Conversational Intimacy

Conversational Intimacy Connectors

Conversations need to flow.

So, what is the language glue that we were missing that keeps conversations flowing?

Instead of saying "urm" I now fill the gaps (and give myself some thinking time for the next sentence) by using lots of what I call "conversational intimacy connectors".

These connectors are small glue phrases between burst of factual information, that show you are "sharing" your thoughts with the other person.

Build Relationships

You see, conversation isn't just about telling facts, but also about establishing relationships with people.

Conversational intimacy connectors help establish and maintains that relationship (so the listener feels better connected to you) as well as getting over the "urm" moments that make people uncomfortable.

Here are some examples:

"To tell the truth ..."

"Between you and me ..."

"I have to say that ..."

"In all honesty ..."

"I am proud to say that ..."

"I haven't thought about this much before, but I actually believe that ..."

Make the Connectors Automatic

I began to collection these connectors from conversations, books, TV and radio, until I had a list of about 50 of them.

Then I practiced these phrases dozens (maybe even hundreds) of times until I could say them automatically, without having to put any effort into thinking about them.

Then I studied each one in depth, and thought hard about it to think of real-life situations when it would be used. At first, I used imaginary situations, until I felt that I associated a given connector automatically with those situations.

My focus was so that whenever I faced a real-life situation that previously would have caused me some embarrassment, it would now trigger appropriate connectors without conscious effort.

An Example

In restaurants, the waiter will often bring bread to the table that sometimes I don’t want. It always felt a bit abrupt when I said:

“(We don’t want) Nechceme (bread) chleba.

Likewise, in a supermarket it always felt uncomfortable to say straight away:

“(I need) Potřebuju (a bag) tašku.

Sure, I could add “(Please) Prosím” to try to make it more friendly, but I was much happier when I discovered the useful (and widely used) intimacy connector: “(Don’t be angry, but) Nezlobte se, ale …”

It is a much “lighter” form of apology than it sounds – essentially a deferential way of saying “Sorry for the inconvenience, but …” – and it is very effective in any setting where you want to get friendly service.

In place of the notoriously frosty Czech service, you will usually get a smile, and sometimes even a heartfelt apology that it isn’t a problem at all, and you shouldn’t worry about it.

I recommend practicing this phrase over and over, imagining real life situations where you would use it. It will quickly become automatic, so that when you really do face those situations your instinct will be to use say:

(Sorry for the inconvenience, but) Nezlobte se, ale (we don’t want) nechceme (bread) chleba.


(Sorry for the inconvenience, but) Nezlobte se, ale (I need) potřebuju (a bag) tašku.

And so on.

No More Urms

Within a few weeks, the 50 or so conversational intimacy connectors in my list had become part of me, and they would flow from me naturally in situations where I had practiced them in the safety of my living room.

As a result, whenever I would previously have said "urm" to initiate conversations, or to bridge gaps (while I thought what to say next), my automatic instinct had soon become to use these connectors.

So, now, when asked:

“Tell me about yourself!”

The conversation is no longer:

"Hello ... urm ... my ... urm ... name is Anthony ... urm ... urm ... I am ... urm ... from England .. and ... and I ... urm .... I am married ... urm ... urm ... my  wife is Czech ... urm ... and urm ... she is ... urm ... she is ... urm ... urm ... a political journalist."

Instead it is more like:

"Hello [that is a good question] [thanks for asking]. [First of all][I should say that] My name is Anthony [and between you and me] I am [actually] from England [I am happy to say that] I am married [As you may expect] my  wife is Czech [and you may be interested to know that] she is [in fact] a political journalist."

Three Benefits

The difference in flow here brings three benefits:

1: I can use these connectors to bridge between sequences of short bursts of facts, and can keep the flow going for as long as I want.

2: I no longer get flustered, nor do I dread having a conversation, since my “thinking time” is now covered by connectors that I am happy to use with rather than “urm”s that embarrass me.

