By Lydia Ramsey
Much has been written and much has been said about the art of conversation. It comes easily to some, and for others, it’s a major struggle to get a dialogue underway and to keep it flowing. In the business world, you need good conversation skills to build relationships with your prospects, clients and colleagues. The more you know about the people you do business with, the better you can serve them. The more you understand your colleagues, the better you can work with them.
The holiday season with all its festivities — parties, receptions, luncheons and dinners — is prime time for building relationships with those who play a key role in your business success. The polished professional is one who can handle any conversation with ease. But it doesn’t always come naturally. You have to work at it, especially when you are confronted with people you don’t know or don’t know well.
Like so much in life, good conversation is a matter of maintaining balance. It’s a blend of speaking and listening. Paying attention to what other people are saying is critical in making them feel important and in keeping a conversational flow. Never go to an event without a list of three to five things you can talk about if the going gets tough.
Even the most well intentioned business people can kill a conversation without realizing what they have done. Here a few of the classic types who have earned the title, “Conversation Killer” — a title you want to avoid.
The Griller: This is the person who read somewhere that asking questions is the secret to sustaining a dialogue. The result is a barrage of questions fired one right after the other until the person you are speaking with is completely worn down. By commenting on and repeating or paraphrasing what you are hearing, you can avoid making people feel as if they are being interrogated by the local Gestapo.
The Interrupter: This person doesn’t take the time to hear other people out and doesn’t allow them to complete their thoughts or sentences. If the other person pauses to take a breath, the Interrupter jumps in to finish the sentence or to interject his own thoughts. By constantly cutting people off, the Interrupter never learns enough about the client or colleague to build a relationship. Pauses are natural so wait until you are sure the other person has finished what he had to say before you grab the floor.
The Advisor: This conversation killer believes he is keeping the balance. He has heard what was said and is now offering his advice. The problem here is that nobody asked what he thought. Keep your opinion to yourself unless you hear, “What would you do?” or “What do you think?” If you are hearing about someone else’s problem or issue, be a good listener until invited to share your thoughts.
The One-Upper: This individual can hardly wait for you to finish your story so he can go you one better. So you had a skiing accident and broke your ankle? Well, he fell off a mountain and was in a body cast for a year. Whatever you have to say, he’ll top it.
The Know It All: This person has “been there, done that.” Think how you feel when someone utters that phrase. It’s like a bucket of cold water on what might have been a warm conversation. If the other person has been there and done that, there is nowhere left to go and nothing left to say.
Good conversation is give and take. It is a dialogue. Everybody participates by listening to what is said and replying. Sometimes it feels like work, but after all, you are trying to establish rapport, build your business and make more money. That is work. Many holiday parties feel like work, but if you put in the effort, you will reap the benefits. You will impress others with your polished professional conduct, and when the holiday season is over, your business relationships will be stronger than ever.
Lydia Ramsey is an international business etiquette expert, speaker and author based in Savannah, Georgia. She offers keynotes and seminars on professional conduct to individuals and organizations. Get through the holiday season without egg on your face by reading “Business Etiquette for the Holidays: Building Relationships Amid The Perils of The Season” e-book available now and for your Kindle.