Conversation is the core of communication and one of the key components of successful leadership. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Shyness and the possibility of committing social gaffes can leave many CEOs tongue-tied.
Yet good conversation skills are the first step to developing and nurturing relationships necessary for business success, says Stuart Knight, president of Toronto-based Knightflight Productions, which produces corporate motivational presentations and seminars on the art of conversation. Luckily, whether it’s client meetings or trade shows, employee chats or presentations, you can learn to converse with ease so that all your conversations are more positive and productive.
Conversations in their simplest form are really a series of questions and answers, says Knight. Try role-playing with a friend or colleague and work through some possible scenarios that will start and keep a conversation going. Know what you want to get out of the conversation, so that you can craft your questions accordingly.
Once you’ve initiated conversation with get-to-know you questions such as “Why are you attending this event?” or “How do you know the host?” ease the chat forward with questions designed to uncover more meaningful information-which Knight calls part-two questions. You might ask, for example, “Which projects do you find really exciting right now?” followed up with “What is it about those projects that intrigues you?” “Part-two questions can lead you in so many different directions,” says Knight. “They can help you get to really know the individual and the company.”
To keep the ball rolling, ask broad questions that can help you find common ground. Go-to questions such as “What do you do when you’re not at work?” will lead the other person toward topics you would like to discuss. Be genuinely curious. Listen carefully and actively by nodding your head, using hand gestures and making eye contact. Acknowledge what they’ve said in your comments and questions to show you’ve been listening.
Don’t be shy about being a bit personal in a business conversation because it will strengthen the bond between you and build commonality. “Learn to use the details you uncover,” says Knight. Even it’s not immediate. If you discover your client is a chocolate lover, for example, bring a tiny box of truffles to your next meeting or manage late afternoon meetings so your client makes it to daycare on time. Such thoughtful gestures go a long way to building a rapport and more important, help lead you to a fruitful business relationship.
© 2005 Kara Kuryllowicz