Why are you reading this article, what exactly about effective communication peaks your interest?
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 framework for effective communication—you’ll ALWAYS have something to talk about.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to have 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 one on one with clients. 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 effective communication 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 then 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 it happen.
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 effective communication is establishing rapport, otherwise known as breaking the ice.
I’m going to show you a shortcut to gaining rapport that you can start using right away, but first, let’s define rapport. The dictionary says:
‘A close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.’
Now let’s really define effective communication. You don’t necessarily need to be close or especially “harmonious” with the other person because the key word to notice in the definition above is “feelings.”
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 are intertwined with a blend of feelings.
So rapport is as simple as “feeling” comfortable around someone or having something in common with them.
Rapport is the wind in the persuasive sails, without it you might as well be pushing a giant boulder up a hill.
Another key concept to notice are shared “ideas.” 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 I recognize them as an individual.
– “My name’s Steve, I don’t believe we’ve met.”
– “Hi, I’m Tucker, nice to meet you.” – “Good to meet you too, Tucker.”
But even more importantly, I’m practicing the shortcut I had alluded to earlier, it’s called: Mirroring.
It sounds too simple to be true, but just repeating back the last thing someone said–or in this case, their name–has a hypnotic effect on people that will increase the more you apply it.
It may seem awkward at first, but by repeating back the last 2 or 3 words they’ve said, you’ll begin unconsciously capturing their attention.
A basic example:
– “What do you do for a living, Tucker?”
– “I’ve been an electrical engineer for 10 years now.” – “Wow, an electrical engineer for 10 years.”
Using mirroring not only keeps conversations flowing, but more importantly puts the person you’re talking to at ease..
Questions you can use to ‘break the ice:’
– What do you do for a living?
Exchanging information about what each other does builds understanding and trust. Just be sure to mirror them first to show you’re listening before exchanging any information about yourself.
– Where are you from?
Even if you’ve never been to their hometown, you’ll be more comfortable with them by knowing it. This is true vice-versa as well.
– What about when you’re not working, 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.
Whatever they say, mirroring back the last point they made can act as a linguistic bridge leading to the next step.
You may think that your partner will notice, or somehow catch on to what you’re doing, but as long as you keep the conversation flowing you can often do a couple ‘question and mirror loops’ before moving onto the next step.
And if you ever feel stumped for questions to ask, I recommend the F.O.R.D. model. With this you can ask about:
From/Family/Friends –Where are they from? Is their family from there? Occupation– What do they do for a living? Recreation–What do they do for fun or when they’re not working? Dreams/Desires/Direction –What are they working towards, where are they headed?
For best results begin your questions with a “What” or a “How” instead of a “Why.”
Avoid using asking ‘Why” since it can often put people on the defensive.
And in case there is some kind of misunderstanding or they don’t answer sufficiently enough for you to understand, I always fall back on 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.
To recap, the process of gaining rapport has 2 simple steps:
Mirror their response.
And once you’ve initiated a connection with a question or two and some mirroring, follow that momentum right into the second phase…
Phase Two: Leverage
The second phase is all about understanding a person’s feelings and what they really care about. We scratched the surface level with gaining rapport, but truly effective communication requires us to dig deeper.
You can bridge the Rapport & Leverage phases with questions, however the Leverage phase is made of one direct ‘label statement.’
A few examples of leverage-revealing label statements would be:
It looks like you are worried that X might happen…
It seems like you feel you’re in a unique position to X…
It sounds like X is important to you…
It seems that you’re really pleased with X….
For example, let’s continue our conversation from earlier:
– “It seems like you’ve got a solid career there.”
– “It pays well, although my wife complains about the hours I work, I’d really like to cut back soon.
Why label? The value in labeling comes from your attempt to pinpoint how someone feels about a given topic, whether they are proud of it, grateful, unsure, or anything else.
“It seems like you feel….” is probably the most fundamental example of a label statement, since discovering a leverage point in the conversation will rely on finding out how they feel or view their situation.
A good label will either be a ‘moving towards’ or ‘moving away from’ statement, which means that is should be emotionally charged positively or negatively.
So feel free to exaggerate or polarize, the beauty of labeling is that it’s hard to mess up since your partner will feel compelled to correct you. And that’s the entire point of it.
It’s when they correct your label that they reveal precisely the information/leverage needed to proceed into the third phase….
Phase Three: Story Telling a Benefit
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.’
The thing is that you can’t be pushy, and why would you want to be? To get your point across begin telling a story where they’re acknowledged and worldview is included.
So to start, we’re going to lean on the often-used ‘mirror hack’ to keep that rapport-train moving:
– “Cutting back on your work commitments, then?”
– “Yeah, my brother and I have been working on building this e-commerce business we started last year. To be honest, my job has become a golden cage.”
