A few months ago, I was on the phone with a business associate of mine. He’s about 20 years older than me. He makes more than a million dollars a year, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that decisions he makes impact billions of dollars.
Essentially, he is an influential dude. He should run all over me in every conversation we ever had.
But, in this case, I was on the phone with him while pacing my apartment. My girlfriend was listening to my side of the conversation.
I got off the phone, and she looked over. She cocked her head to the side and said: “you know, you control every single conversation you’re in.”
But, think about who was on the phone. He definitely should have controlled it, not me.
It didn’t used to be like that. Once, when I was younger, I had a dispute with a teacher. We had a test in her class where we needed to mark whether or not a word was an adjective or an adverb. I marked the word an adjective, and the teacher marked me wrong.
I looked it up in the dictionary and I was right-the teacher made a mistake. I brought the dictionary into school the next day to show her.
Even with the literal right answer on my side, she belittled me. She berated me, in front of the class.
It sucked. And I definitely didn’t control that conversation.
Controlling the conversation is not a bad thing
Before going any further, it’s important to acknowledge what controlling the conversation is, and what it isn’t.
Controlling the conversation is not being that dominating, overbearing voice that won’t shut the hell up. It’s not bulldozing everyone else in the room. It’s not interrupting or just being an overall asshole. You definitely know people who fit this definition.
They are NOT conversation controllers. They ARE assholes.
Instead, controlling a conversation is a couple of things. It’s:
- Steering the conversation in the direction you want it to go
- Making sure every party in the conversation has a great experience, enjoys talking with you, and wants to have more conversations with you
Effectively controlling a conversation is the most valuable skill you can have in life and in business
Think about the two criteria listed above for controlling a conversation. If you do it right, you get what you want out of a conversation AND the other person still liked the conversation. They want to continue chatting with you.
Now, think about what that could do with you in your professional life. You would be able to talk with everyone, such as that guy I mentioned earlier, and get what you want out of it. Even better, it’s not sleazy and the other part will want to continue chatting with you.
In your personal life, it’s the exact same thing. You are able to build strong relationships with people AND they want to continue spending time with you.
It’s the most valuable skill one could possibly have.
So, how do you do it?
The key to controlling a conversation is to ask more questions than you answer
Most people don’t do it though.
Here’s why it’s so powerful:
- By asking the other party questions, you get to understand their motives and what they are looking for. With that information, you can then provide them with the exact result they want in the way that is most advantageous to you
- By asking the other person questions, you’re giving them room to talk. Most people love to talk about themselves and love conversations with others where they talk more than listen
So, play into what they are looking for. Give them what they are looking for by listening.
Let’s flashback to that conversation with I referenced earlier. Here’s a bit more detail. This was a Friday afternoon call, and that guy started the conversation by asking me to do some work that would have taken the entire weekend.
I obviously didn’t want to do that.
And I controlled the conversation, so I didn’t have to do that.
Here’s how: I asked questions to learn his motive. He wanted the work done so he could show our end client something impressive and that we had done things that would add a lot of value to their enterprise.
By asking questions, I realized that was his objective. So, then I said something along the lines of:
“You know, (Name), I hear you about wanting this work. But I’m thinking here: wouldn’t it be far more impressive if instead, we share(insert work that I already had done).”
Because I knew he wanted something impressive, I just described my existing work as impressive.
Boom, problem solved.
I got off the phone with my objective accomplished (free weekend) and he got off the phone excited and wanting to chat more. I had listened to him more than I spoke, and I gave him exactly what he wanted…something impressive to show the end client.
Possible questions to ask if you can’t think of a question to ask
So, it’s normally pretty easy to control a conversation just by asking “why.” However, if you are running out of questions to ask, here are a couple of generic ones that I’ve used and found quite helpful.
- Can you help me understand how you’re thinking about this?
- What does a good result here look like?
- What am I not asking about that I should be asking about?
These questions can be used in almost every situation, and all help reveal the other person’s motives. It’s an easy way to get exactly what you’re looking for out of a conversation and help you control a conversation in the end.
Go control your conversations!