In business meetings and networking events, sales meetings and company interactions, as in any conversation, there is a current or flow. If you can’t recognize the current in the conversation, it is difficult to follow its flow. Because not every conversation is planned or prepared, sometimes the current of the conversation will take you places that you never thought you would go.
Sometimes it is not a conversation of cataclysmic proportions but just a talk amongst associates, but sometimes it takes a turn to other subjects and if it is not your place to lead the speaker back to the original topic, you need to be flexible and go with the natural flow of the conversation.
Here are a number of suggestions that will help you recognize and manage the flow and current in any conversation:
Be an observer. In each interaction with others, there are messages that are being sent all the time. Usually, we don’t recognize them so they pass us by even though they are occurring right in front of us. Pay attention to individuals’ nonverbal behavior, their word choice, the tone of their voice, and any emotional reactions. Being able to recognize nonverbal signals allows you the luxury of managing the conversation more effectively.
Notice your projection. When people begin to act in ways that don’t seem to be congruent with the flow or content of the conversation, try to be more aware of what you are projecting to them. Sometimes another’s behavior is more a reflection or reaction to what we are projecting to them. So if you notice what you are doing, it allows you to assess whether their behavior is a function of your delivery or something that is coming from them. If your behavior is respectful towards them, then you know that their behavior stems from something that they are thinking and feeling.
Seek meaning. When others act in ways that you don’t understand, you want to search for the meaning behind their behavior. For example, you might say something like, “I can see that you are upset about something. What’s going on?” By stating your perception and then asking for clarification, they will help you understand their behavior and avoid any inaccurate assumptions.
Create safety. If the person you are talking with seems reluctant to speak, try asking a few more questions. Asking clarifying questions indicates to the person that you care enough to really understand their position. This can help them feel that there is a safe environment for continuing the conversation.
Follow the answer. If the person you are talking to will answer your questions, listen carefully to what they say and then decide where you want to go with the conversation. For example, if I ask, “What’s up?” and my co-worker says, “I have an issue with your project.” I respond with, “What kind of issue do you have?” and not a defensive reply. Notice that I took his answer to one question and used it to create another question. By doing this you can clarify what you think you understand, and you can explore a deeper meaning as you continue to pursue the conversation.
Control the direction. You can control the direction of a conversation by the questions you ask and the answers you give. Before I offer ideas that may run counter to what a person is saying, I will ask enough questions to ensure that I have understood. Asking questions and then giving your full attention to the answers creates respect and fosters understanding. Once you feel like you have fully understood, it is easy to say, “I have a different viewpoint, would you listen to me and then tell me what you think?” I have never had anyone tell me that they were unwilling to listen to me if I first listened to them.
Keep your composure. Sometimes conversations can become heated. When this happens, don’t take a person’s emotional reaction personally. Continue asking clarifying questions and try to understand them. Seeking to understand the other person and listening to their answers to your questions will reduce the emotional intensity in the conversation and will restore any rationality that may have departed.
Be sincere. Insincerity in trying to understand the other person will disrupt the flow of the interaction. If you cannot give your full attention to them, you would be better to set a time when you can be fully present in the conversation. When sincerity is absent, your actions can easily be misinterpreted as manipulation rather than contribution and collaboration.
Recognizing the flow or current of a conversation is the first step to creating an interaction that will be mutually beneficial. Initially, you have to be aware of the flow and then be courageous enough to jump in and discover where the current will take you. Once you find yourself in the current, you can do a number of things that will not only keep you in the flow but will also help you to arrive at your destination. It takes practice, but your involvement and flexibility in conversations will be well worth the effort.
* Maria L. Novak Dugan is president of Marketing Solutions & Business Development, a firm in West Chester, PA, offering creative marketing services and goal implementation for small businesses. For more information, contact Maria at 610-405-0633 or Maria@Maria-L-Novak.com or visit www.Maria-L-Novak.com
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