The irony of it all is that it's a skill not enough leaders have. I know this because it still tops the list for clients requesting communication coaching or training.
Last week, I called a lot of people to the carpet when I mentioned that one of the secrets of having exceptional communication skills is often absent in critical exchanges--that of being "emotionally present."
I'm not sure I'm going to lessen the tension for this piece, but I am going to break it down to the do's and don't's of having effective business lunch conversations.
Next time you take that important new or prospective client to your local eatery, remember these principles of proper and tactful conversations.
The Do's and Don'ts of Great Business Conversations
1. Avoid polarizing topics such as politics or religion, or anything in the news that has created controversy. Figure out something to connect with your client. If you can't, stick to neutral and generally pleasant topics.
2. Watch your client's body language for cues that you're boring him. You know, shifty eyes, yawning, frequent glances at his cell phone, distracted by his surroundings. Not sure if you're a boring person? Or when your uncanny ability to be boring kicks in? Ask three trusted friends who can be brutally honest with you.
3. Pay attention to whether you're monopolizing the conversation. Park the charm after you made a first good impression, otherwise you'll just come across as fake. Start asking questions about the other person, then listen intently with expressed interest and body language that matches your interest.
4. Don't feel the need to correct or criticize the other person if you hear something that you either disagree with, or know for a fact is wrong. This is neither the time or place to get defensive or go on the attack, and it will work against you. Show your personality, be cordial, stay polite and professional.
5. Be versatile and have a plethora of topics to draw from to keep the conversation flowing and interesting. Sure, you want to talk business, but getting to know the other person is just as critical for success. Talk favorite movies, hobbies, sports, family, travel, etc. And ask questions about each.
6. As a general rule-of-thumb, always ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no".
7. Do not interrupt. Wait for the other person's train of thought and sentences to end.
8. Always, always, always....show interest in the other person. This will guarantee that you won't fail.
9. Be a facilitator. If there's more than one person seated at the table, show off your point guard skills. Set up the offense, and pass the ball around. Sure, you can take a shot when it's your turn, but your role is to make others look good by setting them up to share and shine.
10. And finally, be mindful of using negative metaphors and clichés. Some leaders sprinkle violent metaphorical language in their business-speak to make it appear like they're in the trenches of warfare behind enemy lines. But not everyone can relate to abrasive language like "Our aim is to utterly destroy the competition and win, win, win." These divisive metaphors reinforce ego and self-interest over collaboration and unity. Choose sincere and positive language that will earn the respect of your new or potential client.