The one right question
Nov 5th, 2014 | By FCT
The easiest (if you’re good) and the hardest (if you’re not) way to change the pattern of a conversation is first and foremost not to make the conversation about you. It’s an easy trap: we get nervous and the easy way out is to open up about yourself, to the detriment of the other(s) at the table or in the room.
Investigative journalists and lawyers accomplished at the art of cross-examination are well-practiced at leading conversations with people who don’t want to talk to them. (If you ever want to learn how a master led witnesses down the path, read the classic Art of Cross Examination by Francis Wellman; any good lawyer will lend you his/her copy.) Business conversations aren’t nearly so antagonistic—but the elements of mastering the art of conversing with a client or stakeholder or strategic partner are identical:
1. Ambiance counts. Quiet and discreet trumps anything else. Privacy is far more important to most people than they let on
2. It’s not about you. (Once more with feeling) It’s not about you
3. Listen for all you’re worth: you’ll hear gold if you’ll just hold tight
4. Go deep—the conversation will go in a valuable direction…and much more interesting
5. Ask a question the other guy’s dying to answer: how they feel about what they’ve just said and (the killer follow up question) why?
Think like an intelligence officer: the more you know about a person before you meet them, the better the first few moments are likely to be, as long as you’re judicious about how you set your sails. (As in: gently, gently with what you know.) Refresh is an app (for IOS) that is a kind of ‘social cheat sheet’: the app aggregates your latest new acquaintance’s social media feeds, so you’ve the basis for a (near) instant rapport. Needless to say, the app is as good as your ability to use it but it’s a solid Coles Notes for social introductions, one that integrates with LinkedIn, Gmail, iCal, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Final thought: you can’t beat the human thread that emerges when you simply ask the ‘one right question’—so ‘what’s (s)he like?’