John Seely Brown once said, “Conversation is a catalyst for innovation.”
Even the most introverted of them all are bound to have conversations. Conversations are vital to building better work relationships, which leads to better collaboration and higher chances of success.
Imagine conversations as the threads weaving work relationships together, whether by brainstorming ideas, solving problems, or just bonding. In this article, we’ll dive into how to improve your work conversations, offering tips to transform everyday chats into powerful tools for boosting teamwork and connection.
The Value of Great Conversations
Great conversations in the workplace are so powerful, they have the power to impact personal and professional growth. In fact, 86% of employees admit that most failures in the workplace are caused by miscommunication.
Why are great conversations so valuable? Here’s how they contribute to the workplace:
Open Communication and Understanding
Great conversations are the cornerstone of open communication and understanding in the workplace.
Can you imagine working with people you can’t even have decent conversations with? Clarifying expectations, resolving conflicts, and offering constructive feedback become tougher. But when team members engage in meaningful discussions, they create an atmosphere of transparency and trust.
This paves the way for individuals to express their thoughts and concerns openly, fostering empathy and unity among team members.
Skill Development and Learning
Great conversations are excellent platforms for exchanging knowledge, experiences, and insights among team members. By engaging in conversations, individuals can learn from one another's expertise, discover new approaches to challenges, and broaden their skill sets.
For instance, constructive feedback and mentoring conversations provide valuable guidance for improvement, while brainstorming sessions encourage team members to explore innovative ideas.
Plus, these conversations don’t just enhance job-related skills. They also cultivate interpersonal abilities, fostering a continuous learning culture that propels individual and collective growth.
Building Professional Networks
If you want to grow your professional network, it’s essential to facilitate meaningful connections and rapport. Of course, you can only build that when you’re an excellent communicator.
Engaging in thoughtful discussions allows professionals to showcase their expertise, exchange insights, and establish a memorable presence. These interactions, whether during conferences, workshops, or even virtual meetings, offer opportunities to learn from others, share experiences, and find common ground.
Boosts Confidence and Interpersonal Skills
Engaging in meaningful dialogues allows individuals to effectively voice their thoughts and receive feedback, leading to increased self-assurance. These discussions develop the ability to listen actively, empathize with others, and adapt communication styles to different contexts.
This also makes it easier to have a better understanding of human dynamics. It allows team members to enrich their interpersonal skills, letting them gradually build the competence to communicate, connect, and collaborate.
How to Have Better Conversations at Work
Here are a few tips that can help you have better conversations in the workplace.
1. Be open to learning.
Being open to learning significantly enhances the quality of conversations by fostering a culture of growth and understanding. When individuals approach conversations with a willingness to learn, they get to enjoy several positive outcomes:
- You pay more attention and understand what others say, leading to more valuable responses.
- You're willing to consider new ideas and adjust your thoughts, making discussions more flexible and helpful.
- You empathize with colleagues and collaborate better, creating a supportive atmosphere.
- You approach conflicts with a desire to understand, making resolutions more effective.
- You share knowledge and refine skills together, benefiting everyone.
The key here is to embrace the fact that everyone has different experiences, which means everyone has a perspective unfamiliar to us. There is simply no room for the mindset that you know everything, especially if you want to grow as an individual and as a professional.
2. Stop multitasking.
Some people are built to multitask, while some aren’t. But when it comes to having conversations, follow one single rule – stick to the conversation.
When you multitask, there is a tendency for these things to happen:
- You might miss important parts of the conversation.
- You might take longer to reply, disrupting the conversation's flow.
- You might not get the full message.
- You might miss out on important body language or expressions.
- You give the impression that you are not interested because you are not entirely focused on the conversation.
No matter how well you think you multitask, you sacrifice the quality of your conversations if you do something else while talking to the other person. So make sure you’re giving your undivided attention and be fully present in the interaction.
3. Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions encourage people to provide detailed and thoughtful answers, often requiring them to explain, elaborate, or share their thoughts and experiences. This means you get to enjoy deeper conversations and more meaningful interactions.
By asking open-ended questions, you get to:
- Encourage people to share more
- Make people think more carefully about their thoughts and experiences, leading to a better discussion
- Make conversations more varied and informative
- Enjoy a more thorough discussion of issues and solutions
Unlike simple “yes” or “no” questions, open-ended questions are a more valuable tool if you want to understand a certain topic in various contexts.
4. Don’t make assumptions.
Making assumptions in conversations can significantly undermine the quality of the dialogue. It can lead to misunderstandings, as assumptions often involve guessing the other person's thoughts or feelings. This can result in misinterpretations of their actual message, creating a communication gap.
Assumptions also close the door to new information or different perspectives. When individuals presume they already know what someone will say or what they need, they limit the depth and richness of the conversation, preventing the exploration of new ideas or solutions.
Step into it with a clear mind and without bias to have better conversations. Ask clarifying questions when in doubt, and strive to understand the other person's perspective fully.
5. Keep conversations balanced.
Great conversations are made of balance, with everyone involved having that chance to speak their mind and share their opinions. The moment a single person talks over another, or anybody in the group is not given an equal opportunity to speak up, that’s when proper communication ends.
How can you make sure conversations are balanced?
- Active Listening: Give your full attention to the speaker, showing interest and refraining from interrupting. This sets a respectful tone and ensures each person feels heard.
- Moderation: If you notice someone monopolizing the conversation, gently steer it back towards balance. For example, you can say, "Let's hear from others too," or "I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, [name]."
- Summarize and Reflect: Periodically summarize key points and ask others if they have anything to add. This ensures that everyone's input is acknowledged and encourages participation.
Balanced conversations foster an environment of respect and cooperation, enhancing team dynamics and promoting effective communication and collaboration.
