Conversation Nevers & Always: How to Build Better Relationships
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Conversation Nevers & Always: How to Build Better Relationships

Conversation Nevers & Always: How to Build Better Relationships

Customer experience and employee experience start with your ability to communicate with both parties. How can you perfect the art of listening? Ask fascinating, probing questions, follow-up questions, and then even more questions. Then be silent and let the person speak their piece. You learn valuable insights not from asking one question, but through an unstructured back-and-forth dialogue.

As Tom Peters notes in his book The Excellence Dividend, "If you ask a question and don't ask two or three follow-up questions, odds are you weren't listening to the answer. A good listener becomes invisible; makes the respondent the centerpiece."

It is not about listening to decide when to chime in with your own opinion; it is about listening to actually understand. Asking these two questions can dramatically help anyone's ability to listen to understand: "Tell me more" and "Help me understand."

In her book Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott makes this point extremely well: "Our most valuable currency is relationships.... In every conversation, meeting, or email we are accumulating or losing emotional capital, building relationships we enjoy or endure with colleagues, bosses, customers, and vendors."

Scott also notes that to be a great communicator you must have a totally open mind in every conversation you have. "People don't cling to their positions as the undeniable truth. Instead, they consider their views as hypotheses to be explored and tested against others," she says.

The following is a great guide of conversation "Nevers & Always" that will help you become fantastic at conversations.

Conversation Nevers

  • Never multitask.
  • Never ask a question because you are dying to answer it yourself.
  • Never ask a question and hijack someone's answer.
  • Never finish the other person's sentences. (I struggle with this one because sometimes people take a long time to get to the point. To help speed things up, I will finish their sentence, which is extremely impolite.)
  • Never steal someone's thunder. Suspend your own ego and let them enjoy their own story. This is a tough one for many because when someone brings up something you have in common, you can get excited to share your experience. For instance, you might ask someone where they went for spring break. Perhaps they respond excitedly, "We went to Disney World for the first time!" The listener might then respond innocently, "I love Disney World. We've been there several times." But this can steal the other person's moment or make them feel like they are being one-upped.
  • Never volunteer information about yourself that appears to be bragging.

Conversation Always

  • Always remove any distractions (digital devices, for example), demonstrating your full attention to the other person.
  • Always listen with your eyes. Make eye contact the entire time.
  • Always be an active listener. Ask interesting and probing questions, follow-up questions, and then more questions. Then be silent and let the person finish speaking.
  • Always show empathy and support in a nonjudgmental way.
  • Always be patient. Let the other person speak their piece, finish their thought, feel heard.
  • Always wait 2 seconds to process what you heard before responding.
  • Always be in learning mode; everyone has something to teach.
  • Always make the person speaking the focus of your attention.
  • Always collect FORD (family, occupation, recreation, and dreams) and document the intelligence for future use.
  • Always commit to a follow-up (when it is called for) or action plan by a specific time.

The conversation is the relationship

When you are able to show genuine interest in someone, with the goal of building a relationship, instead of trying to get something out of them, the friendship ends up being the greatest reward.

Social capital cannot be measured in likes and shares. While technology is constantly changing and improving to help us stay in touch with others, it will always be live, physical, real-time human interaction that builds trust and strong relationships and is the most mutually rewarding.

 John R. DiJulius III, author of The Customer Service Revolution, is president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that works with companies including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Nestle, PwC, Lexus, and many more. Contact him at 216-839-1430 or

Published: March 5th, 2020

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Franchise Update Magazine: Issue 1, 2020
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