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The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation: Part 2

The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation: Part 2

This is a continuation of the 2 part series “The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation.

7. Great playfulness

What do all great conversationalists have in common? They know how to play with the conversation. They can make their conversation fun. They do not take everything literally or seriously.

If you are with a friend, and you get up to use the restroom, and they ask you, “where are you going?” You don’t always have to respond, “To the restroom.”

Instead, you could say something less predictable and more playful, like, “it’s a secret…” or a sarcastic “I’m leaving, I’m sick of your attitude” or “who wants to know?” or “I’m going to go buy that girl a drink…not really, I’m not that cool.”

Introducing play to a conversation opens the door for them to play along. For example, you might tell your spouse, “I’m going for a run…I’ll be back soon…” and if you add a fanciful hypothetical like, “unless I collapse from heat exhaustion…” or “unless I get attacked by stray dogs,” it becomes playful.

This opens the door for them to play along with something like, “Okay…just in case, how much is your life insurance policy worth again?” or “If I don’t see you back in 20 minutes then I’ll call the search and rescue team to come find you.”

Great conversationalists don’t always speak in literal terms such as, “the printer isn’t working well today.”  Instead, they may apply a fun metaphor, like, “The printer is being temperamental today” or “I’m currently fighting a battle with the printer… and the printer is winning. I might need reinforcements…”

8. Great interest in them

This is one of the easiest paths to great conversation (but many people don’t seem to take it very seriously). It goes beyond just listening to their long story about the time they outran a grizzly bear in Virginia. It’s about asking follow up questions. It’s about making comments about the events that they are describing. It’s about giving them attention and allowing the conversation to center on them and their interests. Be excited for them when they tell you that they just received a promotion. Sympathize with them when they tell you that they just lost their wallet.  Be interested in what is happening in their life.

As the great Dale Carnegie once said,

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“The best way to be likeable is to be interested in the other person.”

9. Great questions

What’s the secret to maintaining a conversation?

Ask great questions.

Great questions are not always literal and information-seeking. If you’re out to lunch with your friend and ask, “How’s your job going?” – that’s a basic information-seeking question, and you’ll probably receive a basic answer such as, “It’s good.” Upgrade your conversation by thinking outside the box and taking a fun approach, like, “Have they made you CEO yet?” or “Is your boss still keeping you in that hamster cage?” These questions may appear playful on the surface, but they can still contain real inquiries about real topics.

The literal questions can steer a conversation to different topics, but the fun questions can keep the conversation playful and entertaining. Fun questions are often rhetorical in nature and don’t always seek a genuine response. They are meant to introduce playfulness to the conversation so it doesn’t become stuck in serious-land.

Maybe you see a coworker coming out of the building with a computer monitor. Instead of a literal, “What are you doing with that?” you could ask a playful hypothetical question, “Stealing office equipment again, huh?” Now that you’ve introduced a playful element, they may play along, with something to extent of, “You caught me!…hey are you looking for a monitor? 10 bucks and it’s yours!”

10. Great responses

Great conversation is like a great tennis match. If someone asks a poor conversationalist how their weekend was, they often reply with, “It was good.”

Merely answering a question is not enough for great conversation. After answering, it’s your turn to hit the tennis ball back so the conversation can keep going. Offer your tennis partner something to play with (something to respond to). After saying, “it was good,” provide a reason why it was good, offer an example or share a story. Talk about how you feel about it. Then even ask a question back.

It’s also important to match their energy. Did they just have a baby? Share in their joy! Act excited, ask them follow up questions.

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Great responses are sometimes playful. Maybe they complain to you, “My fingers are so cold…” And you could respond with something boring like, “that’s too bad.” Or you could offer something playful,

“You’re always cold. Maybe it’s a medical condition. I think your blood vessels actually stop at your wrists and don’t go up into your fingers.”

and then they may play back,

“Maybe you’re right. That’s why my fingers are always blue. I should probably get checked out.”

11. Great stories

It’s not easy to entertain groups of people with interesting stories. The good news is that stories don’t have to be Pulitzer-Prize worthy for your listeners to enjoy them. In fact, some of the best stories are simple stories about every day events that may describe a unique twist or occurrence.

Stories do not need to be elaborate and long. Did your pet dog accidently nibble on your new shoes? Did your toddler throw up at the grocery store? These events can make great stories, and most stories can be squeezed into 30 seconds.

Great stories have some common characteristics. Make it a goal to include some or all of these story parts in your next story:

Setup: For example, “That reminds me, I was just at that store two days ago and I saw the strangest thing.”

