are going through.  We tried for two whole months before we finally got pregnant.”

I could go on but you get the gist. In a nutshell, infertility is hard, it makes you feel “lesser than,” you tend to compare yourself with women that easily conceive, you might grow jealous and insecure quite frequently, people say insensitive things, it’s expensive to deal with, it causes lots of stress in the relationship, and you sit around wondering how you are ever going to build your family.

One last note about infertility: infertility is a very hidden, easily masked, very painful and private experience for one in eight married couples. Please be careful before you make comments to young (or not so young) married couples like: “when are you going to start a family?”  You have no idea what they may be going through!  Ok, on with the story.

Obviously, Erik and I were aware that adoption was the only option available for us to build our family. But here’s the problem. My heart wasn’t really “into” adoption for several reasons, mostly reasons that I am embarrassed to admit to you, so I am asking for your permission2speakfreely here, without judgment.  And so I will.  Below were my concerns about adoption (before we adopted):

  1. I won’t love the baby because it won’t be “my own.”
  2. What if the baby is ugly? I probably will not love an ugly baby.
  3. Adoption is second choice; a Plan B. It’s “not as good as” having a beautiful bio baby.
  4. Most people want to have their “own, biological” baby. People only adopt because “they have to” in order to have kids (similar to number three, but broadening it out to the general population).
  5. Adoption is scary because the babies might have to deal with potential drug and alcohol abuse while they are in utero, and the occasional brownie.
  6. Adoption is so much paperwork and it’s unfair because they make you go through so many hoops that other parents don’t have to go through.

To make a long story short, we ended up adopting three awesome kids (you can read their stories below), and now I can honestly say that numbers one through four are just plain WRONG and ignorant. There is some truth to numbers 5 and 6, however.  Especially number six.  Adoption is a LOT of work, you have to get “clearance” to adopt from a wide variety of sources, and each box you check off for your paperwork can have several hours of effort (and waiting) behind it.  You have to “prove” you are worthy to adopt (whereas folks who become pregnant the old fashioned way can just become parents, even if they are lousy parents).  It feels very unfair and intrusive at times.

(On a side note/rant, I also wrestled with how hard the process is to adopt children world-wide who need homes. For example, I have a friend whose parents live and work in Venezuela.  Her mother-in-law volunteers at a hospital and routinely sees babies as young as three months old abandoned at the hospital due to the on-going crisis in that country. There are thousands of good families all over the world who would be willing to take in these babies in (and others like them world-wide) but because so many governments stand in the way, it’s not possible.  And the children suffer.  Some countries even close their adoption programs because of the stigma of having other cultures care for their own children. Again, the children suffer.)

So on to the conclusion of my story. So…having dealt with infertility and adoption, you would think everything would wrap up with a neat little bow at this point, correct?

It would have except for something weird that has happened to us/me that very few people know about.

For almost two decades, I believe God has spoken to Erik and me about believing Him for a miracle pregnancy. What??  You ask.  I know!!  I’m in my 40s.  Nobody my age is even having babies anymore, many of my friends have kids in college and some of my friends are actually (gulp) grandparents!  I know it’s crazy.   But I could tell you story after story of God speaking to me and overall confirming to me to keep believing for this miracle.   We even felt directed to attempt two IVF cycles (which subsequently failed).  The Lord gave us many big and small signs along the way to encourage us to embark out on this faith limb, only to see the limb fall to the ground not once, but twice.  It was a very painful time for us, but Erik and I to this day both believe we were supposed to do both rounds of IVF for some mysterious reason.

The question I have been wrestling with for years is this: why would God keep asking us to believe Him for a miracle that He never delivers? It’s been eighteen long years that this has been going on and I’m still not pregnant.  Could it be that we need to adopt all the kids we are supposed to adopt first?  I think that is one plausible explanation.  There are others.  But it’s still a mystery with no closure (and I love closure).  I’ve prayed numerous times that God would please let me know if I have misunderstood Him or if it’s time to move on.  But as of right now I believe I am supposed to remain in a state of suspended animation and faith that it still could actually happen.


My three beautiful kiddos.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In conclusion, I am thankful for the hard yet wonderful gift of infertility, which gave me three of my most valuable treasures. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  As for the mystery?  God is in that too.  And even if that never resolves in a way that makes sense, the Lord knows what He is doing and has a plan. I need only to look at the faces of my three beautiful children to know that the biggest mystery is solved: we couldn’t have our “own” kids because God had our “own” kids coming to us in a different way.

And that, my friends, is good enough for me.


Thanks for reading!  For those who missed my kiddos’ adoption stories….

You can read Khloe’s Adoption story here

You can find Claire’s here

And Logan’s here

PS: A quick note to infertile women (who would love a family): I am now about 80% of the way across the “infertility bridge” and can look back with some hindsight.  I can honestly say to you that things will get better and everything will eventually will work itself out, I promise. Everything happens for a reason, to quote a man-made proverb, and for us, we were meant to adopt.  I don’t know what it will look like for you.  And as for all my friends who had kids ahead of me (for example my awesome college buddies pictured above) I love them because they give me such great intel on what to expect in just a few short years (plus some great hand-me-downs).  Many other friends and family ended having kids around the same time I did, and I found out that most older kids play with younger kids anyway, or babysit them later, which is also very cool.  I’m now in my 40s and guess what?  It’s really not that big of a deal to have kids when you’re older.  A lot of women are getting pregnant or adopting much later in life.  Having younger kids is keeping me young. I actually might adopt/host/foster more kids in the future.  I guess my point is – everything will eventually work itself out the way it’s supposed to.  I know it’s tough.  Hang in there.   God is with you.  He loves you and will help you. Infertility is unfair and hard and crushing and disappointing and a real pain, I know.  But it will get better!  I promise!

Thanks for reading!