In the business world, we hold important conversations each day. Think of your recent conversations: Some probably led to productive next steps, and others likely yielded little progress or alignment. The result? The valuable time that went into the conversations feels wasted. Business conversations — and the time they occupy — are too important to leave to chance.
With a few simple techniques, you can increase your ability to influence others through conversation. Consider these techniques help to drive — and steer — impactful conversations in your role as a learning leader. Use them to gain and sustain buy-in for your training programs.
Establish a connection
Frame the conversation by making it about the other person. For instance, this article opens with a statement about business conversations that few people would find controversial. The paragraph then invites you to think about your own conversations, pointing to what’s at stake when time or an opportunity is wasted. Then, you learn that there are actions you can take to improve conversations — and realize more benefits from every encounter.
You can frame a conversation similarly. The idea is to tie your preferred agenda or outcomes to benefits for your conversation partner. Consider your desired outcomes and next steps in the context of what’s at stake for your conversation partner. Link those considerations to benefits the other person would find meaningful. This will take some pre-conversation planning at first. As you master this technique, it will become second nature, and you will be able to apply it to impromptu conversations.
Ask Meaningful Questions
Engage the other person by asking the right questions. There are four key categories to consider: fact, perspective, possibility and feeling questions.
- Fact questions: Many of us default to fact questions, because we want to take in facts to inform our own agenda. Fact questions are often easy for our conversation partners to answer, making them a good way to start some conversations. However, don’t rely too heavily on fact questions as they can make you seem uninformed.
- Perspective questions: Look to perspective questions to add momentum to a conversation. Perspective questions draw out the other person’s opinion, which can mean asking a question that invites someone to describe how they view a challenge. Move from fact questions to perspective questions quickly — or skip them entirely in high-stakes conversations. People often include important facts within perspective answers, yielding the details you want while energizing the conversation.
- Possibility questions: Possibility questions encourage others to ponder what-if scenarios. What could you do if the challenge was resolved? The best possibility questions encourage thinking about a topic in a new way. These can lead to the most rewarding portions of a conversation, so take the time to plan possibility questions that will resonate.
- Feeling questions: Feeling questions explore what’s most personally important to your conversation partner. How does the issue impact your workload? What are your concerns? These questions help you gain a deeper understanding of their needs and personal viewpoint.
In a conversation, what you do when you are not talking is just as important as what you say. Practice active listening to remain engaged during the conversation. Your conversation partner will impart critical information as they answer your questions, so showing that you’re listening encourages them to open up even more. Reflect back what they say, for example, “Susan, you said that compliance efforts drain resources. That made me wonder what your team could achieve if that weren’t the case. ”
As you listen and speak, eye contact shows that you’re engaged. Many of us have excellent in-person eye contact skills. These skills can abandon us in virtual conversations. We look at a second computer screen as we listen, or at the faces of other participants to the side of our screens. To establish virtual eye contact, you have to look into your camera. That can be a surprisingly difficult habit to build. Here’s a trick: Put stickers of eyes or smiley faces by the camera to help you remember where to look.
Welcome Objections and Difficult Questions
We all have to handle tough questions and objections in business conversations. When you have a plan for dealing with tough questions and objections, you’ll come to see them as an opportunity to remove roadblocks.
Start by acknowledging the concern — it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. Then, respond by answering the question or directly addressing the objection. Finish by letting your conversation partner know how you’ll support them and maintain the relationship. The goal is to let them know that you’re committed to their success. And that you’ll help them realize the benefits you highlighted when you opened the conversation.
Pausing is an important tool, especially during difficult portions of conversations. It gives you time to gather your thoughts, which will show your conversation partner that you are taking their concerns seriously. Pausing can also help remove filler and platitudes. Include phrases such as, “you know,” “that’s a good question” and “I hear you.” These phrases clutter what we say, and ultimately detract from our key points.
It’s also important to avoid words that erase alignment. “But” and “however” are the biggest culprits because they introduce disagreement. For instance, instead of saying, “Cost is an important consideration, but we have studies showing rapid returns on the investment.” Try saying, “Cost is an important consideration. [Pause] Let me share some studies showing rapid returns on investment.” Pausing helps to eliminate “but” from our business vocabulary. Practice pausing instead of using fillers and erasing agreement in all your conversations. You may be pleased by how quickly it becomes a habit that removes friction from difficult conversations.
Prepare to Influence
Having a conversation plan and strong communication skills improves your ability to make every conversation count. Try applying the techniques outlined in this article to your next conversation. As you harness the power of more influential conversations, you’ll take every interaction further.