We use our ability to converse to express, explain, define and relive our reality. With every anecdote and narrative we articulate our innermost thoughts and feelings. It is an immensely powerful tool.
So how do we become skillful at conversation? How do we obtain such a skill and develop it into an art… The ability to master conversation is essential in every aspect of our lives, and business is certainly no exception.
Here’s a few tips and pointers!
- Remember that it takes two to tango. Don’t be an inactive participant in a conversation, and don’t dominate it. Doing either one defeats the purpose and contradicts the very nature of conversation itself. Conversation is defined as a ‘talk between two or more people’. If you aren’t talking then you’re just being a listener, and if you’re the only one talking – you’re doing the lecturing. There needs to be a balance.
This balance, however, can be difficult to achieve if one of you, or neither or you are skilled conversationalists. You might come across awkward lags in conversation. Or perhaps might find yourself playing an unsolicited game of 20 questions
- … In this case, try to avoid conversational um’s and ah’s. These fillers usually create an awkwardness that could have been avoided. Instead, don’t be afraid to take a pensive pause either between or during topics. This is effective because it provides the opportunity to think about what you want to say. It also evokes anticipation in the other person, which engages them.
- Think about how many people you interact with per day. Throughout the course of a week, that’s a whole lot of small talk about the upcoming heat wave (it’s not all too thrilling). Think of ways to set yourself apart. Greeting people with unenthusiastic nods or a mandatory ‘how are you’ without the expectation of a response is dull and dreary. Instead, approach people with good posture and a smile. You don’t have to overcompensate with an excessively toothy grin, or unnecessary formalities. Simply be warm yet casual, it’s already more than most people do.
- Try not to retreat into yourself or mumble. Speak articulately. If you don’t want to be engaging in conversation, and it shows… it’s going to be wildly off-putting to the other person. No one wants to engage in a conversation if they don’t feel at all valued to significant enough to be given your full attention. Whilst it’s perhaps understandable that at 4pm on a Tuesday that you aren’t particularly chipper, still try to make an effort. Don’t view conversation as a forced social convention you have to participate in, see it as a unique opportunity to learn something new and have a meaningful interaction.
- We tend to be more focused inwards when we engage in conversation. Think about how you’re being perceived by the other person, but don’t overanalyse it… just assess your body language and tone. Consider what your body is exhibiting, and if it is reflective of the message you’re trying to convey. Are your arms crossed? Are your eyes wondering around, to subtly glance up at the clock? Do you keep checking your phone… are you slouching and speaking at the ground as opposed to the individual in front of you? These unspoken factors contribute the quality of conversation just as much as words do. Be sure to have open body language, and keep eye contact. Simply focusing on who you’re interacting with will make them feel as though you want to be there. This will make them feel valued, already creating a positive setting.
- Give them the chance to be the ‘expert’. Open the conversation by responding to initial small-talk by asking them a question that will give them the opportunity to talk about something they are passionate or knowledgeable about. People like to talk about themselves, especially if you’re offering meaningful input and sincere curiosity. This will usually create a snowball effect and set the stage for a natural progression of conversation.
- Cater the conversation to the person you’re talking to, and the environment in which you are talking to them. Factors such as age and occupation influence how you might address someone. Try to address them with the other person’s identity markers in mind. Shift the nature of the conversation and the way in which you talk to them according to this.
Good conversation can leave us feeling emotionally and intellectually satiated. In business we can use it to establish meaning and generate calculated impact. So don’t underestimate the power and influence a hearty tête-à-tête!