Conversations are how we get through daily life. We have conversations with the barista at the local coffee shop, with co-workers, with taxi drivers, and with our families. We sometimes start to think of conversations as something to “get through,” but talking to others is how we get what we want, whether it’s insight into a market’s growth or feedback on a new pair of jeans.
A conversation is a meeting of two unique minds, and a strong leader understands that every person has something of value to share. If we’re doing things right, we’re constantly surrounded by people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and approaches than we do. That means there’s a lot to learn if we take the time to listen.
The catch? Only you have the ability to make your daily interactions more meaningful. Here are seven ways to add more meaning to your conversations starting today:
1. Don’t get too wrapped up in your next thought.
We all know that one person who practically jumps up and down while you’re speaking, teeth chattering with anticipation of “his moment.” It’s easy to see when someone is only excited about hearing his own voice -; and it makes you doubt whether he’s listening to anyone else’s thoughts.
Be intentional about pausing and listening before you speak. If you have something valuable to say, five minutes of listening won’t change that. What the other person says may change your perspective or shift you to offer a different solution than you originally would have, meaning listening can make your chatter more valuable, too.
2. Ask good questions that show you’re engaged.
You can talk all day about how awesome you are, but a person who takes the time to ask questions of others is quickly respected. One of the best ways to add value to a conversation is to express a genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Nobody likes feeling like she’s talking to a brick wall, and asking questions can reflect back what you’ve heard and signal interest.
I make it a point to ask at least one question before moving on to a new topic. Questions don’t have to be complicated. If someone told you about his new puppy, something as simple as “How have the kids reacted?” can allow him to spend an extra minute explaining what the change has meant to him -; and build more rapport with you. When I ask questions, I find that I’m naturally more in tune with the other person and more likely to remember the details of our conversation.
3. Don’t waste people’s time.
People feel safe and appreciated when they know you’ll respect their time. Even the most important conversations can make a bigger impact when they’re to the point. One good way to check your tendency to inadvertently extend conversations is to monitor your sentences for long pauses or filler words like “uh.”
Communicate clearly, and guide the conversation around the details you need to help each other or move forward. The moment you’ll never want to cut out is the one you use to encourage or add value.
4. Ask how you can add value.
This is a step a lot of people miss, but it’s so important in establishing relationships. Always ask people how you can add value to their lives. Even if you think you know what the other person should do, remind yourself that she knows what she values better than anyone.
If the other person mentions an ability or connection you have but isn’t sure how she could utilize it, feel free to offer suggestions about how you could see it playing out. Taking one extra step shows you genuinely want to help and don’t see the other person as a burden. As you start focusing on how you can add value to others, you’ll begin to build deep, lasting relationships.
5. Do what you can to help.
There are two sides to this coin. You’ll immediately stand out in a crowd if you offer to help someone, but make sure you’re truly able to deliver on your promise. You’ll build essential relationship trust when you offer a contact, a tool, or even a sounding board, then promptly follow through.
For example, I have had a lot of people ask me about how to understand their calendars better. This triggered me to go to our writers and have them draft a guide for Google Calendar and Yahoo Calendar. Then I went back and sent personal emails with the links to them and notes on what would be most helpful to them. Every single person got back to me with a huge “thank you” and will remember that I made the effort to help them.
6. Decrease personal barriers.
Business relationships often give you an expectation of perfection: a starched collar, a neutral tie, polite small talk. I’ve learned to push aside these stiff, impersonal barriers and engage people in real, comfortable conversations. Those stuffy interactions aren’t how I’ll really get to know people, and they won’t get to know me, either.
Crack a joke, or personalize the conversation if the opportunity arises. Small touchpoints can build trust, lower those barriers, and make your interactions more genuine. If all else fails, I’ll tell a self-deprecating story or talk about a “learning moment” I didn’t expect. Things suddenly get much more comfortable.
7. Remember key points.
Be the kind of person who cares about the small details. As you ask questions and engage people, keep the key points in mind so you can follow up next time you touch base. Does this person enjoy running? Ask him about his next race. Does she have children? Ask about them by name. Anyone can throw out “How was your Christmas?” but it takes a really intentional person to ask about the small details.
Meaningful conversations lead to meaningful relationships. But it takes time to create new habits. Pick one item from the list, and focus on implementing it in your daily conversations. You’ll never regret the time you take to create habits that bring value and meaning to your interactions with others.
How are you going to add meaning to your conversations this week?