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How to get the most out of a conversation with another

Face-to-face communication remains the most important form of communicating - whether it occurs formally, as in a scheduled interview or disciplinary situation, or informally, as in a chance meeting in the car park or corridor. Cordial, cooperative discussions with employees ensure that their opinions are heard and provide a very effective means of obtaining information that will make your job much easier. The following approaches are worth considering...

1. Build trust and confidence.

Your initial aim must be to establish rapport by making employees feel comfortable in your presence and converse freely with you. Although there is no magic formula for creating that situation, authenticity and empathy are essential qualities - it’s OK to be yourself (apart from the fact that people are very quick to recognise incongruence, where physical and verbal messages contradict each other). A good starting point for any conversation is to get people talking about the most important persons in their lives - themselves.

2. Listen and be listened to.

Listening actively is hard work and is more than just not talking. Not only must you hear what the other person says but you must also convey understanding and interest through clarifying, summarising, paraphrasing, and reflecting feelings. Consider tailoring your conversations to your employees’ preferences - are they listeners or readers? ‘Listeners’ won’t read long written reports - they prefer to hear about them and the details, making a brief note to remind them if necessary. On the other hand, ‘readers’ have difficulty following a great deal of oral detail - they prefer to see it in black and white. So tell them the bare facts and leave your detailed message written out for digestion later.

3. Follow a successful formula.

The key to conducting a fruitful conversation involves the following:

  • Get to the point.
  • Get all the facts before reaching any conclusion.
  • Avoid using too much direct questioning; don’t cross-examine.
  • Don’t use verbal or facial cues that alert the listener to what is coming.
  • Keep your conversation factual and objective.
  • Confront issues, not people.
  • Slow down; instil confidence.
  • Lighten up. You can find humour in day-to-day events without being a comedian.

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