How do you have great conversations, consistently?
What distinguishes humans from all other living things? The ability to connect and communicate with the spoken word. Conversations are the foundation for human interaction and development. Additionally, the quality of conversations can drive individuals, teams, or organizations to take action. Great conversations are truly special when they happen.
In the workplace, great conversations can shape organizational culture and encourage employee engagement, and they serve as a compelling reason to adopt new behaviors or ways of working. Everything starts with conversations. Considering the foundational nature of conversations, I’d like to highlight seven essentials of great conversations that anyone can apply as soon as they are able to engage in a conversation.
Connecting with Intention
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and determine the return from remote for our work lives, the need to connect with others in an intentional way is more important than ever. Take a look at people that play a role in your success at work and set an intention to connect with them more frequently with the goal of deepening the relationship. If you are what you do, you’ll start to take actions that result in a stronger network and supportive relationships.
Setting an intention to connect with others that are important to your success will support the creation of habits that will help sustain your outreach to others over time. You’ll be propelled forward to keep your regular check-in even if you don’t have much to update the other person on.
It can be helpful to have a general idea of where you want the conversation to go, but be open to detours and allow conversations to flow naturally. Create a roadmap for your conversations that provides the structure for a successful conversation and helps you stay on track.
Roadmaps can be as simple as asking the other person how they are doing, what they have been up to personally, what they have learned lately, what they are working on right now, and what help or support they may need. The roadmap will help everyone stay on track and create a meeting routine. Clearly, the conversational roadmap can be customized for any situation or need, whether personal or professional.
Empathy and Compassion
Showing empathy and compassion toward the other person can help create a sense of trust and understanding. This means seeing things from their perspective and showing genuine care for their feelings and experiences. Consciously bring empathy and compassion to your conversations always.
Stay focused on finding opportunities to show you care about the other person, that you support mutually beneficial outcomes for all concerned, and recognize the ups and downs of life in a heartfelt way. People remember how you make them feel in conversations. If you are quick to point out the negative, it may be hard to create space for a better conversation with this person in the future. This is not a great conversation. Our goal is to create an environment of positive, caring connection in our conversations.
One of the key components of a great conversation is active listening, which involves paying attention to what the other person is saying and demonstrating that you are listening through nonverbal cues and verbal responses. Practice active listening in every conversation. Allow each person to play a role in asking questions and contributing to the flow.
Create space for a conversational volley between two people. When you are actively listening, you are truly taking in what the other person is sharing with you, and you are able to ask an insightful follow-up question. Listening means the other person “has the floor,” and you are not speaking or interrupting them.
Use Appreciative Inquiry and Open-Ended Questions
Asking open-ended questions can encourage the other person to share more about themselves and their thoughts, while using appreciative inquiry can help focus on a situation’s positive aspects. Open-ended questions require the respondent to provide content and context in their response.
Alternatively, you only look for a yes or no when you ask closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions don’t create a rich exchange between two people. Appreciative inquiry, by nature, holds the respondent in high regard and with respect. Asking questions based on the other person’s experience or expertise really allows the individual to add valuable insight to the conversation.
Double Clicking for More Insight
When you hear something that piques your interest or raises a question in your mind, consider “double-clicking” by asking for more information or elaboration. This can help to deepen your understanding and build stronger connections. When you ask open-ended questions and use appreciative inquiry, you’ll find opportunities where you’d like to know more or, ideally, co-create a solution with the other person.
Judith E. Glaser gets all of the credit for this one. In her book Conversational Intelligence, she frames this as double-clicking in a conversation. This creates a pathway to the best and most productive conversations.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to offer support and encouragement to the other person. This can help to build trust and strengthen the relationship. When you connect with people you truly care about, you want to find out what help they need.
This question has a way of bringing a lot of new potential paths the conversation could take. Do they need help with a special project from an expert? Do they need some kind of resources (e.g., time, people, money) to achieve a goal? Do they need additional people to add to their network? There are all kinds of ways we can support others in success. Today people are not in tune enough with how they can help others.
When you are fully present in any conversation, you can practice applying one or all seven of these essentials for great conversations. Best of all, if you practice them over time, you’ll develop habits that support better conversations in all areas of your life. By incorporating these essentials into your conversations, you can create a more meaningful and fulfilling exchange with the people you interact with.
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Change Consultant and Executive Coach C-Level for Executive Leaders Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.