Why are you reading this article, what are you trying to get out of this?
Are you trying to sell a product or service?
…Or what about networking? Do you have trouble introducing yourself?
…Maybe you blank-out around the opposite sex–terrified that you won’t know what to say next?
Whatever context you’re looking to apply these skills, if you can follow this 4-phase conversational framework I’m about to show you–you’ll ALWAYS have something to talk about.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to wrap up a conversation in a way that gets people nodding their head in agreement.
Around 10 years ago I was asked an excellent question, it was:
”If you could do anything with your life, and if you knew that no matter what you did, that you could not fail, what would you choose to do?”
When I first heard this question, I had been reading and listening to a lot of Jim Rohn and Brian Tracy. For 2 to 3 years I had convinced myself I would become a master salesman, although in retrospect sales was merely a boot camp for my larger vision.
I started out selling face to face to consumers, then to small businesses, and eventually settled on consulting clients online. I think all entrepreneurs should have at least 3 to 6 months of face to face sales experience. There’s no better way to build entrepreneurial grit than to look someone directly in the eye and ask them for money.
After awhile, it’s a thrill. And when you have a process to lean on, it’s so easy..
The key to making it effortless is to understand that all good deals are based on mutual self-interest. You find out what people really care about, persuade them towards a common path where both your interests are served, and finally move them to action.
With this sort of skill set I knew that whatever goal I set for myself, I would only need to keep moving until I found the right people to make ithappen.
It’s all a numbers game and persistence is the key determining factor.
As Zig Ziglar famously said:
“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
I took this to heart, and so should you–and in this article I’ll explain exactly how.
So let’s get to it—I present to you: The Four Phases of a Successful Conversation:
Phase One: Rapport
The first phase of any successful conversation is establishing rapport, otherwise known as breaking the ice.
Rapport is defined as: a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.
Now you don’t necessarily need to be close or especially “harmonious” with the other person, the keys to pay attention to in the definition above are “feelings or ideas.”
As logical as we’d like to think that we are, most of our communication and actions are based on some feeling or emotion. This is the human condition, even our more rational decisions still contain a blend of feelings.
So rapport is as simple as “feeling” comfortable around someone or having something in common with them.
The second key mentioned above are shared “ideas and concepts.” Think of this as contexts, places, experiences, likes, dislikes, and roles that people play. The more of these factors that two people know about each other, the more likely they are to be open, creative, and engaged with one another.
The concept is easy to grasp: You have to create a real, personal connection with this individual–quickly–and it doesn’t have to be deep, just real.
This isn’t hard to do. In fact, it happens in a moment, you do it all the time.
My go-to method of establishing rapport with someone is asking them their name, then repeating it back to them immediately in my response and at least couple more times throughout the conversation. It shows that you recognize them as an individual.
By expressing interest and engaging with them on a personal level, you’re better able to hold their attention, but getting their name is only the first step.
A few other good examples are:
What do you do for a living?
Exchanging information about what each other does builds understanding and trust.
Where are you from?
Even if they’ve never been to your hometown, they’ll be more comfortable with you by knowing it.
Do you have any interesting/crazy/weird hobbies?
They’ll feel much more comfortable sharing things about themselves if you have an accepting attitude to unique or strange things.
Use anything that connects to them on a personal level. Talk about family, friends, places they’ve visited, or entertainment they consume. It’s far easier to understand and relate to a person if you’re able to humanize them and understand what their day to day life might be like.
Remember to also provide some information about yourself while you’re doing this.
While it’s important to get to know them, they’re also going to want to know something about you so that the bond you’re creating is mutual.
So once a connection is established, follow that momentum right into the second phase.
Phase Two: Leverage
The second phase is all about understanding a person’s motivations and what they really care about. We scratched the surface level with gaining rapport, but now it’s time to dig deeper.
This phase is all about the other person, you may have talked about yourself previously, but now it is time to ask and listen.
Really pay attention–you’ve got to actually care about the person you’re talking to in order for this method to work.
Now that you’ve got a comfortable conversation initiated, it’s time to start finding out who they REALLY are and what they believe about themselves, other people, and the world at large.
My favorite question to ask for this purpose is simply: “Why?”
By asking “Why?” you’ll end up discovering much about their morals, ethics, and what they believe to be true about life. Asking “Why is that important to you?” will reveal a person’s core values and motivations.
The key here is to ask open ended questions so they can elaborate and tell you their personal story.
For example: “Hey Tom, do you like it where you live?”
This limits Tom to a yes or no answer, it does nothing to invite further conversation.
However, posed like this: “Hey Tom, what stands out about where you live?”
This is completely open-ended and gives a great deal of room for Tom to expand.
