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Do you have a great mind for business but also social anxiety that holds you back?

Interpersonal communication, which has always been challenging for many, is further complicated today by convenient technology that can shield us from face-to-face communication or telephone dialogue. A client recently explained her preference for excessive text messaging (hundreds a day) because she appreciated its ability to help her avoid awkward gaps in conversation.

The art of conversation may soon be extinct, as those who remember the good old days of dialogue without a device become outnumbered by those who do not. And this allows women who might already experience some degree of social anxiety to avoid practicing communicating and overcoming conversation stumpers.

But as professional women, we will all, at some point, need to interact with clients, peers, and managers; and since we are socially expected to be naturally better at conversation than men, communication skills are critical to business success.

If you are painfully shy, your conversations may regularly end abruptly or in frequent misunderstandings. If you feel that your input is frequently overlooked or dismissed, your communication skills may need honing. Here’s how to address both problems.

1. Ask an icebreaker question. For example, asking where someone was born and raised allows you to share information you might know about the person’s home state or to inquire about that part of the country and what made her relocate. Most people respond favorably to those who show interest in them as long as the questions asked are not intrusive or too personal. Think of a few appropriate questions (i.e., not just weather or movies), to keep on hand for a chance meeting that requires small talk.

2. Use minimal verbal encouragers to seem responsive. Nodding and saying things like “right” or “I see what you mean” during natural breaks in the conversation let her know you’re listening and are engaged. Most people naturally pause and wait for encouraging sounds from the other person that assure them that they’ve been heard. They’re hardly noticeable when present, but when they’re missing, their absence is representative of what researcher and psychologist Dr. John Gottman refers to as a “failed bid” for another’s attention, humor, or support. Too many failed bids may kill your conversation.

3. Resist the urge to brag, name-drop, or interrupt. Do you know someone who allows you to speak only until she can seize control and dominate the rest of the conversation? It’s annoying, right?

4. Avoid providing too much detail. Droning on and on about details that do not enrich your story or add to the punch line encourages listeners to tune out, discarding unconsciously what they’ve already determined is superfluous commentary. People who chatter excessively tend to believe they have to justify their actions and decisions by sharing every phase of their thought process. Stay focused and your conversation will be more compelling.

By: Pamela Thompson, PsyD

Related Story: Conversational Courtesy


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