Have you ever noticed how some people leave an impression on you, even when they’ve only spoken to you for a few minutes, whereas you can spend hours with others that are largely unremarkable?
It’s not a mystery, it’s not luck, there are many things you can do to become someone who communicates much more powerfully in your day-to-day interactions.
Open strongly, or surprisingly
The default introduction to a conversation is “Hi, how are you?” Then the standard range of questions about the weekend past or future roll out in the hope that someone offers a morsel a bit more interesting than the default answer. If the conversation is really doomed for failure it will probably divert to a discussion on the weather.
You are interesting. You have opinions, experiences and a background that is different to every single person you meet. Your world is unique and when it crosses paths with someone else you should be proud.
Tell a story or give a snapshot
Before humans could write, or reproduce text we would tell stories. It is a skill that is lost through lack of practice (which means it can be regained by the same means). Engaging people often start their interactions by launching straight into a “you’ll never guess what happened to me” type of story. This is a fun, interesting way to start.
Then there is the need to give that fabulous snapshot of a story or an idea: Just the right amount, the right pace, the right tone and the right timing. The skill of synthesising ideas into a wonderful story or snapshot is one that is appreciated by those around you.
Focus on the desired outcome
Unfortunately most business interactions, even networking ones, don’t have endless time to chat through well-crafted stories and anecdotes, eventually you have to get down to business. A common gripe of people who use coffee-catch ups to build working relationships is that they allocate an hour for the meeting, spend 50 minutes chatting and building rapport and then quickly cram in the ‘reason we’re here’ conversation right at the end. This often triggers a further coffee meeting with a similar result.
When you focus on the outcome (e.g. I want to talk to discuss a particular roadblock on a project and propose a way to overcome it) your conversations will have a lot more impact. Too often we write on our to-do list “speak to X about issue Y” but don’t actually push the discussion far enough towards a resolution. Next time, consider writing “resolve issue Y with person X” and you will be more inclined to shift the conversation to a productive outcome.
Pitch to the person (not me me me)
Don’t ever try to influence another person unless you can answer the following questions “What are their main motivators?” “What are their main concerns?” “What can I do for them that will really help them?” And if you don’t know the answers to these questions then you need to ask. It’s flattering and engaging when someone asks these important questions. If a manager is asking a team member “you seem frustrated. What’s really holding this project back from being completed on time?” it is so much more effective than saying “This is taking too long, you need to fix it”.
Sometimes these thought-provoking questions are enough to snap people out of mental roadblocks that have prevented their progress.
Connect through eyes, smile, open face and posture
If you can’t tell me the eye colour of someone you spoke to yesterday you probably weren’t paying enough attention to them. Our eyes are the most magnificent body language tools that we have. When we are engaged, excited or interested our pupils dilate slightly. When we are cautious they contract. We usually pick up on these cues subconsciously – but of course if there is little or no eye contact we can’t pick up on them at all.
Due to multi-tasking, phone and email conversations and general busy-ness we are becoming much poorer at these basic communication skills. It has now become rare, but wonderful, when someone approaches you with a warm cluster of body language behaviours. Smiling is a universal communication tool – it adds a lot of confidence to the room for you and the person you’re talking to.
Never monopolise. Respond to their body language and level of interest. Ask their opinion, facilitate discussion, summarise various views and ask next question. Compliment a good idea that builds on your words.
Speaking powerfully doesn’t happen by accident. We have all built up a collection of habits that are both helpful and harmful to smooth and effective interactions. By becoming mindful and tweaking those minor things that roadblock good outcomes you can become so much more effective, and happy in your working life.