Conversations and How to Have Them

Together we discussed friendship, which was one of my favorite experiences. But recently I have noticed that friendship (or relationships in general) are built and fueled by conversations.

Over the past few months I have been observing conversations.

But conversations are weird.

Some are like duels.

Some are like speeches.

Some are veiled.

Some are superficial.

Only a few are deep and memorable.

I recently shared some of these conversation observations with a class. Not just any class, but the last class of the year. This particular class has become a yearly tradition and it isn’t lost on me that the final chapter of the year (right before the Holiday Season) is a class on Emotional Intelligence.

Before I shared, I asked.

“What does it take to have a good conversation?”

The answers came.

“Listening. Letting other people speak. Making eye contact. Not being distracted. Not looking at your phone. Asking questions.”

Great answers. Great advice.

It was the last one that really resonated with me. It is what I have been observing.

Asking questions.

You need all of the first things, but it is the last part that may make the real difference.

Asking questions.

Demonstrates that you are interested in others and not just about yourself. (I have a friend who has made extreme strides in this area, and jokes about how they used to be as a reminder. During a conversation they will jump in with “Enough about me, now I want to hear what you think about me.”

Asking questions.

Questions help you to learn about others.

My assignment to this class was to spend the Holiday Season practicing having conversations. This practice starts with asking questions. It may be helpful to try out a few of these questions over your Holiday Season as well.

  1. How are you? (And listen to the reply. Wait for a reply beyond “I’m good” or “Fine” and maybe ask a second time. Really, how are you?
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are you most excited for in 2017?
  4. What are three things that you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
  5. What is the last book you read?
  6. How are you balancing your multiple roles?
  7. Can you tell me a little more about what you do? What most excites you about what you do?

And the list goes on.

Be careful about asking a question, then jumping in with your own answers to each of these questions. Remember my friend’s quote, this is about them, not you.

Asking questions.

Go try it out and let us know how it goes.

P.S. Sometimes conversations drift towards things that are not as important (Politics, Sports, the Weather) and I have a fun trigger phrase with a few friends when we drift off. Whenever one of us dwells too much on the latest game stats or news story, one of us remembers to say, “Are you Sad?” (Because we must be avoiding real conversation out of sadness…) We all chuckle and get back to focusing on things that matter most.

The Efficiency Expert

They are in every organization. They look at your process, workflow, or procedures and wonder why you are doing things that way.

They scan the world and see what you cannot see: wasted time, wasted effort, wasted energy.

They may be perceived as complaining, but they are not. They are trying to maximize the return for their own time and others.

They are the ones close enough to the action, the actual work, to understand where it can improve.

You may feel threatened, especially if you created the original way or process.

You may not be doing the work anymore, and are not close enough to find better ways.

You may need to listen, and let them help you.

I have my own personal Efficiency Expert.

She is the youngest of four.

Sometimes I misinterpret her motives as complaining or procrastination, but she doesn’t want to waste time or energy.

She finds better ways of doing routine tasks.

She challenges the old way, my way, and many times finds a better way.

The Efficiency Expert - Dishes

“You need to unload the dishwasher.”

“Ok, but this takes so much time.”

“Unload the dishwasher.”

“Ok, but this takes so much time…and I have an idea for next time. Why don’t we all put the silverware together in the same little bin instead of just dumping it in all mixed up.”

“Why would we want to do that?”

“Because just putting it in randomly seems like no big deal until you have to unload and put the silverware away. If we all spent a little more time loading the dishwasher, unloading becomes so much easier and faster. The silverware is already pre-sorted and you just have to pick it up and put it away.”

“You are amazing!”

“I know.”

The Efficiency Expert is in your home, office, or workplace. They can help you and the whole organization when you learn to listen.

Here or There?

“Are you here or there?”

The question seemed simple enough. The originator was concerned with geography and location.

“We are glad you are here.”

A simple statement. An appropriate welcome to a meeting.

“When will we be there?”