6. Value small talk.
A lot of people say they hate small talk. What they don’t realize is that bigger and better conversations don’t happen in a snap, and small talk is the perfect way to make those happen.
They also serve as an icebreaker, especially in new or unfamiliar settings. It eases tension, helps people feel more comfortable, and sets a positive tone for more substantive discussions.
Whether you just bumped into someone in the hallway or were randomly matched in your organization’s virtual coffee chat initiative, small talk has become a valuable tool for building relationships, fostering effective communication, preventing conflicts, and creating a more positive and collaborative work environment.
7. Be intentional.
Being intentional in workplace conversations means actively planning and directing your discussions to achieve specific goals or outcomes. While small talk is valuable, being intentional usually applies to planned interactions like meetings, catch-ups, and other similar exchanges.
What does being intentional involved?
- Having clear objectives and specific goals
- Staying on-topic to fulfill the conversation's purpose
- Responding thoughtfully as needed
- Using clear and respectful language
- Adjusting your approach as needed
Being intentional means consciously and purposefully shaping your workplace conversations to achieve the desired outcomes, fostering more productive, respectful, and meaningful interactions.
8. Be aware of non-verbal cues.
Not everything can be expressed in words. Sometimes, people say what’s on their mind through non-verbal cues.
Non-verbal cues are communication signals expressed without words. Some of the most common cues include:
- Facial Expressions: Smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows, and other facial movements convey emotions and reactions.
- Gestures: Hand movements, like pointing, waving, or thumbs-up, can express thoughts or instructions.
- Posture and Body Language: Standing tall, slouching, or crossing arms sends signals about confidence and openness.
- Eye Contact: Maintaining or avoiding eye contact indicates engagement or discomfort.
- Tone of Voice: Variations in pitch, volume, and pace convey emotions and attitudes.
- Touch: A handshake or pat on the back can communicate warmth, support, or agreement.
- Physical Proximity: How close or far people stand from each other reflects comfort levels and relationships.
Non-verbal cues convey emotions, intentions, and attitudes, adding depth and context to verbal communication.
9. Seek common ground.
People will always have different opinions and perspectives. This means that any conversation can quickly shift into a downward spiral in a snap. This is why knowing how to seek common ground is important, especially once people start disagreeing.
Some ways to seek common ground in a conversation are:
- Pay close attention to the other person's viewpoint and concerns even if you disagree with them.
- Acknowledge the other person's feelings and concerns to show respect.
- Explore areas where your goals or objectives align and discuss values or principles you both hold dear.
- Be open to compromise or middle-ground solutions that accommodate both parties' interests.
- Stay calm and respectful throughout the conversation.
By following these steps, you can effectively seek common ground in a conversation, even in situations with differing opinions or perspectives.
10. Know when to end the conversation.
Knowing when to end a conversation is a valuable skill in effective communication that not many people can do. When you know how to end a conversation, you show respect for others' time and preserve relationships. It makes the other person realize you’re someone they’d be happy to have conversations with again.
To recognize when a conversation has reached its end, watch for these cues:
- The conversation had a specific goal or objective, and that has been achieved or addressed
- When you find yourselves revisiting the same points or running out of new topics to discuss
- If one or both participants become visibly less engaged and show signs of distraction or disinterest
- Non-verbal cues from the other person, such as shifting body language, checking the time, or displaying signs of restlessness
- If the conversation involves decision-making, and all parties have reached an agreement or consensus
To end a conversation, look for natural breaks or pauses in the conversation. Then, verbalize the end of the conversation and thank the other person for their time.
11. Cultivate Empathy in Conversations.
Cultivating empathy during discussions takes your professional conversations to a whole new level. It's about more than just hearing what the other person is saying—it's about genuinely understanding where they're coming from.
How does empathy make a difference?
- You build stronger bonds and trust within the team, making collaborative work more effective.
- You tackle issues from a holistic viewpoint, leading to solutions that are aligned with everyone's interests.
- You diffuse potential conflicts by creating a space where all parties feel seen and heard.
- You encourage a culture of openness and mutual respect, crucial for any thriving work environment.
Incorporating empathy starts with active listening, followed by asking compassionate questions that get to the core of the other person's feelings or thoughts. It makes your conversations more than just exchanges of words; it makes them meaningful interpersonal connections.
12. Master the Art of Timing.
Timing can be everything in a conversation. Knowing when to speak up and when to listen can be as crucial as what you're actually saying.
How does mastering timing benefit your conversations?
- You avoid interrupting, which can frustrate or belittle the other party.
- You seize opportune moments to introduce new ideas, making your contributions more impactful.
- You recognize when it's time to wrap up the discussion, showing respect for everyone's time.
- You adapt to the ebb and flow of the conversation, making it feel more natural and engaging.
Pay attention to verbal cues, body language, and the pace of the discussion to get the timing right. Whether it's allowing a pause for someone to jump in or knowing when to transition to a new topic, good timing can significantly enhance the quality of your conversations.
How CoffeePals Helps You Have Better Conversations
Great conversations have to start somewhere, and CoffeePals is a great tool to do just that.
CoffeePals matches people to meet over a cup of coffee (or, honestly, just about any beverage you prefer) through Microsoft Teams. These coffee chats create a relaxed and informal environment, making it easier for participants to open up and engage in authentic conversations.
Get rid of the notion that you’d have to be an extrovert and a people person to make these initiatives work. Through CoffeePals, you can start small by looking for things in common with whoever you’re matched with. Before you know it, you’ll be networking with people from other teams and departments and sharing insights, experiences, and knowledge that might not come up in structured work discussions.
To start building connections and have better conversations through virtual coffee chats, you can start with a small free team here.