« 7. EQ skills: Four ways to keep conversation going »

By Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute; Author of "Business networking" (now out of print).

People skills and emotional management are essential parts of business networking.

Sure marketing and sales skills are also helpful along with technical expertise and business savvy, but at the very core are people and emotional skills.

And, at the very core of high level people skills are skills in emotional intelligence.

An important part of people skills and networking is the ability to make meaningful conversations with a variety of people, known and unknown, and to help people feel engaged in the conversation. Feeling engaged and feeling interested are emotions.

But how do you keep conversations going and help people feel engaged? What does emotional intelligence have to offer in this area?

Check out how good you are at keeping conversation going and helping people to feel engaged with the conversation with these three questions:

  • Do you skim over the surface of your conversation topics?
  • Do you choose topics of conversation that are trite, irrelevant or vague?
  • Or do you reap the rewards of using a variety of meaningful conversation topics?

Using meaningful topics can certainly help your conversations be interesting and engaging, but there is more to keeping the conversation going than just the topics you choose to talk about.

There is another article on this site interesting topics of conversation, and this second article will look at additional ways to have successful conversations when you are building business networking and other relationships.

It will also consider the role that emotional intelligence can play in this area.

EQ skills 1: Read the signs and change topics

Do not do a conversation topic to death, this can lead you down the path to an awkward silence, which in conversation can be terminal!

Be willing to change topics when you sense that your conversation is becoming too laboured or you are starting to repeat yourselves, or bore each other. This is where skills in emotional intelligence are crucial - you do need to be good at reading other people. It is the third emotional intelligence competency on the Genos emotional intelligence model.

One way of doing this is to look for the green, amber and red signals that tell you whether to continue, change or stop.

Go signals

Green signals from your conversation partner may indicate: "Keep going. I am interested in this conversation, happy to be with you and feel engaged." Examples of green signals may include:

  • Laughter.
  • Relevant questions being asked.
  • Comments being spontaneously added.
  • Facial expressions showing curiosity or interest.
  • Settled, soft, direct eye contact.
  • Full attention being paid to you.
  • Shifts in body posture towards you.
  • Adding further related examples from his/her own experiences.
  • Emotions being directly expressed,"I am so thrilled to hear about that".

And more.

When you see and hear these then it is probably fine to keep the conversation going with this topic.

Stop signals

In contrast, people may give you amber warning signs that this conversation needs to change and a new topic introduced, before it is too late and the conversation has died. You miss these signs at your cost. This is why emotional intelligence skills play such an important role in conversations. You need to constantly monitor the subtle emotional cues that people give and to read them accurately.

Examples of warning signs may include:

  • Fewer questions being asked.
  • Less information being added.
  • Short answers to questions.
  • Facial expressions showing early signs of boredom or disinterest, but hopefully not yet at the stage of yawning, that is a red signal.
  • A change in eye contact.
  • Glazing over.
  • Starting to look around the room.
  • Fidgeting.
  • A weakening of skin colour.
  • Few if any positive emotions being directly expressed.
  • Bland fillers being used, e.g. "Oh really", "Ah ha", "How nice for you", "I am sure you were pleased", "Right", and so on.

To rescue the conversation and keep it going, change topics and move to open-ended questions. And when you choose a new topic make sure it is relevant to your partner's areas of interest.

For instance, if you are talking to someone who has been a midwife, you might change your conversation by discussing some of the philosophical issues around childbirth, the importance of children, the value or otherwise of home births, what she most likes about being a midwife, and so on. I remember meeting a midwife at a conference dinner once and we had such a discussion and it was fascinating.

These conversation topics were meaningful to her. They thus evoked "positive emotions" in her, and these emotions help to keep conversation going, far more than negative ones. There is an emotional aim in networking, and that is why emotional intelligence matters. Positive emotions usually facilitate promising conversations, negative ones usually diminish them.

In contrast, if you were talking to someone who has no interest in children, no experience in midwifery and no medical background it would be a dreadful change of topic and a conversation that would die a very quick death.

