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5 key conversational tips to build strong relationships

Healthy working relationships rely on effective communication and conversation. Keep these tips in mind during your next work discussion.

There’s a lot going on in conversations. It’s not just about the words being spoken and heard. Or about the nonverbal communication accompanying the conversation. And the way the message was interpreted. These components combined plus other important elements create a relationship between conversation partners. One way to think about effectively managing your conversations is through the five practices that should be present in any relationship building conversation:

Step 1 – show up

Showing up is first and foremost about being present in the conversation. This may sound easy but we all know how it feels when the person we are trying to communicate with is checking their phone or looking over our shoulder, or just has that slightly glazed over look. Managing our attention is one of the hardest things we need to do in our busy, distracted lives. But since we can’t be anywhere other than where we are, it makes sense to be 100 per cent present. We’ll get more out of it and our partners in conversation will contribute more knowing we are fully engaged.

Step 2 – listen up

We’ve all heard about the importance of listening up many times. It bears repeating that listening is the foundation to our effectiveness as communicators, leaders, and influencers. And it’s key to the idea of “showing up” and being fully present. “The biggest mistake you can make in trying to talk convincingly is to put your highest priority on expressing your ideas and feelings,” says John Maxwell in Developing the Leader Within You.

What most people really want is to be listened to, respected and understood. The moment people see this,  they become motivated to understand your point of view.

Step 3 – speak up

Speaking up may seem like an obvious component in healthy conversations. But everyone knows the frustration, uncertainty and anxiety that’s created when important issues are left unspoken. We talk about not mentioning the “elephant in the room”. Lots of words are said, but no one has the courage to speak up about what really matters. When someone does display the courage and skill to speak up candidly, respectfully, and confidently about the real issue, everyone sits up straighter and recognises that something important has happened. Leadership is happening.

Step 4 – lift up

Lifting up is the conscious commitment to leave the conversation with people feeling positive. It sounds like a great idea, but what about when you have no choice but to criticise, correct, or insist on compliance? What about when the exchange has been terse, tough, or filled with tension? Perhaps in such instances it’s even more important to aim to lift up not just the other person, but yourself and your shared conversation.

Step 5 – follow up

Aubrey Warren added another step after we launched our book, Conversations at Work. This was Follow up – it makes a powerful difference. Follow up sends important messages to the people we lead. Firstly, it says that what you’re doing counts. It matters that you get that project finished on time. It matters to adopt that new process. It matters to expand your network. It matters to establish a new client relationship. It matters to gather the necessary information to make an informed decision.

We have covered five key steps in building relationships. They include show up, listen up, speak up, lift up, and follow up. It would be helpful to remind yourselves of these next time you are having a conversation. All five steps make a difference.

Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author.

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