Collaborative conversations are at the core of about everything we achieve in business. They are the core of great coaching conversations. They are the foundation of high impact conversations with our customers.
We, me included, tend to be very glib about these. We tend to talk about them, assuming everyone immediately knows what what we mean and how we execute them. In reality, we are pretty bad. As managers, for various good/bad reasons, we are too often in tell mode. As sellers, too often we focus on “pitching” our prospects and customers–these are the furthest from collaborative conversations we can imagine–and perhaps why customers don’t want to talk to us.
What do we have to do to conduct high impact, collaborative conversations?
Some ideas, I won’t go into a lot of detail, but:
- Prepare: We have to understand our own goals and intent for the conversation. We have to anticipate what the other person’s goals/intent might be. We have to be prepared with the right information and facts–both about what we need for the conversation, but about what might be important to the other person. We have to think about the timing and setting for the conversation. If either of us are pressed for time, or have urgent things distracting us, we probably won’t be effective. Some conversations can be asynchronous texts, some are more impactful F2F.
- Active listening: We have to give the conversation our full attention. We can’t be thinking about what we have to do next, or where we might be going to dinner. We can’t listen with an agenda, but we have to hear what is really being said. This means we listen to understand, not to reply. Active listening requires feedback, asking questions to better understand, to learn more. We need to reflect on what is being said, we need to clarify to make sure we have heard what is really intended, not what we want to hear.
- Read Non Verbal Cues: An aspect of listening is to read the non-verbal cues of the person you are engaging. Body language, facial expressions, tone (OK that’s verbal) are important to better understanding, Remember 60-90% of communication is non-verbal. Also, pay attention to your own body language.
- Be Present: A key aspect of active listening and being engaged with each other is “being present.” We must be genuinely engaged in the discussion. We can’t let our devices or other technologies distract us. We have to clear our minds, paying attention to the conversation, not thinking about other issues, priorities.
- Avoiding Assumptions: Too often, we make assumptions. Sometimes based on our past experience with an individual, sometimes based on similar experiences we’ve had with others. We make assumptions, based on what we want to hear. For powerful conversations, our goal is to really understand what the other person is thinking and feeling, trying not to impose our biases/agendas on them.
- Asking Open Ended Questions: Yes/No questions don’t provide any detail or deep understanding. Open ended questions provide more meaningful insights and exchange of information with each other.
- Practice Empathy: We have to try to see the situation through the other person’s eyes. What does the issue mean to them, how do they feel about it? Validating their point of view and feelings, even if we don’t agree is part of establishing trust and confidence.
- Manage Emotions: We may be tempted to react to things we disagree with. We tend to get defensive, reacting emotionally, before we really understand. Be open to the feedback and the point of view of the other individual. Probe to better understand.
- Clarity And Conciseness: Clearly state your perspectives, points of view. Express it as simply as possible, avoid jargon or complex language. Avoid wandering, but get directly to the point or issues most critical to the conversation.
- Provide Feedback: Constructive feedback is a demonstration of our genuine engagement in the conversation. It demonstrates that we care about the different points of view. Constructive feedback provides a basis for growth and improvement.
- Find Common Ground: Find areas where both of you have similar points of views or where you can easily bridge your differences. This is the starting point and provides a more powerful platform for dealing with the more difficult issues.
- Respect Boundaries: Each of us has lines that can be crossed. Things that are inviolable to each of us. Respecting boundaries helps reduce the potential of confrontation.
- Adapt To Communications Styles: Each of us has a different communication style and not adapting to those styles creates tremendous barriers to effective conversations. If I say “Red,” and you hear “Blue,” we will never connect with each other. Understand your own communication style, understand the other person’s behavioral style and adapt to what is most effective in helping people hear and understand.
- Conflict Resolution: Conflicts will arise in conversations. We shouldn’t avoid them, but we need to learn how to manage them. We need to seek common ground, we need to hear and understand each person’s position. We may even have to agree to disagree. But most important, these conflicts are never about the individual and whether they are a good/bad person. The conflict is only about ideas.
- Follow-Up: The majority of our discussions, particularly coaching and customer discussions require follow-up. Demonstrate your commitment to addressing the issues and moving forward through following up.
- Recognize Others May Not Understand: The people you are engaging are very likely not to understand how to have collaborative conversations (Perhaps you can send them this article in advance 😉 This doesn’t mean you should abandon these principles. In fact, you have to double down in applying these. Over time, people will start, unconsciously mirroring, what you are doing and learn to be more collaborative in these conversations. And each subsequent conversation will become more collaborative.
- Build Trust: Doing these things consistently, over time, enables us to build trust in the relationship. Being consistent, honest, and transparent are the foundation of all relationships–whether personal or business.
I’ll stop here. Most of this is common sense, which as we know is too often uncommon.