Contrast against what normally occurs:  “I was watching this movie and I figured it was just going to be some boring “chick-flick”, but…”

or

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“…and normally they would just get up and leave, but this time they…”

Details:  Details add color and imagery to any story. Instead of, “and some girl bumped into me…”

try

“and some heroin-addict looking girl bumped into me…”

Dialogue: Always add dialogue when you can. It’s easy and entertaining. “I was like, ‘When is this party going to end? This guy is so creepy!”

Reaction:  “He bought me lunch… and I was stunned, I couldn’t believe it!”

Turning Point: Great stories have turning points, like, “It was that moment where I felt…”

Post Commentary: Don’t forget to comment about your story, “If it wasn’t for Joe, I don’t know where we’d be right now! Probably stuck in a ditch somewhere.”

Limiting your story to 20 – 30 seconds may not seem like much time, but if they want to hear more, they will let you know!

12. Great initiative

Great conversation can only occur when at least two people are taking initiative. One sided conversations are never “great.” Simply responding to someone talking with, “oh yeah,” or “that’s neat,” or “I like it too,” is not a great conversation.

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State your opinions more often. “Wow, she needs to put down the mascara,” or “This is my favorite Italian restaurant of all time,” or “You look kind of like a homeless man today.”

It also helps to add some superlative or definitive statements as well. They are simply more interesting than wishy-washy, passive statements. For example:

“That’s the best coffee I’ve ever had…I can’t believe it’s so cheap.”

“Easily one of the top five movies I’ve seen this year.”

“I always read XYZ, it’s the only magazine that I fully trust.”

And when you can, go beyond just stating your opinion. Add support. Add some commentary. For example:

Opinion: “I’m excited to try this place.”

Support: “I’ve heard great things. I actually haven’t had Italian in a long time. I’ve been on a Chinese kick lately.”

Commentary: “I actually think my kitchen is starting to permanently smell like Chinese food!”

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that developing conversation skills is a lifelong journey. If you always aim to be perfect, you will lose out on the most important rule of them all; have fun.

(Photo credit: Conversation courtesy of Shutterstock)

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Last Updated on April 11, 2019

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in every phase of your life. This is especially true in the workplace.

I have personally worked with several leaders who were masters of communication. A few were wonderful speakers who could tell a great story and get everyone in the room engaged. Those of us in attendance would walk away feeling inspired and eager to help with what came next. Others were very skilled at sharing a clear direction and job expectations.

I knew exactly what was expected of me and how to achieve my goals. This was the foundation of an energized and vibrant role I was in. What I have found is strong communication skills are incredibly helpful and sometimes critical in how well we perform at work.

Here we will take a look at how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

How Communication Skills Help Your Success

Strong communication skills pave the way for success in many ways. Let’s look at a few of the big ones.

Create a Positive Experience

Here are two examples of how well developed communication skills helps create a positive experience:

When I first moved to the city I now live in, I began a job search. Prior to my first live interview, I was told an address to go to. Upon arriving at the address provided, I drove around and around attempting to find the location. After 15 minutes of circling and looking for the address, I finally grabbed a parking spot and set out on foot.

What I discovered was the address was actually down an alley and only had the number over the door. No sign for the actual company. The person that gave me those very unclear directions provided a bad experience for me.

Had they communicated the directions to get there in a clear manner, my experience would have been much better. Instead the entire experience started off poorly and colored the entire meeting.

As a recruiter, I frequently provide potential candidates with information about a job I’m speaking to them about. In order to do this, I also provide a picture of the overall company, the group they might be joining, and how their role fits in and impacts the entire company.

Time and time again I have been told by candidates that I have provided the clearest picture of a company and role they have ever heard. They have a positive experience when I clearly communicate to them. Even when the position does not work out for them, often times they will want to stay in touch with me due to the open communication and beneficial experience they had during the interviewing process.

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Strong communication skills will provide a positive experience in virtually any interaction you have with someone.

Help Leadership Skills

It’s certainly a skill all its own to be able to lead others.

Being a mentor and guiding others towards success is a major hallmark of great leaders. Another characteristic of effective leaders is the ability to communicate clearly.

As I referenced above, having a leader who can plainly articulate the company’s mission and direction goes a really long way towards being the Captain of the boat that others want to follow. It’s like saying “here’s our destination and this is how we are going to get there” in a way that everyone can get on board with.

Another critical component of everyone helping to sail the boat in the right direction is knowing what your portion is all about. How are you helping the boat move towards its destination in the manner than is consistent with the leaders’ vision?

