As pointed out in The Animal Activist's Handbook, having thoughtful, constructive conversations is one of the most powerful things we can do to help build a better world.
This Ted talk gives 10 good rules about having meaningful conversations, dispensing with superficial bits like "eye contact." Here is the transcript, and here is the summary:
Number one: Don't multitask. Be in that moment.
Number two: Don't pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.
Again, assume that you have something to learn.
Number three: Use open-ended questions.
Number four: Go with the flow.
Number five: If you don't know, say that you don't know.
Number six: Don't equate your experience with theirs. If they're talking about having lost a family member, don't start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they're talking about the trouble they're having at work, don't tell them about how much you hate your job. It's not the same. It is never the same.
All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you.
Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself.
Number eight: Stay out of the weeds. Frankly, people don't care about the years, the names, the dates, all those details that you're struggling to come up with in your mind. They don't care. What they care about is you.
They care about what you're like, what you have in common. So forget the details. Leave them out.
Number nine: This is not the last one, but it is the most important one.
Listen. I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the most, the number one most important skill that you could develop. Buddha said, and I'm paraphrasing, "If your mouth is open, you're not learning." And Calvin Coolidge said, "No man ever listened his way out of a job."
One more rule, number 10, and it's this one: Be brief.
"I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I'm always prepared to be amazed, and I'm never disappointed."