An unexpected meeting with Martin Clunes at a ‘Dodgy’ Concert in the quite fabulous and intimate ‘Bush Hall’ in London provided the light-bulb moment for this article.
To be completely honest, Mr Clunes and I didn’t ‘meet’, it was only an exchange of glances as we passed in a shady corridor. And for the record, despite its auspicious name, the band was excellent and took me straight back to the days of managing Twelve Angry Men.
Art of Conversation
But let’s get to the point of this article. A few months ago I wrote about networking in a piece entitled ‘How to play the Business Dating Game’ and specifically how some people in business (and in life) can be utterly boring. But when I think about ‘some people’ what I was thinking most of was ‘some men’.
Good conversation involves the blend of three types of communication: Making statements; Asking questions; and Listening (verbal and non verbal). Unfortunately, some men mistakenly believe that good conversation only involves the statement bit which is typically an unending monologue about a subject that only interests them.
Being stuck listening to self-interested babble can be quite draining especially if you’re at a networking event or dinner and want to appear polite. But it’s the next bit of behaviour that really rankles. When someone’s inane babble eventually stops (and you seize the momentary silence as your queue to chip into the conversation) take the opportunity to look directly at the eyes of the man you are with and watch what happens.
Men who are so adept at talking are often utterly hopeless listeners. When you start talking watch carefully to check the direction of their gaze; you can immediately tell whether they have any interest in what you are saying. Rather than looking at you, their eyes may start to look around the room or at the floor and almost deaden in appearance. Static mouth syndrome has caused instant and apparent boredom with whatever point you might be making.
The only recommended action in such circumstances is a swift loo exit; alternatively, fire up the fantastic ‘Fake Call’ rescue app if you have an iPhone or similar device.
Another male dominated trait which I find painful yet insightful, is the business of self-promotion. Now you might be thinking that entrepreneurial people have to blow their own trumpet from time to time, and you would be right.
But when people start to tell me how good they are at something, without being prompted or asked, I typically find it is a sign of deeper insecurity about their own ability (boastful business men typically don’t deliver). By contrast, in all my experience, the people who are really good at something tend to keep it to themselves or wait for the appropriate time to talk about or demonstrate their talent.
Curiously, people who don’t boast unnecessarily yet still deliver, are often far more likeable and far easier to trust.
Conversation and being at ease with what you are saying is a real skill. It appears simple and for some people is a very enjoyable part of business. But to be good at conversation and understand its patterns and intricacies as well as how it’s used to influence thinking and win favour, takes practice and understanding. And the learning never really stops.
Hitchhiking with total strangers provided me with a great opportunity to repeatedly practice conversations and learn how to get on with and read people. The Blog article entitled ‘Building sound relationships from scratch’ provides more detail on the theory and practice relating to this issue.
I am certain that hitchhiking made me more confident around people and helped me to build long-standing contacts and networks within the businesses where I work. Hitching helped to round some of the corners off my irksome personality; and on more than one occasion time spent by the roadside (post hitch) proved very valuable in terms on self-reflection, particularly when a lift had not gone well.
Unfortunately, the men who behave badly have grown to believe too much in their own self importance and/or have never been really told how dull they are in company. To avoid this ‘club’, it’s always wise to seek feedback from people whose opinions you trust. In addition, when in company develop a mindset that puts others first. You can never underestimate the power and value of asking questions and showing that you’re listening to the responses.
Key Learning Points: Conversation and talking are two different things. People typically enjoy talking with one another but some men can spoil the party because they don’t realise how their selfish approach damages rather than builds relationships.
*Title used with grateful thanks to the BBC and the marvellous Mr Clunes