If you’ve ever heard me talk about great relationships, you’ve heard me say that they’re a byproduct of great conversations! Here is the secret to great conversation – they’re actually less about you! So, stop trying to prove how smart you are by how much you talk, and really work on listening – more intently, more proactively, more in the moment – in essence, listen louder!
Listening louder in great conversations comes from asking better questions. As we prepare to enter 2022, whether engaging family, friends, colleagues, partners, or clients, really aim to ask questions that helps the other person. Most people you interact with on any given day would much rather have a great conversation than to be lectured or engage in really dull questions and answers like, “how have you been?” “Fine.” “And you?” “Great!” zzzzzzzzzz.
Instead, become really interested in learning more about them, finding common interests, move or fulfill their sense of curiosity, reflect on or sharpen a particular view, improve each other’s understanding around a challenge or an opportunity, or leave a conversation energized and wanting more. I reiterated this point on a podcast interview – in every relationship, if you want to become more interesting, become more interested in those you choose to engage!
If we’ve ever spoken, good chance you’ve heard or felt my passion and conviction about the topics I care about. Beyond facts or analysis, I often use questions to engage, influence, and even provoke (in a positive manner) to clarify, understand, and respectfully debate ideas. I love questions such as:
1. That’s interesting. How did you get there?
2. Why do you feel that way?
3. What are you most excited about in your life in the New Year?
4. I’m curious – what 2-3 lessons have you learned from the global pandemic?
A good prep in advance of every call, Zoom meeting, or visit should help you think through your conversation strategies. Below is a good checklist of ten to consider:
1. How can you ask questions to learn more about the other person as an individual? What are they passionate about, do for fun, do outside of work, background, values, where/how they choose to invest their discretionary time?
2. How can you better understand their agenda? What are their most important priorities, goals, objectives? What’s the best use of your time together on a call or a meeting?
3. Ask what they’d like to talk about/focus on? Particularly valuable for clients (internal or external), partners, or investors!
4. How can you make it an equal exchange of information, ideas, questions? No one likes a Spanish Inquisition, and if you talk too much, or assertively push your ideas, they’ll quickly disengage.
5. How can you be diligent in trying to understand their views on an issue or problem at hand? Listen louder vs. simply being quiet enough to think about your immediate reply.
6. How can you ask relevant follow-on questions? Nothing screams, I’M NOT LISTENING, than not being in the moment and asking a question they just answered. Or worse yet, going off on irrelevant tangents!
7. How can you synthesize and affirm what they’ve said? Ideally without parroting back to them what they just said by really aiming to understand what they said.
8. How can you judge less and empathize more with the other person’s experiences? Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about where they’re coming from and how they see the situation through their lens.
9. How can you invite them into the canvas? I love, “tell me more about that,” or as mentioned earlier, one of my go-to winners, “that’s interesting; how did you get there?”
10.How can you echo to learn more? A great technique here is to repeat the last word or two with a questioning tone, i.e. “…concerned about?”
As always, and as masterfully illustrated by Lin Wilson in the Course, Building Blocks to Visual Storytelling, particularly in business meetings try to say more with less. I love whiteboards, easels, one-pagers – anything that creates more conversations and less presentations!
How are you creating better conversations? David Nour