EQ skills 2: Go deeper

Don't just flip from one topic of conversation to another. Even if you have great conversation topics, just quickly moving through them superficially will not make for great conversation. It's going into more depth and exploring the topics that will.

Thus, if all you ask is, "Did you see the football on the weekend?" the other person may say, "Yes, great game, wasn't it?" You may then say, "Yes, I'm looking forward to next week" and the other person says, "Me too", and that topic finishes and you move to talking about the cricket or parliament. This is superficial conversation and does little to add any depth to your relationship.

If, instead, you stay on the topic of football and talk about it in more depth, you might find it works well. Meaningful conversation topics can be created by exploring the topic.

For example, you might discuss your relationship to football rather than the game itself, what you like about it, how you first became interested in it, the family history behind your choice of football team to support, what your dreams were as a child in terms of sports, what you'd do differently if you were in charge of the sport, what you think of the relationship between alcohol and sport, women and sport or the media's portrayal of sportsmen and women, your thoughts on umpires, whether footballers deserve so much pay or not, and if they don't who does ... and so on.

Successful conversations arise when you develop a topic and stay longer on the issues that relate to it, providing you are both interested in it, of course. Again you need to read the signals people are giving about their levels of emotional involvement and interest in the topics. Yes, even when talking football, emotional intelligence skills are relevant - I know some people who hate football.

EQ skills 3: Use "I notice ..." or "This reminds me of ..."

When you want to introduce or change topics, you will probably prefer to do this smoothly so that people barely notice, otherwise you might feel self-conscious. Two phrases I have found useful in introducing new topics smoothly are:

  • "I notice ...".
  • "This reminds me of ...".

For example, "I noticed the paper ran a story on the new development this morning, what are your thoughts about it all?".

Or, "This picture reminds me of one we had on the wall in our hotel when we went to Broome recently, gee we had a good holiday, what have been your best holidays?".

EQ skills 4: Talk about yourself, generously

You need to talk to keep conversation going, and to talk generously, not in short grabs. Talk for at least three full sentences. But no monologues of 15 sentences without a breath, please!

A conversation is not a one-sided question and answer forum. You are to help the person feel engaged with you and to feel trusting of you.

This requires you to do more than just ask the other person questions. Instead contribute.

Conversation is an exchange of information, ideas and insights between two or more people. Trust is built trough this sharing process. Contribute information and insights about yourself. What you contribute of your own will have a big impact on how smoothly the conversation moves along.

Thus, if the conversation is about holidays, add your own personal experiences. The topic of holidays can be used to talk about many different aspects of your life, what excites you, what your dreams are, what you like doing, and more.

Instead of listing places you've been to or saying something like "I went to China once too", add more personal information into the conversation mix.

  • You might talk about your best holiday.
  • What you did.
  • The scariest things that happened.
  • The best food experiences.
  • Your experience of the cultural differences.
  • The questions the holiday raised.
  • How it compared to other holidays you've had.
  • What made it meaningful for you.
  • How it has influenced your life since then, and so on.

Contribute insights into who you are, what your values and beliefs are, and what makes you tick. It is our shared humanity that makes conversations meaningful.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about yourself, manage the emotions rather than stopping yourself from saying much. Emotional self-awareness is very important when networking. Instead of becoming self-conscious read the other person and monitor for signs of interest and disinterest.

Other people may find your stories and experiences far more interesting than you realise. It is certainly my experience in running networking workshops and attending networking events, that when people tell others about their lives they are really surprised that conversation goes so easily and others are interested.

Emotional intelligence skills involve you in being able to shift from one emotion to another so you have the best emotion for the task you are facing. It is also about being able to accurately read other people's emotional reactions. Sometimes if your emotional intelligence skills are not yet well developed in this area you can misjudge the reactions you will get.

Emotional intelligence can help you in so many networking situations. How high is your emotional intelligence?

Develop your business networking and emotional intelligence

There is so much more to learn about how to engage people, how to develop high levels of emotional intelligence, and how to be brilliant at business networking so you build your business. We have only scratched the surface here. Would you like yourself or your team to be even more skilled at business networking so they engage the people who matter? You can. With us

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us and we will discuss your options with you.