Time for Conversations for Connection

The holidays in November & December provide us with opportunities to express appreciation and gratitude in conversations. Have you ever thought about giving the gift of a great conversation?

As I share in Conversations for Change, there are 12 types of conversations beginning with a Conversation for Connection.  That is the type of conversation we want to be prepared to initiate when we attend any event from Thanksgiving celebrations to company wide & department meetings. Some people do not know how to do this or do not see the value in this type of conversation.

Recently in the first meeting with a new coaching client, he told me,  "I do not like 'small talk' and am not willing to engage with others in that type of conversation." Then a few paragraphs later he shared that he does not have close professional colleagues and friends. He added this is a source of personal pain as he does want to have friends.  Initially he did not see the connection between what he was calling "small talk" and the warm camaraderie that forms with peers and colleagues when we are connected over time. He was not seeing how people reading others to discover their preferred communication style and motivators is an added benefit of exchanging pleasant and hopefully interesting details about our lives and work.

Are you ready to create Conversations for Connection at some of the holiday events you have coming up?  If so, use this conversation when:

  • Improving or deepening an existing relationship by checking in and sharing news about yourself
  • Intending to build a solid foundation of rapport and safety
  • Networking
  • Meeting new peers, employees, bosses, leaders, colleagues, and team members
  • Attending conferences and company meetings
  • Starting to work with a new customer, employee or colleague

Fortunately, we do not have to ask in-depth or pointed questions to create meaningful, rapport-building conversations. Being present and listening creates more intimacy than asking repeated, probing questions that drill and control the direction of the conversation. You will do wonders for building rapport and trust by asking open-ended questions such as "How's your project going?" Listen by looking the person in the eye as she responds, and, when she is finished speaking, summarize what she said and ask a few questions that blend what you know with the topic.  Then share your reaction or ideas.

One executive I coached was given this feedback in a 360 debrief session: "She rarely listens because she usually has a series of business focused questions she wants answered. There is no room for the conversation to go any way but her way." To change this perception and experience for her employees, I advised the executive to drop by her employees' offices from time to time, simply ask how they are doing, and then listen. Such listening requires being fully present, maintaining eye contact for at least three to four seconds at a time (without darting your eyes), mentally summarizing what you are hearing, and then asking questions about what has been said. It will take several of these encounters for employees to trust that this executive is truly ready to listen in a way that allows growth to emerge in their conversations.

This kind of powerful listening causes trust to grow and can make a huge difference in how one is perceived. This time of year is perfect for the opportunity to shift how other people perceive your ability to build connection.

Here are some ways to get a Conversation for Connection started:

  • "Where will you be spending Thanksgiving?" (or the upcoming holidays)
  • "What are the traditions in your family that you most enjoy at this time of year?"
  • "I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that we both know Matt Levy! Isn't he great... How did you meet him?"
  • "Jean suggested we connect with each other, and I wanted to reach out to you to see if we might be able to have a cup of coffee together sometime since she thought we'd enjoy meeting each other."
  • "What do you enjoy doing when you are not .... (what ever you are doing now)?" (You are looking for a person's hobbies & interests this will give you clues to their motivators.)
  • "How did you handle the recent ...(something that has occurred in your organization)?"
  • "I understand you have experience in . . .  and I'd love to hear about it."
  • "What a lovely accent (scarf, coat) where did you acquire it?"
  • "I noticed in the news this morning . . .what do you think of that?" (The topic needs to be something uplifting not upsetting.)
  • "What's new with you since we saw each other last? ... OR ... What are some of the current trends you are seeing in your work? How are you dealing with those trends?"

Other ways to create meaningful conversations include:

  • Share your own good news.
  • Share something you learned that is interesting or useful.
  • Tell a story that amused you.
  • Mention a new product you recently tried, and share what happened.
  • Talk about a trend you have observed, and ask if the other person has noticed this too.

Conversations for Connection require listening by being fully present; maintaining eye contact, summarizing what you are hearing, and then asking questions about what has been said. Deep listening builds trust and safety in relationships. When Conversations for Connection are missing, you lose out on opportunities to make deeper connections that will improve your professional and personal relationships and opportunities. An influence strategy focused on building meaningful relationships and new connections will pay off with an expanded network, people to bounce ideas around with, and new opportunities.

Be confident in your ability to create Conversations for Connection by practicing this conversation with someone new each day. Challenge yourself to people-read someone, exploring what that person's preferred communication style is and what workplace motivators drive him or her to achieve. This time of year provides great opportunities to do this.