One of the most powerful predictions of productivity and quality in the workplace is the ability for employees to engage in meaningful, constructive conversation with one another.
So says author Joseph Grenny. He’s right.
That’s because conversations lead to positive connections. When we speak to those who listen to us—and return the favor—we get to know one another on a deeper level. Sure, the guy sitting next to you at work might be a graphic designer. But he’s also a human being with a ton of experiences, knowledge and beliefs that you may or may not be familiar with.
Studies show that the number one thing employees like about their jobs is their coworkers. That’s assuming, of course, everyone gets along. The key to developing strong relationships starts with getting to know each other on a work-isn’t-the-only-thing-in-the-world basis.
That’s where the art of the conversation comes into the equation.
How to be a good conversationalist
Our brains are programmed to recognize patterns. Every good story has a beginning, middle and an end—and we’re all looking for them, consciously or not. It’s said that telling stories is the best way to activate our brains—both from the listener’s and speaker’s perspectives.
Worried about your conversation game? There are proven tricks you can utilize to increase the chances people will actually like talking to you. Study the art of the conversation, and you may very well become someone who people enjoying speaking to.
Here are the basics:
- Listen. Be active and constructive in your responses. Be an advocate. People love to talk about themselves. If you’re not a totally distracted self-absorbed individual, you will probably care about the people around you and what they think about the world we share. But not everyone is wired that way. Fake it if you must. Encourage your peers, just as you’d like them to encourage you.
- Add details. Studies show that people are 14% more likely to interact with emails that are personalized. We’ve all talked to the colleague or acquaintance or even lover who nods along to our stories, saying uh-huh. Your conversation partner is telling you something that’s important to them. We speak for purpose. Respond to what they’re saying by acknowledging the specifics of what they’re saying. When it’s your turn to speak, emphasize the details. Make things unique.
- Solve problems. You can be the best listener in the world. But if you’re not offering advice and drawing on your own experiences to help people solve their problems, conversations may leave much more to be desired. When you’re listening—and paying attention to the details—you can use your brain to offer advice pertaining to how you’ve overcome similar problems in your life (our how you might imagine yourself doing so). You might not have all the answers. But you should be able to offer up something helpful.
- Know things. You might not have traveled all over the world. You might not have read a zillion books. You might not even know Hamilton Fish was the 26th Secretary of State of the United States. That’s not a problem. But if you want to be a good conversationalist, you need to know things. The good news is that—thanks to the internet—you can teach yourself anything. And you have experiences that have shaped you as a person. You have a lot to share, but the more you know, the easier it will be to relate to anyone. (Side note: If you don’t travel, you should. You’ll enjoy it. And you’ll have more to talk about.)
- Prepare. Know you’re going to have to talk to your boss two weeks from now in a one-on-one? Seeing your old high school buddy you haven’t hung with, or talked to much, for five years? A little preparation can go a long way toward making sure you have a smooth, enjoyable and productive chat.
As we all know, not every conversation is a good one. We may prefer having friendly, funny, enjoyable dialogue. But sometimes shit happens, and we have no choice but endure less-than-optimal talks.
The world isn’t perfect. Every now and again, there will invariably be times when things don’t work out as planned.
In crisis situations, it is imperative to keep your feelings in check. Clients will scream at you. Someone will screw up spectacularly at work. The office could get flooded. A team member could quit right this second and storm off after delivering a spectacularly expletive-ridden diatribe. You could snap at your coworker for innumerable reasons.
Whatever happens, try to remain calm, cool and collected as much as you can. Take a deep breath. This may sound difficult, but you have control of the way you respond to every situation. Practice mindfulness and adopt a growth mindset, and you will be better-positioned to handle the hardest situations while maintaining constructive conversations with those around one.
If you’re about to have an argument with a coworker, pay attention to your environment. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Walk to a private area and keep your emotions in check.
These days, storytelling is all the rage in the business world. Companies need to tell their stories to connect with their customers.
But storytelling and conversations are even more important on a human-to-human level. Whether that’s in the office, at the bar, at home with your partner or at an awkward Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t matter. The better you are at dialogue, the more meaningful interactions you’ll have in life. Improve your conversation skills and watch the world open up.