Q&A: How Not to Avoid Awkward Conversations

Q&A: How Not to Avoid Awkward Conversations

Solid conversational skills are a cornerstone of business, in the promotional products world and beyond. Whether it’s making a great first impression on a job interview, connecting with an elusive sales prospect or handling awkward situations with your staff, communication is key. Even those naturally graced with the gift of gab could use a brush-up now and again to ensure they’re being active listeners, rather than simply waiting for their turn to speak.

Lou Diamond is the CEO of Thrive, helping businesses, leaders and brands make connections. A sales expert, speaker and performance mentor with more than 25 years of experience, Diamond is the author of the new book Speak Easy. He explains why asking is more effective than telling during conversations, and shares what he calls the seven C’s of engagement in this Q&A.

Lou Diamond, CEO of Thrive and author of Speak Easy 

Q: Why are conversational skills so important for professionals?A: In business, we work better together when we’re better connected with our colleagues. 

Every connection we make within our lives begins with a good conversation. Knowing what we need to do before, during and after each conversation we have is a skill that enables us to work more efficiently, be more productive and lead an organization on a path of success. Learning the skills and mindset you need to make conversation great is at the heart of a thriving business. 

Q: What are some of the most common conversational mistakes?A: The most common misconception is that to be a great conversationalist you need to be good at “telling and talking.” There’s this preconceived notion that by just speaking and spewing out information we’re engaging in a connecting conversation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real focus needs to be on “asking and listening.” When good questions are asked and we engage in active listening within a conversation, we’re engaging the individual we’re trying to connect with.

Q: What are some of the hallmarks of effective conversation?A: There are several components that help to make a conversation engaging. I call them the seven C’s of engagement: familiar content, relatable context, clarity, creativity, continuity, cadence and connection.

Are you going to speak about familiar content within a relatable context? Even though you’re familiar with what you’re going to talk about, are you going to communicate your thoughts and message in a clear, easy-to-understand manner? Will you share content through an authentic lens that demonstrates the creativity within you that is unique to your specific circumstances? Can you speak with a continuous flow and a familiar cadence that will keep your audience engaged? Will you find a way to connect your thoughts and ideas, which in turn will establish a connection with the person with whom you’re speaking? 

The more of the seven C’s you’re able to incorporate, the more likely you’ll achieve an engaging conversation.

Q: Are there topics that should be avoided in professional communication?A: There are many sensitive topics that are challenging to engage in within a professional setting. Most of us have an internal sensor that recognizes what is and is not appropriate to discuss at work. That being said, there’s a fine line that can be established when we build strong connections with our colleagues.  

The most important thing to do, should you choose to engage in a conversation about a sensitive or personal topic, is to ask for permission ahead of that conversation. For example, “Is it OK if I ask you about your family?” or “May I inquire about a personal matter?”     

Take the responses of these permission-based questions to heart and take note of what conversations your colleagues feel comfortable having.

Q: What are some tips for being a more active listener – and an engaging speaker? How do you balance the two?A: Listening more than speaking will enable you to respond more concisely and effectively.  Active listening takes focus and concentration. The person you’re listening to should have the feeling that you’re the only person in the room and you’re concentrating on what they have to say. Within a conversation, there will be times when you might be doing more of the talking than the listening. However, a good goal and a helpful reminder is the old adage that we have two ears and one mouth; use them proportionally.   

Q: Can you share strategies for handling awkward conversations?A: Awkward conversations are often necessary. Uncomfortable moments, difficult employer/employee working situations, and looming problems that everyone is afraid to address always feel uneasy. I call this the “800-pound gorilla” in my book, and its ingredients include: 3 ounces of tension, 1 shot of lump in your throat, and a sprinkle of butterflies paired with a 4-cup chaser of deal with it.

And while the name and feeling appear to be overwhelming, my recommendation is to tackle these conversations immediately, so they don’t fester. Simply put, grab that deal-with-it chaser and take down the whole 800-pound gorilla as soon as you can. It might taste sharp at first, but once it passes the lips, it goes down very smooth, and everyone will feel better.

Q: Any other tips you’d like to share?A: Every opportunity we get to have a conversation with another human being is a gift. It’s a wonderful chance to build a connection that will lead to success for both. To improve your communication skills, make an active effort to have more conversations. It will grow the connections in your professional career that will help you to truly thrive.

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