And as always, if they don’t answer sufficiently enough for you to understand, my second-favorite tactic to use the question:
“How do you mean?”
This is the PERFECT question to use to for everything. It’s like hot sauce.
You can use it to diffuse tense situations or just to gain a sharper understanding of another person’s perspective.
Often you’ll find that by asking “how do you mean?” you’ll discover that you had completely misinterpreted what they had initially said.
So even if your questions aren’t that thought-provoking, people will still tell you all you need to know about them–provided you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.
And after some back and forth, you’ll know who they are and what they stand for, making it a lot easier to put forward your side of things in a manner that’s going to benefit them. Which leads right into the third phase…
Phase Three: Story Telling a Benefit
You came into this conversation (hopefully) with an end result in mind. You’ve begun to understand the personal you’re talking to as an individual, you know what they value and some of their perspective on life.
This third phase is all about taking what you’ve learned about the other person’s model of the world and tying it together with the point you’d like to get across. You’re trying to give them a personally compelling reason to nod ‘yes.’
Imagine that you are trying to get a friend to come to a conference with you. In past conversations you’ve learned what they really care about, what gets them excited, and what motivates them to act.
The key is to forget about the reasons why you want to go and focus on them.
Make them the most important person in the world and present the option of joining you as something that directly benefits them as well. In this way, you’re able to tell a story about them (or someone else in a similar situation) by painting a picture of what their future will look like with you, based upon their unique values and desires.
In the end you’re looking for a win-win proposition. If you cannot find a way that both parties will benefit then you probably shouldn’t be talking people into things, now should you?
By asking enough questions, people will tell you everything you need to know to persuade them. You just need to listen andweave their values & goals into a story that offers a direct benefit to them.
Phase Four: Call to Agreement
This is the test to see how well you’ve presented your proposition.
This next phase happens in an instant. It’s as simple as asking a short question which gauges their interest and agreement. By doing this, you’ll know whether or not you’ve made your case in a way that compels them to side with you.
In the call to agreement we want to use short tie-down questions.
Some examples of tie-downs are:
How’s that sound?
That makes sense, right?
Are you following me on this?
That’s something you’d be interested in, isn’t it?
That’d be fun, wouldn’t it?
You’d like that, right?
Do you want to go?
If they immediately agree with you or you get a positive response out of them, seal in the deal by asking them why they agree or what they liked about your proposition. By having them explain their reasoning to you they’ll create an internal bias and be far less likely to change their mind.
If they don’t respond immediately, don’t panic! The beauty of this template is that even if they are unsure or outright disagree, you can just circle right back to the first phase and start again.
In fact, you’ll probably cycle through these 4 conversational phases at least a dozen times in a normal conversation.
Think of it like this:
(1) Relate to them (2) Understand them (3) Present why & how they benefit (4) Ask for agreement …Rinse & repeat
Just remember to take note of why they’re disagreeing. What did you miss? What perspective of theirs did you fail to account for?
Explore that area to find out what’s valuable to them and why they think they way that they do, then re-frame your proposal based off of that new information.
If you run into an obstacle, circle back around to the beginning: (1) Relate to them to strengthen rapport, (2) ask them quality questions to better understand them, (3) present a compelling story, and (4) finally tie it all down with a short call to agreement.
This process is meant to be circular in nature, so you won’t get perfect agreement right off the bat, but if you keep cycling through these 4 phases you can get small measures of agreement which eventually build into full-blown commitment.
So now that you’ve learned the template, you’ve got to practice it! Get out there and actually have these types of conversations.
You’ve learned that people need to have some kind of connection or reason to give you their attention.
And to keep that attention, it’s best to ask them questions about what is important to them and just let them talk. Usually people are more than comfortable talking about what they care about and this information is crucial for you to ensure that your proposition is a win-win.
Once you have painted a picture of how they’ll be better off by accepting what you propose, ask them if what you’re saying makes sense.
By directly asking for feedback you can readjust and gauge exactly where they stand.
You’re going to be nervous at first, but that is to be expected. Lean on this 4 step template to simplify things and keep yourself on track. It’s even easier to master when you realize that you’ll be spending most of your time in the Leverage and Story Telling a Benefit phases.
And as always, practice makes perfect here. Expect yourself to take multiple runs through the process to get the hang of it, but once you do, you’ll be a conversational machine. As long as you can remain curious about other people, they will be interested in you in return.
So get out there, find out what people care about and show them how you can get to that place together—sound like a plan?
A. Steven Stelmach-Bondar
Andrew Steven Stelmach-Bondar is a lifelong student, a freelance philosopher, and Director of Operations @ StartupBros.