The Art of Conversation – 3 Pitfalls to Avoid
Have you ever been part of a conversation that has left you feeling empty, unimportant or unworthy. You leave the interaction wondering if the other person was genuinely interested in what you had to say and you feel like it was a complete waste of time. I was recently in one of those interactions and it caused me to stop and think about the qualities and characteristics that make a really great conversation – for all parties involved!
Conversation is a skill in which not all of us are competent. And given the increasing popularity of digital interactions, there seems to be less opportunity for the good old in-person face-to-face dialogue. It is a very critical skill for success in today’s business world, and provides an opportunity to see and be seen. Clearly, not all of us are born with the gift of gab, but we can get there with a little self-awareness and some practice. As with every other learned skill, self-awareness highlights where we can improve, and practice makes perfect.
In a recent blog, where I discussed the power of networking Does Networking Really Make a Difference, once the networking meeting has been confirmed, you will want to ensure that a great conversation results. This will illustrate that not only are you a great communicator (a skill that employers are consistently looking for), you will also guarantee that the other party has been left with a strong impression of you. Hopefully, this leads to continued networking, or a referral to another important connection.
A good conversation flows naturally, puts people at ease, and builds relationship. Watch out for these pitfalls, which could lead to a poor and ineffective interaction:
- You talk too much. A networking meeting differs slightly from an interview, where you would typically do most of the talking. Keeping in mind that a networking relationship is mutually beneficial to both parties, therefore the conversation should be well balanced. Strive for about 50/50 “airtime” where each party is equally contributing to the conversation. Try to keep yourself from rambling, and stay to the point of the conversation. If you catch yourself speaking for too long, apologize and give the other person a turn. And don’t interrupt, just wait until the other person has stopped talking before you start.
- You don’t show interest. Two factors come into play here, assuming that you are face/face – body language, and verbal cues. Ensure that your body language shows that you are interested – lean in towards the person, make eye contact, nod your head in agreement. Verbal cues include interjecting by using words like “I understand”, “that’s very interesting”, “tell me more”. Encourage the other person to continue the conversation by asking interesting and thoughtful questions – people generally like to talk about themselves. And a little flattery goes a long way! Both the body language and the verbal cues should signal to the other party that you are actively listening and genuinely interested. If the conversation is by telephone, then the verbal cues are critically important, as is tone, pitch and cadence. Try to remember to have a smile on your face during the conversation; it will translate into a smile in your voice – guaranteed!
- You didn’t find common ground. The intent of entering into a networking relationship is that it will continue beyond the current conversation. For that to be possible, there need to be some common interests. These could be personal or professional, but should be the basis of the conversation. If you are passionate about politics, and the other is not, there is no point in raising the subject – the chances of good two-way dialogue occurring will be slim. If you can, get some background on the person you are meeting with, then start the conversation with what you know about them. Ask open-ended questions and ask for details. Stay with topics you are familiar with. If the subject turns to something you know nothing about, use it as an opportunity to learn something new rather than fake knowledge in the subject.
Remember to be polite, relaxed and authentic, and let your Personal Brand shine. Know when to close the conversation, and how to make a gracious exit. Presumably you will have set a duration for the meeting, and as the end time approaches, start to wrap up the conversation – either by summarizing what you have learned or reiterating next steps. Make eye contact and shake hands and genuinely express gratitude for the time that has been given you. Most importantly, let the person know you intend to keep in touch.. These gestures reinforce connection and leave both parties feeling good.
First impressions are lasting, and if you have made a good one, the relationship will continue. If you have some tips and tricks on conversation that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you!