How to have a great conversation.

Every successful conversation contains three ingredients: rapport, tension, and escalation. Let's talk about what they are, and how to combine them.

I was recently a guest on the TrainingBusiness podcast, where I shared my three ingredients for a successful conversation: rapport, tension, and escalation.

And since this is such an important topic for anyone that wants to improve their communication skills, I figured I’d share them here too, with plenty of links to let you dive deeper into the topics that interest you the most.

What is rapport?

Rapport is a term from psychology used to describe how close or comfortable we feel with someone.

The amount of rapport we have with someone will naturally increase as we spend time with them, but there are also lots of things we can do to speed up that process. Such as talking about everyone's favorite topic, asking good questions, sharing secrets, or doing multiple activities together.

What is tension?

Tension is what we experience when our emotional state gets elevated.

Technically this includes emotions such as anger and fear. But if our goal is to build a positive interaction with someone, we naturally want to focus on positive tension.

Positive tension comes from things like excitement, curiosity, fun, or anticipation. And we can create these experiences in lots of ways, among them by being playful, showing genuine interest in someone, or challenging them with qualifying questions.

And how do we escalate a conversation?

Escalation is simply about moving the interaction to the next level of familiarity or intimacy, or to go for the end result that we’re after.

We escalate from not talking to someone to talking to them. Then we might escalate from small-talk to something more personal or meaningful. And then, when the time feels right, we escalate toward the thing we want.

In sales, that final escalation step is often referred to as “closing”, and it’s about the salesperson making their final sales pitch. Outside of sales, we usually do this by either asking for what we want, taking the initiative to create what we want, or extend an invitation.

Learning how to have a good conversation.

There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for how to combine these ingredients. Pretty much every conversation we have will be different, even when they’re with the same people.

And while that might be disappointing to some, it’s really a good thing, because it means that you have endless flexibility, and can combine them in the ways that you find most comfortable or useful.

Over time, as you practice these techniques, you’ll start to subconsciously notice when you need to, say, build more rapport or add more tension. And when that happens, you’ll likely experience better and better results in your conversations even when you’re not consciously thinking about what you’re doing.

That said, let me suggest a simple conversational structure that you can follow while you practice these techniques.

Keep in mind, though, that this structure won’t fit every conversation, so if you feel a need to change things up, please do. But sticking to this structure for a little bit while you practice these skills will be helpful for many.

A simple structure for a great conversation.

Spend most of your time building rapport. Ask (genuine) questions about things you’d like to talk to the other person about, explore things you might have in common with them, and give them your undivided attention.

Every few minutes, though, toss in a tension builder. Be playful and crack a joke, ask a challenging question, or whatever else that will elevate the emotional experience the two of you are having (in a positive way).

And then, either when the conversation is coming close to its natural end, or when your gut tells you that the time is right, make your request, take the initiative, or give your invitation.

As I said, as you get more and more comfortable with these techniques you can start experimenting and finding your own way to combine the ingredients. But focus on this structure for now, it will get you pretty far, even in its most basic form.

If you want to learn even more about this, check out my Centered Communication course on LinkedIn or my Confidence & Communication course on Udemy.

Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.

Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.

I’ve done over 100 national media appearances, published books, and created online courses that have earned several “Highest Rated” titles from their 11 000+ members.

Today I coach clients from all over the world, and teach seminars for business and events from my home in Las Vegas.

Come join me in my Facebook group, follow my Instagram, or subscribe to my YouTube channel for fresh content on a regular basis.