One of the most common questions in (my) life.

Somewhat fixated on the original question, my mind kept bringing it forward.

“Are you here or there?”

Are we present in the moment or always looking for some other distant event?

“Are you here or there?”

Are we distracted when I should be focused on those people or events right in front of us?

“Are you here or there?”

Are we enjoying the ride or impatiently hoping the destination will come?

“Are you here or there?”

By focusing on this question, maybe we can become less distracted.

By focusing on this question, maybe we can be more present in the moment.

By focusing on this question, maybe we can remind ourselves of the journey.

“Are you here or there?”

The answer may just change the (your) world.

5 Customer Service Skills

Customer Service is on my mind. The recent interactions with companies combined with updating my own presentation to prepare for a few upcoming sessions may be the root cause, but it is there.

While in the middle of updating some materials, an email arrived. It asked a simple question.

“What are the top 5 Customer Service Skills from your perspective?”

I let that email sit for about a week while I pondered my response.

Below is my list.

1. Empathy – the ability to see our customer’s world, their challenges, their struggles even when they seem to do something that we do not understand or agree with.

2. Follow Through – essentially being able to bring about a solution without stopping along the way and learning to either “Ask or Act” if we get stuck.

3. Respect – to treat customers as if we are trying to earn their trust, loyalty, and partnership each day, everyday.

4. Ability to Listen – to hear what is really happening, and not just assume what is being requested or needed.

5. Flexibility & Empowerment – to have enough margin and competence within your sphere of influence to solve what can be solved if possible.

Now a question for you.

“What are the top 5 Customer Service Skills from your perspective?”

We all look forward to your list.

Reclaiming (y)our Life

Listening to people can be revealing. If you listen (really listen), people will tell you a lot about themselves. Listen to the story they are telling. Listen to the one that they may not know they are telling.

While connecting at a conference, a story came to light.

“Carl, glad to hear that all the girls are doing well, still hard to believe your kids are that old, because you are so much younger.”

During the same conversation, we began to talk about running. I extended an invite to run with our group later that day.

“I am running more, but I am so old compared to you guys. I could never keep up.”

And later that day.

“Since I am so much older, I don’t have the same energy I used to.”

The real story was pretty clear.

As the group run was finishing, this person was finishing their run (ironically we all finished at the same time) and we were all standing in the lobby. I had a choice. Should I let their story continue or was there an opportunity to engage in this storyline?

“You know I couldn’t help but notice how much of your dialogue is about your age, how old you are, especially compared to others.”

“Is it that obvious?”

We reviewed our earlier conversations and that pattern that was previously hidden from them became clear.

“I didn’t realize how many times I said it.”

“Why do you think you are so defined by your age?”

“I think that so much of my life was defined by the roles that I have played: spouse, parent, and professional, that now I feel that I am trying to reclaim my life.”

“What do you mean reclaiming your life?”

“There are few decades of my life that went by so fast, and I was so focused on others, that I lost myself.”

We continued to talk. I could relate to this feeling of losing yourself when the demands of life, work, family, and career are competing to define us. We also talked about the role that these words are playing in the current reality. How the focus on age, and being older in some ways is not helping. Those words are trying to create a new limiting definition.

We agreed on two things:

1. We would be more aware of any self-limiting dialogue.

2. We would continue this journey of reclaiming our life and check in once in a while on the progress.

As we were about to part ways, I couldn’t help but ask one more question.

“How old are you anyway?”

It turns out that their perception of some vast age gap between us, was only four years.

Here are a few pieces of advice.

1. Listen. Listen to those around you, and your own words. How are you shaping your future reality by the word you use? What stories are you and others really telling?

2. Reclaim. Identify areas where you need to reclaim your life. What are those things that you had hoped to do, but your roles got in the way?

Keep me/us posted on your progress either in the comments section or via email on the contact me page.

(P.S. Just last night I read this story which may help all of us realize what is still possible, despite our age. And I thought running into our 80’s was possible…)