Five Sure Ways To Ruin a Conversation

Networked Marketplace

“The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation,

not overturning it.”

[Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton]

    Martin Luther King, Jr. did not start his speech with a PowerPoint filled with bullet points and statistics. He started with, “I have a dream,then painted a picture with his story, a story of what could be, not what should not.

    By doing that he connected with all the people who were listening to his address as they went about engaging in their internal conversation about a similar dream. Using a word instead of another can make a tremendous difference — it literally changes the conversation. 

    Conversation is an emotional tool we have to negotiate meaning, to create strategic direction and impact, and much more. Yet we are unlearning how to stay in conversation long enough to benefit from it.

    But there are sure ways to ruin even a casual conversation. When we're not as thoughtful about the impact of our behavior on others, we miss opportunities to connect. We do that by:

1. Limiting a conversation's potential by just telling — the old writer's axiom of “show, don't tell” applies here as well

2. Thinking about what we're going to say next while the other person is talking — this applies to most circumstances, whether we're talking to a spouse or a dissatisfied customer

3. Falling back on the old customer service trick — telling someone “I hear what you're saying,” rather than addressing the substance of what they are saying

4. Lying — we live in an increasingly transparent age; eventually someone will find out more about an issue topic, or statement. Nothing kills a current or subsequent conversation faster than deceit

5. Deferring ending a conversation — not ending a conversation when it's over is poor etiquette. Good sales professionals, for example, know not to talk past the sale. The same goes for conversation. When we stay on point, save something else for next time, maybe there will actually be a next time

    We cannot expect to bridge our distance in conversation when we don't even try. Lack of conversation means decreased empathy, which is the root of the characteristically human qualities we increasingly need to succeed in the future.

    Conversation matters, it's a reliable tool for thinking, alone and together. The back and forth, listening, building on what someone else said, and getting feedback are all built into conversation to help us accelerate learning.

    Most of us do look forward to the experience of having the conversation. And no, it's not just a promotional opportunity. When we match our words to intent, we make them count. Which is how we can count on good conversations, including and especially those with our customers.

    But the conversations that many organizations have, if at all, leave little room for customers and relationships. In many instances, the experience customers have with brands is all over the place, reflecting more the organization chart than the purpose and desire to connect.


P.S. If this is you, I can help. They'll love you.