Remarkable entrepreneurs and leaders know that emotional intelligence and being a likable person contribute immensely to their success. It's no surprise when you consider that hiring key employees, managing teams, and landing big deals all boils down to building trust and making meaningful connections with others. The centerpiece of this process is communication. You simply can't afford to be a bad conversationalist.
This has been true in my own life. I had a hard time connecting with others in my mid-20s. My introverted disposition didn't help either. After learning the secrets of effective conversation, I was able to quickly connect with people and build the meaningful relationships needed for success.
Here are 10 powerful skills that will help you become a master of conversation.
1. Bite your tongue.
No one likes being interrupted. It is disrespectful and makes people feel unimportant and defensive. When I stopped interrupting others, I found they were less inclined to interrupt me. Try biting your tongue (gently) and then waiting three seconds to make sure the other person is finished speaking.
2. Let others do most of the talking.
Though you may actually be saying very little, when you ask good questions and practice active listening, you still establish strong connections. I try to remember this quote from Benjamin Disraeli: "Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours."
This is an especially good skill for introverts, who often feel pressured to speak, but can be even more effective when they default to their natural inclination to listen.
3. Ask good questions.
Highly successful people ask thoughtful, intentional questions--an act that shows genuine interest in the other person.
Ask people about their life goals and passions or simply why they are at an event. Deepen your conversation by using open-ended "why" and "how" questions that can't be answered with a basic "yes" or "no."
4. Be easygoing.
It's natural to want to express your opinions and oppositions. Sometimes, though, it's OK to just nod your head and smile. You can allow for disagreement and even for mistakes. You will win others' trust by being amenable.
5. Go beyond a person's occupation.
No one wants to be known solely for what he or she does. Meet the person behind the occupation by asking others about their life goals, passions, and hobbies instead of their businesses and careers. You'll form a deeper connection when you meet them as a person, not an occupation.
6. Don't speak badly of others.
If you speak badly of others, everyone else might assume you will also speak badly of them. Instead, be complimentary and positive; be the type of person people want to be around. This applies to speaking about your competitors as well.
7. Offer sincere praise.
People can spot flattery when they hear it, and it makes them suspicious. Yet when praise is sincere, it uplifts the other person and makes him or her feel good. Look for accomplishments, traits or characteristics that you value in your conversation partner and share it with that person.
8. Be polite.
Don't forget about the manners you learned as a child. Saying "please" and "thank you" go a long way in making someone feel appreciated and showing respect. Good manners also make you more likable and trustworthy.
9. Avoid discussing sensitive subjects.
What's true for family gatherings is true for networking--avoid politics, religion, off-color jokes, and sensitive issues. When your goal is to build connections and establish rapport, it's best to avoid conflict altogether.
10. Know how to end a conversation.
No one likes a conversation that ends in awkward silence. When a conversation is winding down (or you need to move on), tell others that you sincerely enjoyed meeting them and you're off to say hello to someone else or use the restroom. Be sure to leave with a smile.
The common element of these essential skills is respect. There isn't a more universal, effective mantra for building real relationships and powerful networks than treating others as you'd like to be treated. Great conversation is built on respect, not tactics. Practice these skills and you'll communicate in a way that garners trust and attracts success.