Conversation, it’s something that you don’t really put much thought into. It kind of just happens when you are with people that you are comfortable with. I never struggle with discussion topics when I’m at brunch with my girls. But when it comes to business, conversation is a whole other situation. Many business leaders are great with group communication or delivering speeches and presentations, but even some of the most successful admit that one-on-one conversation can be a bit more challenging. Bring up the wrong topic with your C-suite client or colleagues and you can harm a potentially profitable business opportunity and the relationship. Or, how about this…have you been in a situation with clients and colleagues and you had no idea what to talk about? Conversation starters are hard. Talking about the weather is so basic and can be a dead-end icebreaker, but you also don’t want to just dive into business. Can you say AWKWARD?
Interested in more insights on confidently communicating with others? Check out How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes.
So, what can you do to engage your colleagues or clients in conversation in a meaningful way? Here are a few tips to get you started…
- Always go in with a clear understanding of your end goal. Some conversations are just to make a relationship connection with your client. During other discussions, you may want to lay the groundwork for a business opportunity or a new project. Go into any discussion knowing the difference. This will help you determine how much time you should spend on small talk, the types of topics you discuss before jumping into business, and ultimately, the method you use to pivot to your business idea or opportunity.
- Learn how to pivot. There’s a natural transition point in most conversations from one topic to the next. We’ve all been in conversations with someone who doesn’t do this well, they bounce from one topic to the next and it’s hard to keep up. When your conversation with colleagues or clients needs to include discussion of business matters, learn the cues that will guide you through transitioning from small talk to business. Here’s an example of a fluid pivot in conversation – steer the conversation to any recent news or industry updates you’ve read about the business topic. This allows you to have some time discussing topics not related to your business, demonstrate that you’ve done your research, hear their opinion on the matter, and then seamlessly segue into your business discussion.
- Resist the urge to interrupt. Like I mentioned earlier, I am rarely at a loss for words with my friends and once you get me going I can really talk! When dealing with C-suite clients, colleagues, and other business leaders, there’s a totally different approach. I’m in listen mode for a good portion of the time and when I do speak I’m looking to ask questions that engage and encourage more sharing. Why? Let’s face it, people love talking about themselves and their interests. If you become interested in what they are interested in, that can go a long way. Being quiet may seems like an odd tip for conversation skills, but trust me, active listening really works
- Read the room. Get a sense for the other people in the conversation. If they seem energetic, raise your own energy to match theirs. If they are fairly quiet, then try to speak more calmly. You always want to be yourself, but this is an easy way to be more approachable and engaging. Once you’ve read the room, humor can be your friend in any conversation if others seem open to that type of thing. Keep it light and appropriate. Funny stories can be great conversation starters and can be an easy way to take the conversation deeper by finding a common interest or shared viewpoint on a topic. If there are any don’ts that I would highlight here they would be to stay away from religion and politics – you always want to keep your conversational material positive.
- Stay sober. This doesn’t mean don’t drink. But, if you are in a dinner or drinks setting, don’t overdo it with the drinks. Drinks and cocktails are usually free flowing at networking and business events, which can be fun and help build relationships. I’ve found that when drinks are in hand, social circles tend to open up and it can be easier to insert yourself into a conversation with a group of higher ups or clients than it would have been in a corporate meeting room. My recommendation here is to use common sense. You don’t want to be that person. Keep it classy and stay focused on what you’re really there to do.
You talk to people every day, meaning being a boss at conversing is a vital skill. Conversations introduce and connect you to people, sometimes important people who could be your clients, mentors, employers, employees or friends. But you don’t have to be an extrovert, naturally witty or Tiffany Haddish to be engaging, personable, and most importantly, successful in business discussions. Why? Because most of us need some practice to master the art form of conversation. So, if you’re an introvert or sometimes struggle thinking on your feet, keeping some of these tips in your back pocket will be helpful.
What are some other tips you have for managing high stakes business conversations?