3: The person I am talking with becomes less embarrassed, because they no longer have to listen to my painful halting sentences.

Overall, the conversation flow is more pleasant and increases intimacy between people, rather than making it sound like an awkward “question/answer” session.

Reusing Connectors Everywhere

The great thing about these conversational intimacy connectors is that they can be reapplied to just about any situation. Without them, you can end up stuck in a cycle of learning vocabulary, with no chances to use any of it.

For example, one person I was teaching this technique to told me that she knew hundreds of words that she would hardly ever use (such as “Chobotnice” which means “Octopus”, and “Vrtulník” which means “Helicopter”).

All the effort put into learning these words, when they will probably crop us once every few years in real conversations!

Whereas, when I taught her “Nezlobte se, ale …” she emailed me later to say she had used it three times already that same day.

Conversational intimacy connectors, then can be used with whatever vocabulary you already have, and give a gentle framework in which to slot that vocabulary.

They even help you talk fluently in situations where you know hardly any suitable vocabulary at all.

For instance, a while back I had the great fortune to be invited into the beer cellar by a master brewer.

I only know a few beer-related words, but could strike up a conversation using connectors to join-up my limited vocabulary:

When he asked me which was the best Czech beer, I could say something like:

(That is quite a difficult question) To je docela těžká otázka. (I know that) Vím, že (it is a matter of opinion) je to věc názoru (but I must say that) ale musím říct, že (I do have my own opinion about it) mám svůj vlastní názor na to (and in my opinon) a podle mého názoru (Bernard-brand) Bernard (is my favourite beer) je mé oblibené pivo. (And how about you?) A co myslíte vy?

Here, you can see that hardly of the vocabulary relates to beer, but still I have shared my opinion, and kept the flow going, and ask the master-brewer for his own thoughts.

Non-Intrusive Thinking Time

Conversational intimacy connectors, then, help you maximize the vocabulary that you already have. Somebody I taught this to described it as“freeing” their vocabulary so it no longer felt like the words were trapped inside them.

Still there will be times when you still struggle because you simply don’t know the right word for something.

In these situations I use my “non-intrusive thinking time” to come up with alternative ways to say something. Non-intrusive thinking time is time when my brain is free to think without it interrupting the flow of the conversation.

The time when you are saying the well-rehearsed connectors offers non-intrusive thinking time. As do the natural pauses at the end of sentences.

Furthermore, a lot of the connectors end in words such as “but”, “and”, or “that”, and the moment before these final words offers a very natural time to insert a tiny pause to catch your breath, rather than the very unnatural pauses that come from “urm”. These pauses not only give your conversation a natural rhythm, but also give you additional non-intrusive thinking time about what to say next.

For example:

To je docela těžká otázka. {tiny pause} Vím, {tiny pause} že je to věc názoru {tiny pause} ale musím říct {tiny pause} že mám svůj vlastní názor na to {tiny pause} co se mě týče {tiny pause} podle mého názoru {tiny pause} Bernard {tiny pause} je nejlepší pivo. {tiny pause} A co myslíte vy?

Lost for Words

Despite this, you will still sometimes use the wrong word, or pronounce a word incorrectly, but that now becomes less important since a higher percentage of the conversation is fluent with connectors you do know flawlessly.

Despite this, you will still sometimes use the wrong word, or pronounce a word incorrectly, but that now becomes less important since a higher percentage of the conversation is fluent with connectors you do know well.

Instead of making a high percentage of mistakes, you spread the mistakes more thinly throughout the connectors, giving the (correct!) impression that you fluency rate is higher than you would have imagined.

Plus, when I really get stuck, I simply always steer the conversation to a different topic where you are on more familiar ground. And I have a bunch of connectors rehearsed dozens of times for exactly this. For example:

“(By the way) Mimochodem .”

“(Oh) Ach, (I almost forgot) málem jsem zapomněl …”

“(And one more thing) A ješte něco ....

And so on.