In business and networking, the end of a conversation can mean the end of an opportunity. If you don’t want to miss out, continue important conversations until they accomplish your purpose. But how can you rescue a dying conversation? Here are six surefire methods:
Speaking less can allow the other person to express themselves freely, but no one wants to speak into the air. Not only do you want to listen, but also you want the speaker to know that you’re listening. Why? If you show you care, it encourages the other person to speak because they feel valued, respected, and understood.
How do you accomplish that? The process is more involved than you may realize. In fact, according to MindTools, active listening means making “a conscious effort to hear not only the words that the other person is saying, but more importantly, the complete message being communicated.” They suggest silently summarizing what the person is saying. In this way, you stay focused and keep the main points of the conversation in mind until it’s your turn to respond.
Be careful not to mentally rehearse your reply while the speaker is still talking or you may inadvertently miss crucial information. Besides, you can respond most appropriately and ask relevant questions when you understand the other person’s point of view.
2 Show interest.
Using body language is one of the most effective ways to show interest in someone. Body language is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. For instance, smiling, nodding, and maintaining a comfortable amount of eye contact signal interest in the speaker and show that you are listening. Can you think of anything that would send the opposite message? Perhaps you have spoken with people who constantly checked their watches or phone. You may have felt that they were bored, rushed, or simply didn’t have much interest in the conversation.
If you need to have your cell phone on during a business event, put it on vibrate. If you get an important call, excuse yourself to check it, and then return to continue the conversation when you can give it your full attention.
3 “Tell me more about . . .”
Now, let’s move on from non-verbal communication to a phrase that works in almost every context: “Tell me more about . . .” Besides showing the speaker you want to hear more, this phrase can help you guide the conversation to the topics that are the most relevant to you.
For instance, you can smile and nod politely while your new friend talks about his vacation, but when he talks about his first day back to work after the holiday, that’s your chance to say, “Interesting! What’s it like to work at Company X?”
4 Find common ground.
Once the conversation is rolling, listen carefully to find what you have in common with others. Similar beliefs, experiences, or interests create bonds that can be the foundation of a new relationship. If the speaker doesn’t bring up any similarities on his own, take the initiative to ask a few questions.
Of course, some questions will encourage more sharing than others, so let’s talk about the best questions to get to know someone.
5 Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Instead, the speaker has to elaborate. For example, if you ask a colleague if she is having difficulty with a project, she may reply, “Yes, it’s a tough one.” You would have gained little information and the conversation could end at this point. Yet, think about the possible responses you might receive if you asked, “What difficulties are you having on the project?” If you ask questions that relate to your objectives for the conversation, the answers you receive can be invaluable. Here are some sample open-ended questions from Entrepreneur.com:
What do you like best about what you do? You mentioned that you were in [industry]. What got you started in that direction? What are some of your biggest challenges? How can I help you?
6 Demonstrate your worth.
If you are new to an industry, the last question above is an important one. When networking or collaborating with colleagues, the conversations you have may significantly affect your chances for success.
An article in Thinking Bigger magazine describes worth as the most important factor in networking because most networkers have an agenda that revolves around themselves. “Their own sense of urgency—the need to find a job or make a sale or find sponsors for the gala—drives their interests.”
The person you are talking to will also have personal objectives, and he is most likely to invest time in talking to those who can offer him some discernible advantage. The article continues: “In addition to your time, be generous with your information, resources, and contacts. Share an interesting article, website or book. Provide a warm introduction among connections. Extend an invitation to a dinner party. Offer some insight . . . The more you give, the more compelled your contacts will feel to reciprocate in some way. It’s human nature.”
You don’t have to let another opportunity pass you by. Rather than let an important conversation fizzle out, apply these six time-tested methods. May your next interchange lead to success!