Something that is not taught in schools, but is believed to be taught in society is how to have a conversation. This is a false belief. Think about it, how do you start a conversation? Is it usually with a “Hi, how are you?”, or “So, where are you from”? How does this work for you? Typically you will engage in a short bout of simple exchange and you end up in an awkward silence. Especially if you are not intentionally starting a conversation for business purposes. If you are intentionally meeting people for business purposes, this initial courtesy may be extended long enough to get to the point of your meeting, but then it not really as genuine as it could be.
There is the “old fashioned” expression that implies that people love talking about themselves. This is true. Look at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram…society promotes narcissism to a large extent. Here are some quick pointers that will make any random, chance, or intended meeting become genuine and fruitful if not on a business level, then on a personal level.
1. Find something about the person that you REALLY appreciate. Their education, shoes, watch, attitude, etc. This requires sincerity on your part and may require some observation or in a case of a business meeting, homework. If you cannot find anything, you are not in the right mind…please realize you cannot fake this.
2. Introduce yourself by acknowledging what you appreciate of the person. This lowers barriers, and if in a group will give you opportunity to introduce yourself to others in the circle just because of the way you introduced yourself to one of the people in the group. Usually, this will oblige the person to socially introduce you to their circle. Again, sincerity is the core of this process.
3. Open Ended Questions. Most people are taught that an open ended question is a question that cannot be answered with a “Yes” or “No”. I would encourage you to take this a bit further as it does REQUIRE YOU TO PRACTICE! Let’s define Open Ended Questions as: A Question that cannot be answered with a “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe”, or with less than 3 words.
This is vital because you want to create an engagement which requires the other party to turn off their “autopilot”…you know, someone passes you in the office and says, “How are you doing?” and you automatically respond with, “If I were doing any better, there would be 2 of me.” The question did not force you to think, you had an automatic response. Our society engages in conversation that is definitive. In other words, most of our conversations are driven to a conclusion from the onset…where as you are working to create an engagement of gathering information and building a relationship with this person or persons.
Here are some examples:
How difficult was it to find…?
What do you suggest when looking for…?
What brought you to want to do…?
If I were to try to do X, what suggestions would you have for me?
How was your experience in accomplishing…?
When you went to X, what was most surprising to you?
As you can see, this requires the other party to think, turning off their “autopilot”.
4. Listen and listen carefully. Ask them to describe in further detail or to expound on a subject. It is a key to establishing trust. I know it does not make sense, but trust is built on a feeling of security and acknowledgement. You are demonstrating total acknowledgement by doing this. Again, be genuine and sincere.
5. Test the waters. After a comfortable engagement, when you ask an open ended question, the person will give an answer. You will naturally want to ask more or talk yourself. Do not do it. If you have asked a good open ended question and they have ended their response, look at them as if expecting more and if you have established turning off the autopilot, they will carry on and give more details. Yes, you will feel uncomfortable at first, but when you see how this works you will find it a great tool for business.
In sales, I usually find that most of the what a client is telling me is not the whole story or even the true story. This does not mean they are lying or being dishonest, but that they may not have had an opportunity to discuss this and are working it out in there heads. In my discovery time where I am asking questions about what they want to accomplish, what they liked best, what they have now that they will feel sad about giving up, etc…when they answer, i will pause for at least a count of 5 or 7 seconds after they finish. Most always, they will talk more and when they talk, its not able to have had time to filter and you get more real answers this way. You will find you can do this on the same question 2 or 3 times. The surprising thing is the first part of the answer is most always the fluff and the real answer is after the 2nd or 3rd pause. Again, be sincere. These steps require you to think, listen, search, pause when you don’t want to, study, practice, and have fun!