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5 Tips for leaders on how to have better conversations

As generations changed, the workplace is transformed as well. The digital revolution brought about colossal shifts in the ways people connect and communicate. Teams are becoming increasingly global and there are a number of factors to consider: cultural differences, various personality types, the overall tone of the company, and the most important thing of all – making a genuine connection so that conversations account for more than the words spoken.

5 Tips for leaders on how to have better conversations

Some people seem to have the gift of carrying on meaningful conversations and if they happen to be in leadership roles, their teams can only benefit. For those who are not naturally excellent conversationalists, there are some guidelines to help them improve – and with enough practice, they can reach high levels of excellence. Here are five of them:

  1. Active listening

    This is probably one of the most used phrases when it comes to the topic of effective communication. However, for most people, this means simply not thinking of something else (whether it’s the week’s meal plan or what to say in response) while somebody is talking to them.

    Yet listening actively is a lot more than simply focusing on the words. It means truly taking in all that is communicated – both verbally and non-verbally – taking note of gestures, tone, and choice of terms. Active listening takes an effort as the focus has to be entirely on the person speaking and assumptions should not be made in advance.

    Actually, this is one of the universal laws of purposeful talking to another person: never assume. And if you can’t help it, do your best to verify you are right.

  2. Feedback

    This is another subject talked to death about in all possible books, seminars, webinars, and podcasts on communication. There are a lot of classifications for feedback and I won’t get into them here, but I will mention the bane of my trainer’s existence at the beginning of my career – the sandwich-type feedback.

    Read more: The power of the spoken word: including podcasts in training

    Some fifteen years ago it was advised that whenever an employee needed to be asked to improve one professional area, the request should be flanked by two praising statements. Not only did that not fool anybody, but it also often sent the wrong message altogether.

    Feedback should be honest and assertive. If people see that they are given credit where they deserve and criticism where it is justified their reaction will be infinitely more positive than when they feel they are being manipulated.

  3. Asking the right questions

    This, of course, is paramount. And there is no great philosophy to that. The point is to get more of the relevant information and it’s easy to do that by showing a genuine interest in what the other person is saying and asking open-ended questions.

    Inquiring how the person you are talking to feels about the subject being discussed is a good way to go. But, again, you also must listen actively (and patiently sometimes) to a possibly lengthy response. If there have been previous conversations, it’s best to bring some of them up so you show that you have been paying attention and that you care.

    Also, if something new is brought up ask yourself what the relevance is both to the matter at hand and to the person who mentioned it.

    Read more: The 7 principles of fierce conversations every leader should know

  4. The practice of empathy

    This takes more than uttering a few phrases like “I know how you’re feeling”, “I understand” or the shorter “mhms” of conversations one just wants to end quickly. Good talks require getting out of one’s head and as close to the other person’s (expressed) thoughts as possible.

    Empathy requires not only actively listening in order to make sense of what is being said but also putting oneself in the other’s position so they can understand the emotional side, the drives, the motives for action (or, in some cases, inaction). Empathy is understanding on a deeper level and though it’s not easily achieved it can be mastered with patience and practice.

    Good conversations begin with showing an interest in the other person, their likes, dislikes, interests, and general vision on things.

    Read more: The 4 Rs of creating a culture of engagement

  5. Minding the logistics

    Though I am mentioning it only at this point, logistics are of the utmost importance. As one who is currently, as most of us, trying to have meetings over Zoom with two young kids and an episode of Paw Patrol in the background, I can’t stress enough the importance of making time and organizing the space for important conversations.

    Read more: Top 5 ways L&D professionals can avoid Zoom fatigue

    When they are about more than exchanging pleasantries or one-sided presentations of some numbers that don’t require discussion, conversations need to be conducted without the pressure of time limits and the distraction of noisy ambiances – whether they are physical or online.

    If you look at all the advice listed above, you’ll realize that all of it requires time and self-application.

Closing thoughts

A good organizational culture is based on how well all the members manage to communicate and collaborate. Quality conversations are about a genuine exchange of information and ideas, not about one-sided (even if very well constructed and inspirational) speeches.

There is a saying that goes ‘It takes two to tango” and that is very true. But it also takes a lot of practice to dance it right and it’s the same with good communication.