Sometimes it's what you say and how you say it: How to improve your conversation skills

Starting a conversation with someone you hope to get to know better can be challenging. A good way to engage in a rewarding conversation is to use the F.O.R.M method.

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  • We've all been there. We meet someone that we want to get to know, but our minds go blank and our tongues get tied. We end up just smiling and walking away, only to berate ourselves for not knowing what to say.

  • Take courage! The key is to find common experiences that you can share together as you get to know one another. Use the acronym FORM and you will be able to converse readily with anyone you meet.

  • F = Family

  • Everyone has a family. We were all born into one. The simplest conversations are started as if you have known the person all of your life. Whether you are single, married, divorced, widowed, or have just experienced trauma, this simple question opens up volumes:

  • "How is your family?"

  • Most people like to talk about themselves. When you ask about their family, you are opening a conversation that includes fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and in many cases, children and grandchildren. If the other person shares a negative family experience, be understanding, express empathy, and move on.

  • O = Occupation

  • Many people define themselves by what they do for a living. People may enjoy sharing information about their employment, talents, abilities, interests, and even hopes and dreams. Simply ask,

  • "What do you do?"

  • People in the working world have employment settings, supervisors, colleagues  and challenges. Occupational hazards include danger, relationship issues, learning experiences, embarrassing moments, adventure and life-changing difficulties. You can learn a lot about someone by the experiences they share relating to their occupation.

  • R = Recreation

  • Recreation, or the use of leisure time, is becoming more the norm than the exception. People may have hobbies, love to shop, travel to interesting places, engage in active sports, attend movies, enjoy video games, or play a musical instrument. Show interest in their life with the question:

  • "How do you spend your free time?"

  • If the person you are conversing with doesn't have much leisure time, they will probably tell you what they would do if they did! Time stands still when we think about the things we would do "if only" we had the time and means. Opening this conversation can keep you occupied as long as you desire.

  • M = Money

  • Money can be a touchy subject, depending upon how you approach it. Most of us think we don't have enough. Rather than opening a complaining session, it is better to think about what life would be like if we had all the money we wanted:

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  • "What would you do if you had a million dollars?"

  • Hopes and dreams of the future are often tied to our incomes. Giving someone permission to share what they would do if money were no object is a mind-expanding conversation. It may even bring up ideas that have been dormant for decades. There may be tears of regret, or resolve to make the future brighter.

  • No matter who we encounter, we can find common ground by asking simple questions about their Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Money. Conversations come easily as we discover that others are very similar to ourselves, and life experiences are universal.

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Denise is a published author with an Education Specialist Degree in School Psychology. Additional writings are found at


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