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The bold case for conversation: How to get more out of your 1-on-1s



If handwriting is a lost art, then the art of conversation is on the endangered list.

Today in the workplace, we text, ping, slack, email and “chat” more than ever.

No one makes the case for conversation — and it’s likely something we need to have more of in the workplace: Poor communication costs companies an estimated $37 billion a year, according to research from The Grossman Group.

How’s that possible? Consider these small things that add up: Julie waits to act because Karen didn’t give her information. Bob doesn’t understand the text from Juan, so he makes a mistake. Abdul spends half a day sorting through useless email.

But a quick, concise conversation could’ve fixed all those expensive issues.

Tech v. the case for conversation

A few years back, and in an effort to boost productivity, Coca-Cola once got rid of voicemail for 94% of its employees. They encouraged people to work with others in less personal ways — email, text, chat and socials.

While those were and are convenient, technology presents a challenge to effective communication in any business: The conversation moves in just one direction at a time.

Write. Send. Wait. Receive. Repeat. Not much different from the age-old walkie-talkie or letter to Grandma.

Conversations, on the other hand, allow for real-time sharing, learning, connecting and creating.

As we rely mostly on technology to communicate, we’re losing some of the ability to have effective, productive conversations. And managers need to have more of these critical one-on-one conversations regularly — not just once- or twice-a-year performance reviews.

These ideas can help leaders and their employees restore effective one-on-one conversations.

Make it clear

When you initiate a conversation with employees, bosses or colleagues, they almost always want to know three things, according to Dr. John Lund, author of Hug the Porcupine: Dealing with Toxic and Difficult to Love Personalities:

  • Is what you want to talk about going to be painful?
  • How long will this take?
  • When you’re done talking, what do you want from me?

So make those things informal parts of your conversations. For instance, “I know how busy you are, so I just need 10 minutes to discuss the Whitmore account and where we’re headed.”

Cut the distractions

One-on-one conversations in person or on the phone will be most effective if you shut off other online conversations and activities. Drop the screens. Close the tabs. Stop glancing and fiddling.

Give people you talk to full attention by getting away from devices. Take notes with a pen and paper and put down handheld devices.

Speak and move carefully

Conversations are far less about what’s said and more about perception.

People interpret spoken messages:

  • 55% by facial expressions and body language
  • 37% by tone of voice, and
  • 8% by the words said.

So “choosing the right words” is just one part of a good conversation. In fact, when you use the right words with honesty, the right body language often takes care of itself.

Listen to understand, not respond

In the sales profession, salespeople are often told to speak 10% of the time and listen 90%. That helps them understand clients’ needs and give the best solutions.

While the percentages may be a little exaggerated, the advice is not. The best conversations happen when people listen long enough to understand others, rather than just wait for their turn to talk.

Effective conversations need to include clarifying questions such as: “Can you explain what you meant by …?” and “If I understand you correctly, you want … Is that right?”

Build trust

Conversations will improve – and people will rely on them as much as electronic chats – when trust increases.

Build trust by sharing relevant stories about your career, life and experiences. Open up, and relationships will bloom.

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