Clients often express the need to improve their conversation skills. While this falls more under the realm of the training and mentoring services which I offer, conversation also provides the framework for Executive Coaching.
As humans, conversation affects every aspect of our lives ranging from public dialogue between nations to good-night stories with our children. I even talk to my dogs! Here the tone of voice is as important as the content of our message. That applies when talking to humans, too. In addition, our presence, the way we present ourselves, is also important. How do we come across? - as ‘open’, non-judgmental and friendly? – or as unapproachable?
Effective conversation skills can be learned. And the more we practise, the more confident we become. Thus we more readily accept invitations. Being able to participate or engage enables us to build positive relationships. We get to know people. This opens more opportunities leading to trust. The more we trust people, the more likely we are to view them as ‘the person of choice’ when making decisions. In addition, when we are the ‘person of choice', there is more likelihood of an absence of malice. In other words, when things go wrong we are given the ‘benefit of the doubt’.
I have given more detail on conversation skills in my two books on networking, ‘Networking Tactics: a guide to achieving success through personal networking’ and ‘ABCs of Networking: Fifty-two ways to achieve success' . My invitation is for you also to refer to the following, just a few of the 200 articles under the blog section of my website:
- Use your voice at the boardroom table
- Family conversation starters
- Discover the person sitting next to you
So, as a coach or mentor, how do I help people to improve their conversation skills? Here I am covering just a few aspects.
The ‘listen, comment, question’ technique
The first step is to build new neural pathways through practising my ‘listen, comment, question' technique on an ongoing basis. This approach can be applied to a wide range of communication skills such as coaching, interviewing and also to informal conversations.
As you can see, there are three parts to this technique. We need to listen deeply to what the person is, or isn’t saying. I also put the word, ‘look’ here as often the first step is to comment on something visual. This could be the person’s namebadge, their business card or your perception that they appear familiar.
The next step is to comment on what the person has just said. That shows them that you have been listening and that you are interested.
Next you ask an open question. I am going to expand on this part of the ‘listen, comment, question’ technique. The art of asking powerful questions can also be learned. Open questions encourage the person to talk while you listen. So making non-judgmental comments and asking powerful questions go hand-in-hand.
Let’s look at how we develop those ‘powerful questions’ whether we are coaching, taking part in a board meeting or speaking to friends. Coaching can teach us certain techniques and here I’m going to show you a few of hundreds of possible examples (of questions) of how a few simple models, fully supported by philosophical frameworks can be used:
Habermas – I/we/it
- How is the issue affecting you?
- Who could support you?
- In the broader context of your industry, what will the benefits be of your finding a solution?
Wilber’s Integral Theory – four-quadrant model
- (I – inside me) How does this (what the person has just said) align with your value system?
- (I – outside me) What actions do you intend taking?
- (We – inside group) Who are the other role-players or stake-holders?
- (It – outside – environment) How does this impact on the system?
- What have you tried in the past?
- How are you dealing with the issue at present?
- What will the future look like if you resolve the issue?
- If your head were to write you a letter now, what would it say?
- What is your heart’s message?
- Looking at the possible tension between the two responses above:
o What impasse (lack of action) are you notising?
o Which actions would be favourable?
Above I have given just a few simple example of how really listening to what a person is saying (and what they are not saying), processing that information and fitting it into models, can help frame powerful questions which will lead to quality conversation.
But take care! You can’t just learn these questions parrot fashion and fire them at the person you are talking to. You need to really listen, comment on what they have just said (so they know you really are listening) and then ask a relevant question that will stimulate them to their share more information or insights with you. This will lead to greater understanding and enable you to the ‘the person of choice’. But you need to be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.
So, practise, practise, practise – and you are welcome to come to me if you need more help. Thank you!
My questions for you are:
- Currently, under which circumstances is it important for you to ask the right questions?
- How can you gain confidence in ‘leaning in’ and actually asking those relevant questions?
- Think of a recent incident where your comment would have been valuable – where you missed an opportunity. In that situation what should you have said?
- How can you improve in this area in the future?
For further information on Executive Coaching, mentoring, training in communication skills or leadership development please contact me, Brenda on +27 82 4993311 or firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you!
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