"Your call is very important to us," says the fruity recorded voice of the caller system. It keeps assuring me that the next available agent will GLADLY assist me. The minutes tick by as I listen to elevator music. My call may be important to them, but my time certainly doesn't appear to be. As my irritation grows, I begin to wonder about my own interactions with other people. What makes conversations effective and worthwhile? Here are a few suggestions:
Forget "How are you?"
inane question "how are you?" with better alternatives. The phrase may be a cultural convention for opening a conversation, but standard responses such as "Fine, thank you" don't make ideal use of a conversational situation. Even worse, the response "So busy!" may lead to meaningless busy bragging and isn't really helpful either. "Whatever questions you choose, make sure they invite sincere engagement and probe for positive energy," Ludema and Johnson advise.recently offered suggestions for replacing the
As Charles Derber has described in his book "Pursuit of Attention", many conversations involve no real exchange. Here is a common example:
Me: "I had a lot of phone calls today. The first one was..."
The other person: "Oh, I can relate. Let me tell you how crazy my work was today...."
Neither partner feels heard in these situations, which are more about unloading and griping than connecting.
Get to the point
Attentive listening requires a certain type of concentration. To deepen the conversation, don't get ready to interject my own narrative or opinion. Most of us don't ask enough questions. When there is little time to share information, distinguishing between relevant points and anecdotes or personal experiences is key. As a coach, I sometimes remind my clients to "bottom-line" their description of a situation so we don't get lost in too many details. What is the question they really want to explore? We can maximize the coaching time by avoiding mental excursions and storytelling. If you tend to share a lot of details or like to provide lengthy histories, keep in mind that a listener's attention is usually lost after 30 seconds. In his post, "Do You Talk Too Much?", Marty Nemko came up with a helpful description:
During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention. During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish. After the one-minute mark, your light is red: Yes, there are rare times you should “run a red light:” when your listener is obviously fully engaged in your missive. But usually, when an utterance exceeds one minute, with each passing second, you increase the risk of boring your listener.
Respect for other people's time requires concentration and a certain single-mindedness. Why waste our precious time with casual blah blah and smalltalk? I want to live in a world where conversations matter. It takes 100 hours to make a friend, but only a few moments to really connect with someone.