The Art of the Conversation

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by Steve Holt on February 11, 2014

I am thoroughly convinced that most people don’t know how to converse with others.  And that’s a shame because I am also convinced that the most successful people in the world are the ones who understand the art of the conversation.

I don’t suppose I can place blame too much.  Advances in technology that make our lives so much easier also extract a measure of our lives at the same time.  I am reading a fantastic book by Nicholas Carr called “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains“.  For someone like me who is such a huge proponent of technology and the Internet, it has been a swift kick in the butt for me. Our ability to hold meaningful conversations in both written and spoken form is slowly disappearing, in large part because of how our behaviors are being shaped and fundamentally changed by the technology in our lives.  Grab this book now and read it.  If you can hold your attention long enough to finish it, that is.

So what is the art of the conversation?  Well, maybe I should just give you a simple example… more business is done over beers sitting at the bar than across the conference room table.  Knowing how to talk to others, and more importantly listen to others, can be the key to you getting ahead at work, at home, and everywhere in between.  In this increasingly self-absorbed, self-righteous, and self-promoting society that we live in, the art of the conversation is a dying skill.

So how do you do it? Here are some things that we all can do to make sure that we don’t lose this critical skill:

  • Ask the right questions – when talking to someone, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to talk about themselves.  Like… ‘I really love the work that you have been doing lately.  What is it that motivates you?‘  Or… ‘what do you think?‘ Or… “That sounds awesome… tell me more about that.”  Quit talking about yourself and talk about others.  That’s a really good start.  Pretty soon the conversation will turn to you and you can blab away at the mouth.
  • Validate others – when somebody asks you a question or makes a comment, preface your response with something that validates the other person.  Like… “that’s a great question…” or… “I’m really glad you said that…” or… “Boy, you hit the nail on the head…“.  Things like that make the other person feel good about what they just said, and even if you disagree with them in what you are getting ready to say back to them, validating their point makes everyone feel better.
  • Find common ground – this is especially true if you disagree with the other person.  Finding something you can agree on and actually saying the words can be the difference between souring a relationship and saving it, or getting/losing the business.  Like….”I think what you just said is wrong, but I do agree with one point that you said about….”  Or… “I understand what you are saying, and I see your point.
  • Listen more than you talk – this is probably the hardest to do, but it is pretty self-explanatory. Shut your trap and listen to what the other person is saying.
  • Look them in the eye – Get your face out of your phone.  Quit watching the TV above the bar.  Look at them when they are talking.  It’s tough, but you can do it.
  • End on a positive – again, this is more important if you have been disagreeing with someone, but in general every conversation should end with a positive.  Like…”it was so good to talk to you today.” or… “thank you so much for speaking with me today.”  or… “I always have a blast hanging with you… let’s do this again soon.

So if you want people to listen to you, to be influenced by you, to seek you out, to give you money, to follow you… learn the art of the conversation.  The way things are going around here, pretty soon you’ll be the only one doing it and think how awesome you’ll be.

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