4 Steps to Better Conversations

Two senior executives told me in the past couple of weeks that their junior employees, while technically proficient, don’t seem to know how to talk to clients. And let’s face it, we all know people of all ages who aren’t the best conversationalists.

How to Have a Successful Conversation At Any Age

1. Be present – it’s been proven that our brains cannot multi-task successfully. The antidote is to practice mindfulness; really being present in the moment. Successful conversations happen when at least one, and preferably both, parties are fully present and engaged.

2. Be curious – a conversation is an exchange of information. One YouTuber described it as the joining of two streams to form a river; something new is created by exchanging and merging that information.

3. LISTEN – the most critical point of all. It’s part of being present, but extends beyond to really hear what the other person is saying (and not saying).

4. Look for connection – human beings are hard wired to connect with other humans, and as Dale Carnegie said in his 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People, everyone just wants to be heard.

Remember that it’s not about you. Sure, you’ll have opportunities to share and empathize, and that makes you a better conversationalist, but the key is to focus on the other person.

  • Being present keeps your head in the game and sparks the connection.

  • Being curious moves the conversation forward.

  • Listening allows the other person to be heard.

Those are the basics. Easy to read, much more difficult to actually do.

Now that you know what to do, how do you become a better conversationalist? You practice!

Find a Friend and Practice in Person

Face-to-face conversations provide so many more cues and clues than any other exchange because our brains are designed to pick up on the non-verbal signals that our conversation partners are exhibiting, often completely unconsciously.

Dr. Nick Morgan says in his book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect in a Digital World: “For a human who craves real connection - and that's most of us - virtual communicating is deeply unpleasant. Why? The normal cues that we get in a face-to-face communications are largely missing.”

When you’re fully present and listening properly, you’ll pick up on what your conversation partner is not saying too. That’s difficult to do in a text message.

Junior employees who aren’t really comfortable initiating conversations in person or on the telephone may not have had the opportunity to learn how to be good conversationalists. And they don’t have nearly as many in-person or over the phone opportunities to practice.

Every Professional Job Requires Good Communications Skills

Yet every job description for a professional position includes ‘good communication skills’ as one of the key criteria.  Employees need these soft skills to perform at their best, and more importantly, to progress in their careers.

We all need to practice our conversation skills, regardless of age or position. Too many conversations take place when real listening is not happening.

So here’s your challenge: seek someone out to practice having an authentic, fully present conversation today.

Plan some questions in advance. Take a few deep breaths to help bring you into the moment. And then really, truly listen.

You’ll enjoy the experience.