One thing I’ve found out in life is that there are some people who are natural conversationalists, and there are those who aren’t. There are some people who can walk into a room and talk with anyone there, and there are others who won’t. Realizing there are a whole lot of other sub-categories, I’ll leave them for another time. I’ve, personally, found myself somewhat naturally being able to strike up and hold conversations with most people, and it was something I took as granted until recently.
These thoughts starting processing when doing some reading about my financial planning industry, and reading that the ability to listen and ask good questions is just as, if not more, important than actual expertise in products, strategies, and investments. The listening/questions skill is infinitely harder to develop than the increase of knowledge. This makes sense, and was one of those common truths that I probably always knew, but never realized. But I took great courage from this, because I can always, and will, continually learn more about products, strategies, and investments – and can always find out the answer in a short amount of time if I need knowledge right then – but I can’t always, or as easily, develop the listening and questions skills. They can certainly be learned and improved, but not at the rate of the products, strategies, and investments.
I say all of this because, depending on what job you may have or be pursuing, conversation skills are most likely going to be required of you. You’ll always be able to increase your knowledge of your industry and services/products. What I want to do is give you some basic advice on how to talk and listen to people, so as to prepare you for any job you may encounter or pursue. And so I did some thinking of guidelines that I have, sometimes subconsciously, used to talk to both people I’ve met for the first time, and people I’ve known a long time. They are:
- Listen more than you speak. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. No one likes to be around the person who talks 10x as much as everyone else. You don’t need to count words, but just keep an idea of how much you’re talking.
- Ask good questions. Before some networking events, and definitely before client/prospective meetings, I prepare a list of questions that I want to ask, and have ready to ask. People always will want to talk about themselves and their passions. When meeting someone for the first time, they’ll mostly default to talking about their job. Try to dig deeper – ask what they do for fun, what books they read, and what their plans are for the weekend. Avoid religion and politics at those first conversations as much as possible. Ask follow up questions- my favorite is “Why?”
- Find common ground. After asking some good questions and follow up questions, usually you find something, or someone, that you both know or enjoy. Expound on that.
- Share what your passions are. And have these thought out as well. It’s pretty lame when someone asks what’s been exciting in your life and you have nothing to share. Think of what’s been going on lately in your own life lately, and have these stories ready to share.
- Ask how you can help them. This is fantastic, and usually catches people by surprise in first conversations. After they’ve described what’s important to them, or what their job is, or an issue they have in life, ask how you can help. You’ll be surprised at their answers, and then most of the time they’ll turn the question on you (and you should have an answer to this ready as well).
- Realize that they may be feeling as awkward or intimated as you. This is especially powerful for me, as I talk with some of the big wigs in Lancaster county. I’ll never forget severals years ago, sitting at lunch with a CEO of a company with a few hundred employees, hearing how even as charismatic and outgoing as leaders seem, they still fight anxiety and fear in meeting new people. This blew my mind, and immediately put me at ease.
- Remember what people say, and their name. I have, admittedly, a terrible memory, so this is tough for me. If I really want to remember something someone said to me in a conversation, I’ll write it down. A fantastic professional (or friend) is someone who asks if your kid’s feeling any better since last time they saw you 5 weeks ago.
My idea of a good conversationalist is someone who puts others at ease by avoiding awkwardness, is encouraging, listens intently, and can guide the conversation from beginning to end. These 7 steps should help you become someone like that. No matter what your job, I hope these will become beneficial, Jack. Till next time.