I wasn’t looking for a conversation but here was a delightful invitation. (Shopping is so boring unless I can terrorise someone and feigning conversation mistakes is as good as anything.) I plonked my groceries on the check-out counter and the cheery young miss on the other side smiled and said, ‘Hello. How are you today?’ I told her.
‘Well, I’m better now that my wound has closed but the surgeon should have told me it would take this long. It was still weeping last week. So, with arthritis in my knee and my irritable bowel syndrome, my wife’s snoring, the dog’s dermatitis, the cat’s boils and the canary’s flatulence it looks like it’s going to be a long winter. I was only saying to my neighbour this morning …’
Suddenly she leaned into her microphone and hailed, ‘Price check on three. Price check on three!’ When she looked back at me I said, ‘I guess you didn’t really want to know, did you?’ Poor thing. It was an innocent enough question, but she got the wind knocked out of her by a hurricane.
Hands up if …Hands up if you want to be known as a hurricane, a bore? What about a ‘know-all’? Opinionated? How about long winded? Or verbose? A bloviator? A parrot? A gum flapper? A chatterbox? Always on your soap box? Fond of the sound of your own voice? A snore machine? A blabbermouth? Full of hot air? Even voluble or loquacious?
Every one makes the same conversation mistakesWhether you are a consultant, a GP, a lawyer, an accountant, business owner, technical expert, Uber driver, mother, father, lecturer, teacher and particularly a sales person or just a friend having coffee or lunch with someone, you probably make all these mistakes every day.
Conversation mistake #1 – You answer the opening question.
- In sales, you hear the question, ‘What are you selling?’ and half an hour later your prospect is asleep at her desk and you’re walking out the door without an order.
- As a consultant you hear the question, ‘What can you do for us?’ and an hour later the management team is gasping for air because you used up all the oxygen in the room but they’re no wiser.
- After a trip your friend asks, ‘How was Thailand?’ and two hours later he’s stabbing himself in the leg with a fork to give himself adrenaline shocks to stay awake.
Conversation mistake #2 – You ignore the answer.
- ‘Did you hear the one about … ?’ or
- ‘Did I tell you about the time I … ?’
- ‘I suppose you read in the paper about …?
- ‘Have you heard the latest version of … ?
and if the answer is Yes, you repeat the whole saga anyway. Ask the other person’s reaction to it and continue the conversation based on their responses.
Conversation mistake #3 – You fail to read the signs and keep going.
I have friends my age whose eyelids flutter when I explain a problem or a theory. If it lasts longer than 45 seconds they’re nodding. I have to put my problem in terms of a question and make it short. They’re good about it then, because they are holding the floor again. I go home dissatisfied that I didn’t get to ‘star’ much but they go home thinking I’m a good listener! In other cases, I’ve had to learn to watch for their eyes darting about, seeing them follow a distracting incident or passer-by, glancing consistently at the TV in the coffee shop, checking the time (or in some cases the date). One of my twins tells me I’ve lost the other one if I explain something to them for longer than fifteen seconds. I have to interrupt myself and stop talking. I hate it and I hope to get it right one day for at least a whole day. The trouble is, don’t you find it’s so much fun to have an audience? Even a bored one?
Conversation mistake #4 – You go one better.Someone tells a joke and you either finish it for them or tell what you think is a better one straight on top of theirs. The same goes for travel tales, accidents, customer complaints, school memories, children stories, grandchildren stories, parent stories – anything where you fail to allow time for the other person’s narrative or anecdote to linger and attract the appreciation it warrants.
Conversation mistake #5 – You are a Johnny-One-Note.Yes, yes yes, you know all about Star Wars, WWII battleships, the problem of foreign investment, steam trains, the failure of government to protect farmers, Seinfeld episodes, your dear departed spouse, Homer Simpson quotes, Islam, Donald Trump. Good for you. Realise this though: We see you coming and we duck into a shop to avoid you. You’re not interested in us. You’re obsessed and you’re a pain that Morphine can’t alleviate.
Conversation mistake #6 – You talk about yourself.Have you heard me say this? The other person goes through life throwing a subliminal tantrum screaming, ‘Talk about me, the nicest person in the world, the centre of the universe, the only person I think about from dawn till dusk. I am your customer/client/friend/partner/child and I need your focus.’ Ten seconds after you start talking about yourself or expressing your opinion, you lose them – unless they ask you for it, but even then they only raised the topic so they could tell you what they think anyway.
A bit of a nudge: If you are not striking oil, quit boring. Ask a question and turn everything around.
Tell me in the comments section below. What’s the biggest conversation mistake you notice – either in yourself or others?