If you have a boss or a manager that can show you what it takes for not only you to be successful, but also how your performance helps the company’s success then you’ve got a winner. A boss with superior communication skills.

Build Better Teams

Most of us work in teams of some sort or another. During the course of my career, I have led teams up to 80 and also been an individual contributor.

In my individual contributor roles, I have been part of a larger team. Even if you are in business for yourself, you have to interact with others in one manner or another.

If you have strong communication skills, it helps to build better teams. This is true whether you are in an IT department with 100 other fellow programmers or if you own your own business and have customers or vendors you communicate with.

When you showcase your robust ability to communicate well with others while interacting with them, you are building a better team.

Now let’s jump in to how to improve communication skills to help you pave the way for your workplace success.

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How to Improve Communication Skills for Workplace Success

There are many tips, tricks, and techniques to improve communication skills. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information, so let’s focus on the things that will provide the biggest return on your time investment.

Most of these tips will be fairly easy to become aware of but will take time and effort to implement. So let’s go!

1. Listen

Ever heard the saying you have two ears and one mouth for a reason? If you haven’t, then here’s the reason:

Being a good listener is half the equation to being a good communicator.

People who have the ability to really listen to someone can then actually answer questions in a meaningful way. If you don’t make the effort to actively listen, then you are really doing yourself and the other person a disservice in the communication department.

Know that person who is chomping at the bit to open his or her mouth the second you stop talking? Don’t be that person. They haven’t listened to at least 1/2 of what you’ve said. Therefore the words that spill out of their mouth are going to be about 1/2 relevant to what you just said.

Listen to someone completely and be comfortable with short periods of silence. Work on your listening skills first and foremost.

2. Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is another critical component to having strong communication skills. The way you interact with your manager should be different than how you interact with your kids. This isn’t to say you need to be a different person with everyone you interact with. Far from it.

Here is a good way to think about it:

Imagine using your the same choice of words and body language you use with your spouse while interacting with your boss. That puts things in a graphic light!

You want to ensure you are using the type of communication most relevant to your audience.

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3. Minimize

I have lunch with a business associate about 3 times a year. We’ve been talking for several years now about putting a business deal together.

He is one of those people that simply overwhelms others with a lot of words. Sometimes when I ask him a question, I get buried beneath such an avalanche of words that I’m more confused than when I asked the question. Needless to say this is most likely a large portion of why we never put the deal together.

Don’t be like my lunch business associate. The goal of talking to or communicating with someone is to share actual information. The goal is not to confuse someone, it’s to provide clarity in many cases.

State what needs to be stated as succinctly as possible. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some pleasant conversation about the weather too.

The point is to not create such an onslaught of words and information that the other person walks away more confused than when they started.

4. Over Communicate

So this probably sounds completely counter intuitive to what I just wrote about minimizing your communication. It seems like it might be but it’s not.

What I mean by over communicating is ensuring that the other person understands the important parts of what you are sharing with them. This can be done simply yet effectively. Here’s a good example:

Most companies have open enrollment for benefits for the employees in the fall. The company I work for has open enrollment from November 1 to 15. The benefits department will send out a communication to all employees around October 1st, letting them know open enrollment is right around the corner and any major changes that year. There’s also a phone number and email for people to contact them with any questions.

Two weeks later, we all get a follow up email with basically the same information. We get a 3rd communication the week before open enrollment and another one 1 day before it starts.

Finally we get 2 emails during enrollment reminding us when open enrollment ends.

There’s minimal information, it’s more of a reminder. This is effective over communication.

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5. Body Language

The final critical component to how to improve communication skills for workplace success is body language. This is something most of us have heard about before but, a reminder is probably a good idea.

When I am in a meeting with someone I am comfortable with, I tend to kind of slouch down in my chair and cross my arms. When I catch myself doing this, I sit up straight and uncross my arms. I remember that crossing arms can many times be interpreted as a sign of disagreement or conflict.

In general, the best rule of thumb is to work towards having open body language whenever possible at work. This means relaxing your posture, not crossing your arms, and looking people in the eye when speaking with them.

When you are speaking in front of others, stand up straight and speak in a clear voice. This will convey confidence in your words.

Conclusion

Possessing strong communication skills will help you in many facets of your life and most certainly in the workplace.

Good communication helps create better teams, positive experiences with those we interact with, and are critical for leadership.

There are numerous tactics and techniques to be used to improve communication skills. Here we’ve reviewed how to improve communication skills for workplace success.

Now go communicate your way to success.

More Resources About Effective Communication

Featured photo credit: HIVAN ARVIZU via unsplash.com

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