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Let's Talk: Eight Life-Improving Reasons To Master The Lost Art Of Conversation

These days there are millions of ways to communicate, but few of them offer the opportunity to take part in a high quality conversation. Maribeth Kuzmeski explains why it’s time to master this lost art

LOL, EOD, BRB, TY, and YW might be key elements of the way to communicate in a texting, emailing, social-media-obsessed world, but they don’t make for high quality communication or conversation. Heck, sometimes you might not even know what your communicating counterpart is even saying to you. With communication becoming more and more diluted by technology, Maribeth Kuzmeski stresses the importance of once again valuing great conversation — an essential element in building strong, mutually beneficial, and even profitable relationships.

“Conversations are the building blocks of relationships,” says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95, and …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-60176-1, $24.95,

“Without it, we form relationships that are devoid of substance,” she adds. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where the modern MO seems to be less talking and more texting. People either think they don’t have the time or don’t think it’s necessary to take the time to have real conversations with each other. But for anyone who wants to create truly beneficial relationships, you have to stop texting, walk away from the computer, and connect with someone one-on-one through a great conversation.”

Kuzmeski knows all about building strong relationships. An expert on the art of connecting, she teaches her clients how to connect with their customers in order to win business and build loyalty. Perhaps not surprisingly, she teaches that mastering the art of conversation goes a long way when you’re trying to connect with another person, whether in business or in your social life. “The goal of any conversation should be to build a mutually beneficial relationship with that other person,” says Kuzmeski. “By having a conversation with someone, you’re committing to connecting with him or her for the next 10, 15, or 30 minutes or more. Follow that conversation to its conclusion, and you never know what you will find out. The point is you have to be willing to have it in the first place, and that is something that too few of us value these days.”

Read on to learn why now’s the time to re-master the art of conversation.
  • It puts quality ahead of speed. Today, you can find out almost anything you’d ever want to know in seconds. You can rattle off a text faster than you can dial someone’s number. You can send an email out to multiple contacts in a couple of minutes. But with this speed of communication, you often sacrifice quality; and, ultimately, this sacrifice leaves you with paper-thin relationships. “Texting, IMing, and emailing provide great ways to communicate, but there is a one-sidedness to the kind of communication they allow,” says Kuzmeski. “There is a delay in the actual exchange of ideas that doesn’t exist when you are speaking with someone. With these methods, the chances are also higher that you will be misunderstood or you will misunderstand the other person because there’s no way to capture tone and feeling in a way that ensures it won’t be confused. To truly express yourself and allow others to express themselves, conversation provides the highest quality of communication.
  • It’s the glue of great relationships. You can email or text someone regularly, but it is only during a real conversation that a bond with him or her actually begins to strengthen. “Think about this in terms of your professional life,” suggests Kuzmeski. “Who do you trust more? The vendor who always calls you or the one who only communicates via email? Sure, you might enjoy doing business with both of them, but when it comes right down to it, your relationship with the vendor you regularly speak to is probably stronger. Conversation is essential in all relationships. If you can’t hold a conversation with another person, your relationship will quickly break down.”
  • It’s the only way to see what someone is saying. Face-to-face conversation is the only way to take in the total message someone is sending. It allows you to take his or her inflection, emotion, and physical gestures into account along with what is actually being said. It also allows you to show that person that you are listening and truly value what he or she has to say. “Your face, eyes, and body language allow you to give a range of emotions that indicates whether you are following what the speaker is saying,” says Kuzmeski. “Your face actively captures information. A simple nod of the head or a simple ‘uh-huh’ helps you acknowledge that you are really listening to what he or she has to say. Doing so helps you show you’re interested in the person and also helps you encourage him or her to keep speaking so that the conversation keeps flowing.”
  • It’s an opportunity-making skill. Being a great conversationalist can lead to great opportunities, both in your professional and social lives. For example, to get your dream job, you’ll have to back up your meticulously written resume with a great interview. The best, most comfortable interviews are those that feel like normal conversations — a give and take between two (or more people) who genuinely want to learn about one another. Once you get the job, your conversations with your new colleagues will help you gain their trust and build a rapport that helps you (and them) succeed. “In your social life, if you want to ask someone on a date or even just make a new friend, you’re going to have to be able to talk to that person,” notes Kuzmeski. “These are all situations where technology is only going to get you so far. Life’s opportunities are sealed with conversation, not texting or emailing.”
  • It’s a great way to invest in others. The act of listening — the other half of having a great conversation — shows people you care. “Have you ever been around someone who just wants to listen to you, wants to hear all about your day or your recent trip?” asks Kuzmeski. “Someone who is truly interested in you. You might not find them very often, but when you do, they really stick out. When you speak with someone and listen to what he or she has to say, you are showing that person you value him or her. And the wonderful thing is that in the flow of a great conversation, he or she is giving that courtesy right back to you. To me from a business perspective and in life, if someone wants to listen to what you have to say, then he or she must be a good person and someone you’d like to be around.”
  • It is not a requirement to be the most outgoing person in the room. If you’ve been using your shyness or lack of eloquence as an excuse for relying on technology for all of your communication, now’s the time to stop. “Being outgoing is not a requirement for participating in or initiating a great conversation,” explains Kuzmeski. “The only requirements are that you be authentic and show that you value what the other person has to say. You don’t have to say anything profound. You don’t have to impress people with your every word. You simply have to participate, actively listen, and be open and honest in what you say.”
  • It’s the best way to mend a broken relationship. There are some situations in business and in life that should only be handled via a conversation. The bottom line is, sometimes an email or a text just won’t cut it. Mending a broken relationship is one of those situations. “When you’re in trouble with a client or you’ve hurt a friend’s feelings, you have to get up and go see the person or, at the very least, pick up the phone and call, even when the conversation might be uncomfortable for you,” says Kuzmeski. “Have breakfast with the person. Have a lunch meeting. No matter what you do, get in front of him or her! Your client will appreciate that you’ve shown up during tough times, and you’ll be showing your friend that you value him or her enough to make the time. This is how you begin to rebuild trust, something that will be very difficult to achieve if all you’re doing is pushing the ‘Send’ button.”
  • It makes life better. The ultimate bottom line when it comes to mastering the art of conversation is that it makes life better — plain and simple.
“The times you really remember and cherish happen with other people,” says Kuzmeski. “For example, you might appreciate that your boss complimented you on a job well-done in an email she sent you, but will you remember that email a couple of days from now? In a week or a month? Probably not. But what if she made the effort to tell you in person and then proceeded to strike up a conversation with you about your thoughts on improving the company? Conversations allow us to show our value to one another and to show that we value one another. They are an important ingredient in living a full life.”

“If you’ve lost an appreciation for the art of conversation, it’s time to re-open that door,” says Kuzmeski. “Behind it are stronger relationships, more opportunities, and a more satisfying way of living. When you focus your efforts on having great conversations every day, you’ll see that great things start to fall into place.”