Making Conversations Better

It's a big part of every consultant's work.

We all know the disproportionate importance that relationships have in consulting (wrote about it here, here, here). With few exceptions, the services we're selling are tailored to each client, and can't be separated by how we deliver them. In many ways, clients don't hire our offerings - but us, the consultants who deliver their desired outcomes.

And how do we build and improve relationships? Through conversations. This is why having better conversations is something every consulting partner must actively work on.

If you have 5 minutes, I'd highly recommend you to read this post by Sasha Chapin. It wasn't specifically written for consultants, but is full of valuable insights for all of us. Here are some great passages:

You cannot force good conversations to happen. You have to allow and invite them, and small talk is where you get to the point of extending the invitation.
(...) The best invitations are usually casual and vague, if you’re at the stage of a conversation where you’re establishing a connection, which can be anywhere between 2-15 minutes in. “Say more” and “care to elaborate” are magical phrases. You can also repeat what they said. “Work has been crazy lately.” “Work has been crazy lately?” That can do a lot. The question “why is that important to you,” while more intense, can get you really far, really fast, if you sense a mood of openness, especially if you learn to ask it casually.
(...) you want to communicate, to your interlocutor, that you’re sensitive to what they’re saying, paying them close attention and perceiving their nuances, but that you’re not sucking on their every word like a remora.
(...) Something that not a lot of people do, but that seems to work well for me, is noting properties of the conversation within the conversation. This creates a sense of shared space and mutual understanding. “It’s really nice talking to you,” works, or, “I didn’t expect this to get so intense,” or, “it’s great to connect about this,” or “okay here’s a funny question.” You’re pointing out that you’re another human being, feeling similar to how your interlocutor is feeling, which is not always obvious.

Talking to other people is, for most of us, the single most important activity we perform at work. It deserves some attention and deep thinking to it.

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