Mastering the art of conversation - Business Works
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Mastering the art of conversation

by Judy Apps, communication specialist, coach and author Look at anyone successful in business and you'll find that they're highly skilled in the art of conversation. It's crucial for meetings, networking, negotiating and selling. It's how you keep your ear to the ground, pick up ideas and create successful relationships. Small talk sows the seeds for big talk says Judy Apps, communication specialist and author.

Conversation sounds so easy – we do it all the time. Yet, many of us find it quite difficult and struggle to get a conversation started, or else find ourselves babbling on and boring the other person. Many people think it's about having the gift of the gab and interesting stories and facts up your sleeve, but the art of conversation isn't the same as talking. I'm sure you've had experience of someone who talks and talks without listening – hardly a conversation!

So what's the secret of successful conversation? Here are a few pointers:

Start simply

Any simple comment or question gets you going - mention the weather, the place, your journey, the food ... If it's ignored, nothing lost, if you get a response, you can build on it. Don't try to be clever and original at the outset – you'll only put the other person off or confuse them. Start with generalities, move to activities and interests and then, as you find out more about them, you can steer the conversation towards what matters to both of you.

Get on their wavelength

Get a sense of the other person's energy. If they seem lively, raise your own energy to match theirs. If they are fairly quiet, then speak calmly. They'll sense you’re in tune with them and you'll begin to build a good connection. Connection is the key to success in conversation.

Don't feel you have to agree with the other person; connection is not at all the same as agreement. In fact you'll get on better if there's a lively and enjoyable debate.

Recognise the rules of the game and don't drop the ball!

Conversation's like a game of tennis – with two equal players – and you need to keep the ball in play. If the other person never gets a word in edgeways they'll get frustrated. But likewise, if you don't have anything to say, that won't be very productive for the other person either!

If someone asks you a question, answer it with more than 'yes' or 'no' and then ask something back in return. If you tell a story, end with a question so that you put the ball back in the other person's court. For example:

How's business?

It's been tough if I'm honest! But with the Indian contract we're turning the corner and the next months are beginning to look quite exciting – I have a dozen meetings with potential new clients in the diary! What about you, you're more active in the domestic market aren't you?

And so the thread passes easily to and fro with both parties equally involved. The odd silence is fine – it's a natural part of the give and take of relaxed conversation.

Use your curiosity and be on the look out for clues

Instead of measuring people up and judging them when you meet them, get curious instead. You can never tell what gem of information or unexpected opportunity might spring from a random conversation – especially when you're not focused on specific results. And it's most likely to happen when you're at ease and genuinely interested in the other person.

by Judy Apps

Curiosity allows you to pick up signals beyond the actual words the other person's using. As you become aware of their way of breathing, their tone and body language, you absorb valuable information about what is going on beneath the surface and pick up nuances you wouldn't notice otherwise. Then you are able to respond more appropriately.

Be genuine

Don't hide behind a mask of business professionalism – take a risk and be real. When you boast and bluster or act tight-lipped, people tend to spot your insecurity and it prevents anything interesting from happening. Say what you really care about, be genuine, and the chances are you'll bring out similar qualities in the other person and build their trust. That's when relationships flourish and exciting opportunities come your way. Then life gets interesting!

Judy Apps is author of The Art of Conversation: Change Your Life With Confident Communication, published by Capstone (2014)

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