How many conversations will you have today? You’ll probably attend at least one meeting, drink a coffee with a friend, make a few phone calls and maybe interview a new team member.
Conversations are important, good conversations lead to good outcomes: perhaps a sale, a new idea, a frustration shared. Yet we seem to be valuing face to face contact less, in favour of screen based missives. As Jim Brown puts it,
‘Technology is creating a society with relationships a mile wide but an inch deep’.
Relationships deepen through conversation, so here are 6 tactics toward better conversations:
Prepare – spend a moment in the other person’s shoes, consider the issues they are facing and try to identify what’s on their mind as they enter into this conversation.
Dedicate time – multi-tasking is not an attribute during conversation. Nothing conveys less value on a person than allowing ourselves to be distracted when someone is talking to us. Meaningful conversations needn’t take long, Ken Blanchard famously suggested that managers should spend just 60 seconds setting goals, giving praise or coaching individual team members in the One Minute Manager. Just make the time count by dedicating 100% of your attention to the person you are with.
Change phrasing – great conversationalists never ask ‘How are you?’ in a way that can be answered ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ By using different, less familiar phrasing and altering emphasis of certain words we can elicit a considered response that becomes the gateway to a better conversation.
Listen – conventional advice says we should use eye contact, match body language, nod and repeat back. These are in fact techniques to use to pretend you are listening. Just genuinely listen, with sincere curiosity and the speaker will know they have your attention.
Ask ‘Why?’ – Open questions get the best answers and the answer to ‘why?’ is always better than the answer to ‘what?’ or ‘how?’.
Don’t prepare – This deliberate contradiction of the earlier point is intended. Once a conversation is underway it’s vital to go with it, ask questions based on what you are hearing. Stephen Covey puts this well: ‘Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply’.