Written by Nicole Devereaux: Certified Conversational Intelligence® coach for leaders and teams.
Conversations, especially in our business are crucial to our success. Whether it’s back and forth conversations with a client or a sale call for a potential client 9 out of 10 conversations miss the mark. In other words, most of the time, what one person plans to communicate in a conversation does not coincide with what the other person actually interprets. This missed connection builds from one conversation to the next until, seemingly out of nowhere, the relationship unravels.
A successful conversation begins with what you do before you talk
and culminates with how effectively you bring the conversation to a close.
Here’s how to start and finish a successful conversation.
FIRST, SET YOUR INTENTION.
One reason conversations fail is that we don’t take the time to clarify our intentions and desires before we start talking. We may approach someone believing that we are making a simple, straightforward request, and then are surprised when the conversation takes a sudden turn and goes rapidly downhill.
Before your next important conversation with your boss, colleague, customer, or partner, take 5 minutes to get super clear on why the conversation matters to you.
When it ends, what will need to be true in order for you to feel successful?
Focus on one singular goal. Research shows that people tune out of conversations every 12-18 seconds, so the longer you talk, and the more variables you introduce, the more difficult you make it for your listener to understand what you want to say. Ask yourself: what is the most important issue that needs to be addressed? Form a clear statement in your mind about the issue so that, when the conversation veers off track, you can refocus your words to center only on what’s most important.
Finally, set yourself up for success by priming the space for your conversation. To prime a space is to prepare it for a particular purpose, taking into account how different environments affect our emotions (and, therefore, our conversations). Studies show that holding a warm drink and sitting in a comfortable chair make us more likely to open up to someone than holding a cold drink in an uncomfortable seat. Where is the best location for you to have this conversation? What setting will put both parties at ease?
SECOND, IMAGINE YOUR IMPACT.
Humans are hardwired to judge each other’s intentions in .07 seconds. If we enter a conversation with positive feelings toward the other person, she will sense that and be more likely to hear what we have to say. Conversely, if we have not primed our emotional space, we are likely to trigger a fear (protective) response in the other person, causing her to feel defensive and misinterpret our words.
Before the conversation, ask yourself:
how do I want the other person to feel at the end?
Most of us do not enter conversations intending to make someone feel guilty, sad, or discouraged – yet that is exactly what happens! Tap into your compassion for the other person and return to it throughout the conversation if you sense things are not going well.
Take the time to remember what you have in common with this person and why the relationship is important to you. Engage your empathy for what you know about her story and let go of the need to be right. Approach the conversation open to being wrong and interested in understanding her perspective.
FINISH WELL: ALIGN INTERPRETATIONS
If we close conversations without checking for gaps in our realities, then we have no measure for how successfully we did or did not communicate. To finish well, we must ask clarifying questions. Good questions demonstrate that we care about being on the same page and having mutual success!
Unclear questions like “do you understand?” or “does this make sense?” don’t inform you, the speaker, of what the other person actually interpreted. Instead, we should ask:
These questions focus on caring for the other person, clarifying any misinterpretations, and connecting your intentions with your impact.
A successful conversation requires intentional self-reflection before you engage and compassionate listening while you’re with the other person. If you focus on connection – more than content – you can communicate your needs, preserve your relationship, and create a stronger solution together.