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Conversations That Count

Keith Stacey
Conversations That Count Blog

We have speed dating, fast food and even fast failure in startups and there is often an impatience to get on with the deal in negotiations - to cut to the chase. In a world that seems to have become simply more transactional with social distancing, work from home and Zoom meetings, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to build authentic relationships.  


We certainly shouldn’t follow the advice of Groucho Marx, who said, “The two most important words in the world are honesty and sincerity. If you can fake those, you’ve got it made.” All of us can smell insincerity!  


However, some things can’t be rushed and of course, relationships are one of them. It is absolutely essential that negotiators use the full range of opportunities available for personal interaction to master the art of conversations that can fast track rapport. 


The client who said, “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care,” sums up the dilemma we all face in establishing our personal credibility in a commercial context.  


As we are all aware, conversation is both a learned skill and one that needs ongoing practice. Unfortunately, many of us were denied the opportunity to hone our skills during the lockdowns and work from home periods throughout covid. 


So, here’s a tip for refreshing your skills: 


  • Be the first to start the conversation by revealing something about yourself and encourage the other person to respond. In offering insights about yourself, you’re harnessing the powerful force of reciprocity; creating in the other party a desire to share something about themselves.  


As the Mafia boss said in The Godfather, “I don’t do favours, I collect obligations.”  


Top universities are now offering courses in conversation! Undergraduates are being put through their paces and they’ve found that the basis to good conversation is; surprise, surprise, asking questions. They also found that quality conversations grow when people ask follow-up questions.  


So: ask a question, listen carefully to the response and acknowledge your interest. We all do this naturally but be mindful and make mental checks as you engage with others. 

‘That’s unusual, why do you think that happened?’   

Follow-up or second order questions are vital in authentic and engaging conversations. Firstly, they demonstrate that you’re interested and that you’ve listened to their answer. Secondly, you’re curious about what they have had to say and want to know more and often we actually learn something! 


Conversations may also uncover common experiences or similar interests. We all prefer to work with people we like, and shared interests are a quick way of encouraging ‘liking’. Taking the time to read social media profiles beforehand, also might allow insights into their office: books, awards and family photos.  


We all secretly believe we’re good at conversations. We wouldn’t be in the negotiating game if we didn’t believe in ourselves. However, we need to keep seeing ourselves as learners if we are to continue to (intelligently, wisely, kindly) build trust with colleagues, suppliers and clients.  


Happy negotiating!

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