I recently watched my friend, a brilliant businessman, try to close a deal. After several emails and calls had been made to the prospective client, he decided that he was going to have a virtual conversation with them. He emerged about an hour later and announced that he had successfully closed the deal. This got me thinking: he must have done something right when talking with this client; aside from being a great sales person, he must have also been a great conversationalist.
I think having conversations are like asking someone to ride a see-saw with you. If they get on and you don’t, that leaves a bad experience. If you both get on, you both enjoy it, it serves you both better, and you leave a little more satisfied or happier than you came. This analogy is important because it tells us that conversations involve both people contributing, and not one person hogging the stage. Good conversations are not self centred, otherwise that would just be a speech.
Even though most conversations we have these days are virtual, some principles I’ve found from the quality conversations I’ve had still stand for both in person and virtual conversations. These are outlined below.
- Be present: I know this seems like an obvious one but it is very possible to not be present during a conversation. How? It starts by stealing glances at your phone, quickly replying that one text, being distracted by something at the corner of the room, or getting lost in your own thoughts. When you’re present, you form a deeper connection with the other person but also very important: you catch non-verbal cues. You’ll notice the smile that forms when you say something they really like or how their eyes are seemingly trailing to the corner of the screen or to their watch because they’re probably in a hurry and need to check the time.
- Say no to multitasking: As much as we love to think we’re great at multitasking, we’re really not. You cannot fully concentrate on having a great conversation while opening up another tab to do something else. You will miss out on things that are said, and chances are the other person can tell that you’re distracted. This doesn’t usually leave a pleasant experience.
- Find a common ground, then explore similar interests: This can be hard especially when you’re having a conversation with someone you don’t really know. As your conversation proceeds, you’ll get to a point where you find that you and the other person have something in common. This is an important moment because it presents you with the opportunity to really connect. As you explore your common interests, you can try to explore topics similar to your shared interest. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life”.
- Keep it short and sweet: This point applies especially for virtual conversations. Let’s face it – we’re all getting a lot more screen time and in a lot more meetings than we’re used to. If you can, keep conversations short so that you and the other person can have some time to stretch before the next zoom meeting. Don’t force someone to open up a new tab and start working on something else while you’re still talking.
- Be honest: This applies to any kind of conversation – both in person and virtual. Always be honest in your feedback. If someone is going off talking about something you really don’t understand or you’re not interested in, rather than fake nodding every 30 seconds or saying “ooooh”, “I see”, “yes”, just be honest and let them know you’re not following. Perhaps they might explain it in a way that you can understand or just totally change the topic. Either way, honesty is the best policy.