Monday Mornings with Madison

Skills for Success

Part 1:  The Gift of Gab

The ability to start and maintain a conversation can be even more important to a person’s success in business than grades in school or college.  In a study by Stanford University’s School of Business, students who had graduated with a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) were contacted 10 years after they graduated to gauge their success.  The study found that the grade point averages of graduates had no bearing on their success — but their ability to make conversation did.  The most successful graduates were those who could make conversation with anyone — from acquaintances to business associates and from total strangers to good friends. 

To many, starting and maintaining a conversation comes as naturally as breathing.  But for others, the art of conversation is just that… an art form they can recognize and respect, but not replicate.  For those who struggle to hold natural, engaged conversations, the gift of gab is viewed like unattainable talent such as Van Gogh’s ability to capture movement on canvas or Beethoven’s ability to evoke emotion through music…. beautiful and uplifting but not doable.  However, for many in the business world, the ability to communicate fluidly and effortlessly is an invaluable skill.  Is it possible for someone shy, tongue-tied or insecure to become a masterful conversationalist?  It starts by understanding the three reasons for conversations and the five rules that make for good conversationalists.

First it is important to consider why conversations are so pivotal to success.  To understand that, it is important to understand why people have conversations in the first place.

Reason 1

For those with the gift of gab, reason 1 is the sheer pleasure of self-expression and interaction with other people.  One of things most people enjoy and need is to spend time with people whose company is stimulating and enjoyable.  For most, it is pleasurable to get together with people with whom there is much in common and just share ideas, letting conversation take its natural course.  Even shy people will generally enjoy having conversations with others once they are able to get beyond personal barriers and get to know them.

Reason 2

Another purpose of conversation is to get to know the other person and/or understand him/her or be understood.  In business, prolonged exposure to another person helps increase an understanding for how that person feels, thinks and reacts.  This can’t be accomplished as effectively through emails, text messages, or social media posts as through a conversation.  There is no substitute for extended periods of conversation in the social development of friendships or business relationships.

Reason 3

Perhaps most importantly, the third aim of conversation is to build trust and credibility between two people.  This is only possible with the kind of continuous conversation that reveals a person to another.

Since people do business with people they know, like and trust, conversation then is the vehicle to get to know someone, find common interests that increase ‘likeability’ and helps to establish and build trust.  That is why good conversationalists are the most successful people.  The ability to converse helps to connect with people in order to do business.

So what makes a good conversationalist?

Rule 1:  Listen More; Talk Less

Oddly, the best conversationalists actually spend more time listening than talking.  Good conversation has little to do with being able to speak in an interesting and arresting fashion, being funny, being able to tell good stories or being knowledgeable about a lot of subjects.  Also, being a good conversationalist does not require being articulate, outgoing or expressive.  Quite the contrary.  The first rule of being a conversationalist is to remember that we have two ears but only one mouth.  They should be used in that same proportion.  To earn a reputation as a great conversationalist, listen twice as much as you talk.

Rule 2:  Be Genuinely Interested In Others

According to an article in Forbes Magazine, one of the seven pillars of being able to connect with absolutely anyone is to be genuine.  That is the underlying truth for all conversations, which are the vehicles to connecting with others.  The only connections that work are ones in which a person truly cares about the other, and anything short of that will be perceived as fake.  A good conversation starts with a genuine interest in the person with whom you are speaking.

Rule 3:  Be Yourself and Accept Others for Themselves

Let go of self-conscious and judgmental thinking. Introverts don’t need to become extroverts. Really, it’s more important to be comfortable and genuinely interested in getting to know other people.  It helps to remember that most people are happy to engage in a conversation and appreciate when someone else takes the lead.  Also remember not to dismiss or prejudge a person by their appearance. You never know who that person is or what they may have to share.

Rule 4:  Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Pay close attention to everyone and everything around you.  Pay attention to people.  Be naturally curious about them.  Let technology help.  Google them ahead of time.  Find out what you can.  Does somebody have an interesting story? Can one person introduce you to someone else?   Do you see something unusual? Is someone wearing an interesting watch or tie?  Watch the news. Stay abreast of what is going on in the world…. your industry…your neighborhood.  Current events can often serve as the match to ignite a good conversation.

Rule 5:  Cultivate Your Natural Curiosity

Forget about curiosity killing the cat.  Be curious.  Ask questions.  Just be careful not to interrogate. The key is to be genuinely interested and inquisitive.  Ask a lot of good, well-worded questions that help guide the conversation in a given direction that gives others a chance to express their own views.  Then sit back and allow the conversation to flow.

The bottom line is that the successful and happy people tend to be good conversationalists.  They have developed an ability to communicate naturally and spontaneously with almost anyone they meet.  Good conversationalists are usually a pleasure to be around and are generally welcome wherever they go.  Learning the art and skill of good conversation can help in virtually any relationship, whether at work or home.  Start with these five rules and then practice, practice, practice.  With practice, such things as wit, wisdom and worth will naturally flow from and flourish in conversation.

Quote of the Week

“The first ingredient in conversation is truth, the next good sense, the third good humor, and the fourth wit.” William Temple


© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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