September 7th, 2021
A Conversation and a Mini-Skirt
You may be familiar with the analogy about good conversations and mini-skirts: both should be short enough to grab attention but long enough to cover the subject. That’s an easy way to remember one of the golden rules of good conversations: Be brief but thorough. The rest of the guidelines might be a little more difficult to visualize and recall. Still, they’re just as vital if you want to have better overall communication, which is imperative to good leadership and healthy relationships. Here are a few of the best conversation practices I’ve found.
When Someone Is Speaking to You
Be a good listener. It has to start here, or none of the other tips will matter. Being a good listener shows respect and humility, which will automatically lead the other person to open up and feel safe to share information with you. Good listening includes maintaining eye contact, putting your devices away, and tuning out whatever is going on around you to focus on the person who is speaking.
Don’t interrupt. Interrupting shows a lack of patience and respect. We leaders are strong multi-taskers, which is necessary a lot of the time, but we must be able to turn it off in conversation. Of course, we’ve known how we want to respond 10 seconds into it, and we’re just waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can say what we think and move on to the next thing we need to do. Right? (I hope it’s not just me!) But nothing will shut a discussion down faster than a distracted interrupter.
I really had to put this skill to the test when I appeared on Shark Tank, and I had three Sharks competing for a deal with my company. They were all talking over one another, and some of the things being said were not entirely accurate for my industry or my company. I had to fight the urge to jump in and set the record straight. But I watched dozens of past episodes in preparation for my appearance, and it was common for the entrepreneurs to start losing their cool when this happened, and it would not end well for them. So, I didn’t interrupt. I waited for the Sharks to turn their attention back to me and ask me a question, and my patience paid off. I have to remind myself regularly that I should apply the same importance I placed on showing patience, restraint, and respect in the Tank to all of my interactions.
Ask open-ended questions. Asking open-ended questions indicates interest and your desire to know more about the person. And almost everyone will jump at the opportunity to talk more about themselves. So, ask things like, “What was that like?” and “How did that make you feel?” or “Why do you think he did that?”
When You Are Speaking
Don’t express strong personal opinions or judgments unless you’re with best friends or family.
(And, even then, maybe not.) This is a very fast way to lose respect and influence in a person’s life. “I’ve never thought of it that way,” is an excellent neutralizing statement that allows the conversation to continue instead of coming to a grinding, awkward halt.
Resist the urge to one-up others experiences. If you’re one of the 12 people in the whole human race who has walked on the moon, then go ahead and brag. But, other than that, it’s always best not to play the “Well, that’s something, but wait until you hear this!” game. It will always leave the other person feeling diminished.
Don’t repeat yourself. Pay attention to your conversations over the next week and note how many times you say the phrase “like I said.” You may be surprised how much that sentence appears. I know I am. This is one of my constant struggles in conversation. I tend to use “like I said” as a bridge to the next thought when I’m not sure what else to say. But, if you’re using this phrase, the chances are good that nothing else needs to be said on that particular point. (Still working on it over here!)
Choose details wisely. Resist the struggle to recall and include details like dates, locations, and names that don’t make a difference to the story anyway and will simply bore people while they wait for you to get to the point.
And, just like that mini-skirt, keep it short. Short stories are easier to follow and almost always more interesting. Besides, you know the other person is just waiting to talk about themselves anyway, so let them! Which brings me to the final key point to great conversations: learning how to graciously end them. And that (like all the other key points) will definitely take some practice.
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