Next step is to summarize what we’ve gathered to this point:
– “I totally understand, I know what it’s like to go into an office building Monday through Friday when you could be directing that energy towards building your own venture.”
– “And weekends, too. At this point I don’t even need the salary, I just want to choose how I spend my time.”
By making them the most important person in the world you’re able to tell a story about them based upon their unique set of values and desires.
To paint this picture, use their personal context as a palette to summarize their situation, but in your own words.
The process you’re seeing consists of 2 steps that you can repeat back and forth as necessary to gain a tacit form of agreement even before you even ask for it:
Mirror their response.
Summarize their situation.
– “You can always make more money, but time is finite.”
– “Exactly, and my brother and I know that we can make far more in e-commerce than we could at our jobs. We’re just having issues promoting our products.” – “I see, so the wife thinks you work too much, you’re itching to break free of your golden handcuffs, and now it’s just a matter of taking your online business to the next level so you can quit your job.” – “That’s right! It’s just that there’s a lot of information out there, and it’s been a lot of trial and error to figure things out so far.”
By focusing on them and their story you’ll gain a ton of rapport, find what to leverage, and also make your counterpart feel totally understood.
That way when you’re ready to ask for their cooperation, you two will already be on the same page for the final phase:
Phase Four: Call to Agreement
This is the test to see how well you’ve come to understand the person you’re talking to.
In this next phase you’ll ask questions and label their responses to gauge their interest and confirm their agreement.
– “What about your brother, has he attended one of our training webinars before?” – “Not a live one, but he did see the replay and was actually the one who suggested I give you guys a call.” – “So it sounds like he’s excited to join the group.”
– “He’s more hesitant than I am because he’s still new to this, but I’ve been following your blog for the past couple years and it’s just recently that we hit a point where we realized that we needed help.” – “What’s the main reason you’re interested in joining then—is it just product promotion or something else? – “Lately we haven’t been able to wrap our heads around Amazon sponsored product ads, it was working like gangbusters for a couple months, but has started to dry up and we’re trying to figure out why.” – “Seems like you’re looking for a group of other Amazon & e-commerce sellers to mastermind with.”
– “Yeah, I just need real people who can tell me what I’m missing here.”
See how that works? Alternating from a question to a label, back and forth, leveraging the inertia of all the rapport you’ve built up to this point until you arrive at a shared destination.
Similar to other phases, Call to Agreement has 2 steps to cycle through:
Ask a closing question.
Label their response.
So far I’ve done 2x question/label cycles above, but as a general rule you’ll want to throw out a minimum of 3 question/label cycles to accurately gauge if your counterpart is truly on board with you.
– “We look forward to working with you then Tucker, what’s the best email address for me to send the sign up link & discount code to, it’s the gmail one right?” – “That’s right, the yahoo account is my brother’s email.” – “Sounds like you two have been talking about this for awhile now.”
– “It’s only been a couple weeks since he saw the presentation, but he wanted me to call to see if you were still accepting new members.”
Stumped for closing questions? I’ve got you covered. There is one little word that can turn almost any command into a question.
A short question like this at the end of a sentence is called a tie-down. For example:
– “You’ll be free this Friday, right?”
– “We can go ahead and book this appointment for tomorrow, right?”
– “You see the value in that, right?”
Just add a tie-down on the end of any label or command to make it into a closing question. This is powerful stuff, so don’t over use it.
Some more examples of tie-downs are:
That’s something you’d be interested in, right?
You’re following me on this, aren’t you?
That makes sense, doesn’t it?
That’d be fun, wouldn’t it?
You’d like that, right?
How’s that sound?
To illustrate this let’s take the last three label statements I made to Tucker earlier, and you’ll see how easy it is to turn them into closing questions just by adding a tie-down:
– “So it sounds like he’s excited to join the group, isn’t he?”
– “Seems like you’re looking for a group of Amazon & e-commerce sellers to mastermind with, aren’t you?”
– “Sounds like you two have been thinking about this for awhile now, haven’t you?”
If they immediately agree with you or you get a positive response out of them, seal in the deal by labeling what they agree with or what they liked about your proposition.
What if they say no?
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) Gain Rapport by asking Questions & Mirroring their response (2) Find Leveraging by tossing them Label Statements (3) Tell a Story of Benefit that Mirrors & Summarizes their situation (4) Call for Agreement by asking Closing Questions & Labeling their responses for confirmation …Rinse & Repeat
Using labels will reveal why they’re disagreeing. What did you miss? What perspective of theirs did you fail to account for? What objections have they not brought up?
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) pinpoint their viewpoint (3) mirror them & summarize their situation, and (4) finally tie it all down with at least 3 closing questions & labels.
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.
The Effective Communication Challenge
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 opening up 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.
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.