Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

9 Ways to Have A Conversation Instead of Just Talking

talkingAre you talking to your clients or having conversations with them?

You might not know one from the other. Or you might not care. But the distinction is critical. It could mean the difference between a happy client and one who sues you.

Talking involves muscles, senses, air and vibrations. Conversation is all of that, plus an additional ingredient that packs a potent punch: emotional connection.

“Conversation stimulates, excites and enables us to rise above ourselves,” writes educator Laurie Futterman. “When we share ideas, when we press an argument, our minds are strengthened. Our desire to hear and share ideas and stories reflects the basic human need to understand patterns of life — not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a personal, emotional experience.”

When our clients feel connected to us, they are easier to work with. When they feel we’re on their side, they are more cooperative. When they feel we’re invested in their case, they are more forgiving – even when things don’t turn out well.

And the best way to create these connections is through conversation.

Blah, Blah, Blah

Lawyers are trained to talk. And talk and talk and talk. It’s easy to talk – just spend some time with a chattering three-year and you’ll see how easy it is.

Conversation is more difficult. Social scientists call it an art. And like any artistic endeavor, mastering it requires patience, practice and persistence.

The ingredients of a real conversation include listening, context, nuance, body language, facial expressions and hidden meanings.

Here are nine tips for having real conversations:

  1. Start by conversing regularly with yourself. “Internal conversations provide the opportunity for self-reflection,” says Futterman. “Only when we are secure with ourselves can we really hear what other people have to say. Solitude is necessary for inner dialogue — there we learn to concentrate, imagine and listen to ourselves. We need these skills to be fully present when we are ready to talk with others.”
  2. Open with a compliment. Compliment a client for bringing in requested paperwork, or for maintaining poise under pressure, or simply for showing up on time. This sets a positive tone and helps build support.
  3. Discuss important matters face-to-face. “We’re so addicted to text and email we’re losing the delicate art of conversation,” says Catherine Blyth in Dailymail. “Texting doesn’t allow people to see one another’s smile when receiving a warm or funny message. And no one really bothers typing simple but powerful inquiries like ‘Really?’ or ‘Go on.’”
  4. Know when to zip it. If you catch yourself doing most of the talking, stop. You’re entering monologue territory. Give the other person a chance.
  5. Ask lots of questions. “You should be scouting the entire conversation for ‘tell me more’ opportunities,” says Larry Alton. “Keep potential questions in the back of your mind. Try to be as specific and inquisitive as possible.”
  6. Indulge in small talk. “Small talk is what leads the way to deeper conversation, much in the way that a car must gradually accelerate to a certain speed rather than hitting 60 miles an hour instantaneously,” says this writer.
  7. Pay attention to your body language. A smile, pleasant introduction and warm handshake are great conversation starters. As things get going, maintain eye contact. Avoid crossing your arms or grimacing as if you’re being tortured.
  8. Put all phones and devices out of sight. These will distract from the conversation even if they’re turned off.
  9. Prepare to be bored. In this digital age, we are losing the ability to deal with ennui. But boredom is a breeding ground for creativity. If you are patient, what may seem like a boring stretch of conversation can lead to a fruitful destination.

What are some techniques you use to spark real, inspiring conversations?


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

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