Constructive Conversation

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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism

“The character of a man is known from his conversations.” — Menander (342 BC – 292 BC)

Professional conversation is first and foremost about being a good listener. Becoming so is nothing more than learning to care more about what the other person is saying than what you want to say.

“There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves.” — Albert Guinon (1863-1923)

So, listen like you care — it shows respect. It has the added advantages of keeping you more alert and helping you to remember more.

“All people want is someone to listen.” — Hugh Elliott, Standing Room Only weblog, May 8, 2003

“The first duty of love is to listen.” — Paul Tillich (1886-1965), O Magazine, February 2004

“Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.” — Saint Benedict

For those times when you have trouble caring, listen like you’ll be tested. Unless it’s a business conversation this doesn’t mean taking notes. Just try to remember the key points. This technique will reinforce your attitude toward listening.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.” — Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

When someone rambles on with no apparent end in sight, resist the temptation to “return the favor.” Instead, politely listen as if there’s a hidden gem in what he is saying that you can’t afford to miss.

“Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” — Author Unknown

When you hear something interesting or useful, you have the opportunity to take control of the conversation with your response. Return both comments and questions to keep him focused on that one point of interest. To avoid turning the conversation into an interview, respond by paraphrasing what the other person said. This demonstrates that you were listening and creates an opportunity to correct any misconceptions. Practice these techniques to become adept at turning a monologue into a dialog.

“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.” — Dr. Joyce Brothers

When listening (and speaking), look at the person’s face, not out the window, at your cell phone or at the television.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” — M. Scott Peck

“Few are agreeable in conversation, because each thinks more of what he intends to say than of what others are saying, and listens no more when he himself has a chance to speak.” — Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

In addition to the previous points, professional conversation requires polite language. Name-calling, gossiping, accusations, vulgarities and profanity interfere with the message and tarnish the speaker’s professional image.

“The art of conversation consist as much in listening politely, as in talking agreeably.” — Atwell

“As I get older, I’ve learned to listen to people rather than accuse them of things.” — Po Bronson, quoted in Publishers Weekly

“A filthy mouth will not utter decent language.” — Chinese Proverb

Even innocent errors in phraseology can alter the direction of a conversation. Imagine how the following statements, which differ by only one word, could change the tone.

“What you just said struck a chord.” vs. “What you just said struck a nerve.”

Conversations occur across different channels in different configurations: one-on-one, group, business meetings, teacher/students, self talk, conversations with God (i.e. prayer), in person, over the phone or video phone, and via Internet or cell chat. Each has special nuances, but all are most effective when exercising respect.

As these principles and techniques are mastered, you may not always remember a lot about every conversation. But, you will at least be able to say something like, “I remember that interesting talk we had last week. What you said about ‘x’ really got me thinking.”

“People may not remember what you did or said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” — Attributed to Maya Angelou

Last of all, here’s some good advice for public speaking and for conversations.

“Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.” — Dorothy Sarnoff

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” — Dorothy Nevill

God bless,

— CC

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© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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