We had a great conversation! you say enthusiastically after you leave the meeting, a satisfied grin on your face.
What made it a great conversation? You enjoyed it? It flowed effortlessly? You got your point across? You got the outcome you desired?
Does it mean it’s NOT a great conversation if you didn’t get what you wanted?
I propose a different personal standard for a great conversation.
You dual-tracked it.
That’s what great business conversationalists do. They play on two tracks, at the same time, all the time.
Track 1: I listen to what my conversation partner is saying.
Fully, intently. I listen for the meaning and intent, not merely the words I hear. I ask for clarification if needed. And I listen to the thoughts and reactions I have to what I hear. The chatter in my brain as the other person talks.
Track 2: I plan my next move in the conversation.
While I listen, I also plan my next move. Will I ask a strategic question that fosters deeper reflection? Will I reframe the conversation to steer it into a different direction? Will I make a provocative statement to startle the conversation out of predictability? Will I crack a joke?
Dual-tracking is a tall order, I know. When you hang out with your buddies at the bar, don’t worry about dual-tracking. Just talk.
But when you’re in a crucial business conversation, forget about the little lies you were told in Communication Skills 101. Be a good listener. Nice. Not enough.
This is the game successful business conversationalists play. In the June issue of The Wall Street Journal Magazine, six luminaries are asked to talk about strategy. Here’s an observation by L.A. Reid, Chairman and CEO of Epic Records:
Strategy is first and foremost about the endgame. At this point it’s pretty natural for me to be thinking five or six steps ahead of the conversation I’m having.
Be in the conversation. Be five or six steps ahead of the conversation. And if you can, move the conversation in the direction of those steps.
You may not get the outcome you desire. As Mick Jagger so famously sang, You can’t always get what you want.
But when you dual-track, you have actively shaped the conversation into the only conversation that can happen in that moment.
I consider that success.