As businesses open back up and employees return to the workplace, we can also expect small talk to return. When catching employees or our colleagues in the office, we often turn to default topics, such as the weather or a favorite sports team. And while there isn’t anything wrong with the typical office banter, surface-level chats don’t yield much beyond acknowledging those around you.

We should reframe our approach. Conversations are opportunities to foster deeper professional relationships that instill trust and confidence in your leadership and help you connect on a personal level with others. You will learn new things that could lead to deeper employee insights or new ideas to improve various aspects of your business, from the small details of daily operations to the big picture of business strategy. 

It’s often harder to listen to others than it is to lead a conversation, but good listeners make great leaders. Here are three tips to take conversations with your employees and your customers beyond surface level. 

Be Present

When having a conversation, make an intentional effort to fully engage with the other person. This may seem like a simple rule of etiquette, but it’s easy to forget. With technology constantly buzzing and your next task on your mind, you may not be as present as you think you are.

Pay close attention to the other person. Silence your phone, smartwatch or computer and avoid checking them. If you seem distracted or impatient, the other person will notice - and you might miss something important. Good conversation requires being fully aware in the moment. 

At The UPS Store, our network of independent retail owners and operators know that providing world-class customer service to their local communities requires being present with customers. Listening closely to the customer leads to personalized and professional solutions that help us anticipate their needs and free up more of their time to focus on growing their business.

Find Common Ground

Establishing trust with your employees or customers can be much easier to accomplish when you find common ground. Listen closely for areas of commonalities and mutual understanding. Ask open-ended questions that can lead to discovering shared interests, ideas and perspectives. 

For example, you can ask, “What shows are you currently watching or listening to?” While this in itself may seem like small talk, it’s an easy, low-pressure way to find a shared interest from which you can segue into deeper insights about how your team functions or how your customers use your products and services. This can ultimately contribute to fresh approaches to expanding your business.

Don’t Plan

You don’t have to have a specific reason to talk with a colleague or customer. It’s perfectly fine to have an agenda-free conversation and to be open to where it leads. Taking this approach can help you be better engaged and open-minded with what the other person says.

When you’re listening to someone else, don’t spend time formulating what you’ll say or ask next. Rather, ask follow-up questions based on what you hear. Active listening allows you to better spot opportunities for deeper conversation, learning and collaboration, and truly listening to others can broaden your own perspective.

Having better, more quality conversations with people takes time, but with practice, you can establish deeper and lasting connections and even learn something new.