Connect through Conversation

Posted by Nancy Mueller on Monday, October 4th, 2010
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A colleague recently had coffee with a friend whom she hadn’t seen for awhile. Afterwards, my colleague shared her feelings of disappointment with their get-together. Over the course of two and a half hours, her “friend” talked at length about herself and her family. Never once did she ask my colleague about her business or her family or her love life. “Now I remember why we drifted apart,” she told me.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in our own personal dramas. But the art of conversation is a two-way street, like playing a game of tennis. Unlike tennis, however, the goal is not to “win” at the expense of others. Rather, the goal is to engage others and make them feel valued and appreciated in our presence. We can’t accomplish that when we keep the focus of attention on ourselves.

The next time you find yourself in a conversation with a client or a customer, keep these 5 tips in mind for a positive interaction:

1. Be present. This is a two-step process:

First, make a conscious decision to fully engage with the other person. Set aside anything that might take away from your attention, such as preoccupation with your own problems or cell phone interruptions. Find a quiet place to talk to minimize noise distractions.

Second, turn your focus to the other person. Smile, make eye contact and greet your acquaintance. Show your consideration by facing each other when seated. Take your conversation cue from your partner’s body language. Does he or she seem concerned, excited, or confused?

2. Ask questions. Validate your observations with open-ended questions which will help you discover what’s really on the mind of your customer or client. As you gain a clearer understanding of the situation, zero in with more targeted yes/no questions to confirm what you think is true.

3. Let the other person talk. How many times have you heard someone ask a question, then proceed to keep talking? You can’t gather information or find out what really matters to the other person if you’re the only one talking.

4. Listen. A good question to ask ourselves in any conversation is: am I listening – or am I just waiting to talk? We may have the best of intentions, i.e., to add to the conversation, to express empathy or even just keep the conversation going. But when our focus shifts to what we want to say next, it’s easy to stop listening. The result is that we might miss the most meaningful part of the conversation and the opportunity for important follow up questions.

5. Respond. The key is to respond in a way that is effective to your customer or client. If you’re following up on a customer service complaint, for example, saying that you will fix the problem may not be the first thing your customer wants to hear. Instead, he or she might prefer that you acknowledge the inconvenience that was caused by the service error.

Good conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue, and a tool to add to your communication repertoire for positive, lasting results.

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