Ever read a job ad like this? “Wanted, poor communicator who will alienate our customers.” How about a personal ad like this? “Seeking someone who will ignore me, dominate the conversation and make me feel unwanted.” Not likely, is it?
Communication, the ability to exchange information and really connect with another person is essential in all parts of life. Unfortunately this is one of those areas neglected by traditional schooling and often left out of family socialization. But take heart, you can learn the art of conversation. Here are some foundational tips to get you started on having conversations that connect.
Assume that people want to talk to you. This helps you to cultivate an attitude and aura of openness and approachability. What does this look like? Relaxed body language is the first step. Have a ready smile and make good eye contact. If you are nervous, uncomfortable in your skin, or feeling down it will show. Remind yourself before you venture out of your value as a person. You are worth talking to and getting to know.
Avoid “peppering” someone with questions. A conversation is not an interrogation. This is especially important on first dates and when establishing a new networking contact. The point of these conversations is to get to know the other person, not to check off your list of questions. If someone is peppering you with questions slow them down by taking a breath (a pause) and thoughtfully and completely answering one of their questions. Then ask them what they think.
Be truly interested in people. Stephen Covey is famous for saying, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” There’s a very good reason this advice is as fresh today as it was years ago when he first gave it to us, it works. People want to talk to, be around and connect with those who are genuinely interested in getting to know and understand them. One of the problems with many “conversations”, especially at networking events is we are too busy sizing up what someone could do for us we forget to get to know them as a person. We see only the job title or potential lead.
Ask open-ended questions, reflect and clarify, these are the basics of active listening. Sadly we don’t teach the art of conversation (or listening) in schools or even in most business training programs. Like other essential life skills, your mastery of the art of conversation will improve with practice. When you can, ask people what they think or feel about a situation instead of “yes/no” questions like, “Do you like X?” If you aren’t sure what someone means or if you would like to draw out more details, paraphrase what they said (reflect it back) and offer them the chance to add more. For example, “It sounds like your boss really surprised you with this new project. What do you think you’ll do next?”
Really connecting with others is the first step to so many important things in business and in life. After all you can’t work with or socialize with someone if you can’t first talk to them. Never feel ashamed of seeking help to develop these skills; they can make the difference between success and failure.