The human brain is built for conversation, but we achieve better results when we think strategically about listening and make a few simple, deliberate choices that support our conversational goals.
Imagine yourself in a business conversation. Maybe you are the CEO of a Global 500 company meeting with your board of directors. Maybe you are a solo entrepreneur talking to your first big client about renewing your contract.
Whoever you are, whoever you talk with, the following steps can make you more effective in each conversation you have.
Step 2. Be aware of your options, and with your conversational goal in mind, deliberately choose whether to talk or to listen, to focus or clarify what you want to say, or to listen attentively.
Skilled listeners think about their purposes for having a conversation and make their choices based upon those purposes. Valid business purposes for a conversation include:
To exchange information. In many conversations you will be talking about what someone needs, or is offering. You may also be trying to figure out whether someone else has complementary offerings or needs, for example, to figure out if one of you is a potential buyer and one a potential seller. Finally, part of the exchange of information is often about whether someone accurately understood what they heard.
To build working relationships. People who know and respect one another, and who have a good experience working together, often work together more effectively. Personal style can make an enormous difference. Developing and maintaining positive personal relationships can be one of the most important components of customer-supplier conversations, employer-employee conversations, networking conversations, team communication, and more.
To feel good. Having an enjoyable and/or productive conversation can make you feel valuable, respected, and even liked. As such, conversations can be a key component of having a good day or even a good job, and of being motivated and productive.
To make someone else feel good. Good conversations can have the same effect on others as they have on you. Whether or not you have a vested interest in someone's state of mind--such as a customer, co-worker, or supplier--you may find merit in giving someone this experience.
For every conversation, and for every choice you make in that conversation, remind yourself: my choices affect whether or not I best accomplish the purposes of this conversation.
At risk of stating the obvious, in conversations people generally take turns talking and listening. Effective listeners are fully conscious of making a decision each time they decide to talk or to let someone else talk. If you haven't already, you can develop this self-awareness and reap its benefits.
The following flow chart shows a series of choices that you face in conversation starting with the most basic: whether to talk or listen. Your mission is to identify, and support, your goals for having this particular conversation in the first place.
These choices repeat over and over as your conversation continues.