The Art of the Conversation

So many young people today have grown up in a world where conversation comes second to a condensed version of the written word. Through text messaging and emailing, many people today have lost the ability to facilitate a conversation. But I believe that this is the first step to beginning a relationship, especially in the development of any business transaction.

One of the most important skills any professional can have is the ability to make introductions. I like to say a thing or two about the person I’m introducing, especially if it is something that may quickly explain their position, affiliation or association to me or the group. In social situations, I will usually direct the conversation toward areas that the two being introduced could have in common. It is a great way for further conversation to be initiated on their part, and after a few minutes, you can excuse yourself and leave them alone.

In a business setting, it is important to always address the higher ranking person first. For example, client over boss, boss over colleague and so on:
“Mr. Smith (client), I would like you to meet our sales manager, Jim Dobbs (boss). Jim, this is Mr. Smith, the CFO of one of our very important clients, Parker Corporation.”

In a group, however, it is not necessary to introduce one person to everyone. Instead, you can introduce a new arrival to the group:
“Everyone, I’d like you to meet so and so.” 

But if you need to introduce a higher ranking person to the group, you would say their name first and introduce them to the group as a whole:
“Mr. Smith, these are several members of our accounting staff.”

And when you cannot remember a person’s name during an introduction, just be honest in a nice, “no big deal” way. Simply say, “I’m sorry, I remember meeting you but I’m having difficulty remembering your name,” and move on.

In a business situation, it is up to you how you introduce relatives, but the polite thing to do is to communicate your relationship so that people have enough information not to make social mistakes later on. If you are introducing your spouse, simply say, “This is my husband, John Doe.” I like to include last names, because in today’s world, there are still many married couples using different last names. And if titles like “Doctor” or “Reverend” apply, use it during the introduction.

I like over-the-top manners, so I feel it is important to rise in any situation when being introduced, unless it is just awkward for those around you. (For example, if you are sitting in a theater or conference room and someone arrives a minute or two late.) Otherwise, stand up.

When you are the one being introduced, stand up, smile and make eye contact. Communicate a greeting such as, “It’s so nice to meet you,” or “How are you,” and shake hands. In business, everyone extends their hand regardless of gender.

Also remember to excuse yourself when exiting a group conversation, even if you say it quietly.  If you are in a one-on-one conversation, simply say, “Excuse me, I need to say a few words to someone who just arrived.”

In a business setting, conversation needs to be kept light and interactive. Remember that this is not an opportunity to lecture or preach. The best way to initiate good conversation is to ask questions to find a common ground.

In these situations, I remember to do the following:

• Smile, listen, be interested and in the moment.

• Avoid giving inappropriate background information about yourself and asking questions that are too personal.

• Listen to the individual’s answers and respond accordingly.
• Don’t be too opinionated or judgmental.

Today I will tell anyone on my staff at firstPRO that the art of conversation is an invaluable skill to have. When you know what makes a person tick, you can initiate any business relationship. You can naturally draw others less confident into the conversation, and you can assist them in navigating the social scene. You may even be included in invitations you might not receive otherwise.

After many years in sales, I have worked hard to find common ground with every prospect or client. There were times I had to work extra hard to find that common ground, but I learned that you can always find it. Your ability to facilitate a proper conversation might just be the first step in landing your next big deal.

By April Fawcett Nagel

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