Everyone knows a bloke at work who seems to have a knack of getting people onside and agreeing with him whenever he opens his mouth.
Charismatic and charming, he climbs the career ladder with irritating ease.
Good news is, it's not some mysterious dark art at work here, the art of using your words and speaking habits to influence people can be learned. We asked conversation expert Rob Kendall, who has worked with CEOs, entrepreneurs and professional sports teams to improve their talking skills, for some pointers:
1 | See Conversation As A Skill Not A Talent
The world’s top CEOs and entrepreneurs know that conversation is one of the most important resources they’ve got. No matter how technically good you are, if you can’t engage properly, you won’t get people onside, and won't be able to get your point across in a way that makes things happen.
2 | Stay In The Moment
Rather than thinking about what was just said, or making mental checklists of what else you have to do that day. Notice when your attention drifts, and bring it back. Your connection with the other person will increase, and they'll think of you as trustworthy and interested in them. Professional sportsmen practice do the same thing: focusing not on the point they just won or lost, but on being engaged in the one they're playing right now.
3 | Don't Judge
A lot of entrepreneurs are fantastic at understanding that you need to remove judgement from work conversations, to get the best out of people. In stressful situations, our survival instincts kick in, and we go into fight or flight mode: people will get defensive, or retreat into themselves. Have conversations about what’s missing and needed in the workplace, rather than on what are the 'right andf wrong' ways of doing things.
4 | Adapt to different styles of decision-making
Understand that people have got different preferences on how they reach decisions. Some want to come to a conclusion in a conversation or meeting, others need time to gather information, go away and reflect. If you're trying to get someone on side, observe which way they work, and adapt yourself accordingly. For the former, lay out what your conversation is about and what you want to achieve with no preamble. For the latter, give them advance notice of what your conversation is going to be about, and don't hurry them for answers – come back to them the next day for their thoughts and conclusions.
5 | Criticise properly
If you need to criticise someone, sit down with them individually. Set up why you want to have the conversation and what you want to talk about, and ask them for their thoughts before jumping in with your assessment or evaluation. They’ll most likely give you a fairly honest appraisal, so you can get their insight and add to it. Give specifics – say "You’ve been late three times in the last month," rather than "You’re always late." Again, this is less likely to put someone on the defensive.
9 | Work with introverts
If you’re dealing with someone quiet and you’re a direct person, try not to cut across them. Keep your tone calm, so they don’t think you’re being over-bearing or aggressive: this will stop them mentally checking out of your conversation.
10 | Respond to body language
Note also: physical cues. Some people hate having their space invaded, and will step back or fold their arms if you get too close. Take notice and keep a couple of feet away, to stop them feeling distrustful fo you.
Rob's new book, Blamestorming, is available from October 2014. robkendall.co.uk