How your conversations are keeping you from being an effective networker.
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Job SearchNetworking
Last week, I was talking to a friend of mine. “How are you doing?” she asked. “I’m really tired. I was on six different planes and three different hotels in three days, but it was…” Before I could get another word in, she took over the conversation and told me how tired she was. She had just spent a long weekend trying to pack up and get ready for a big move. She went on for ten minutes about this big move. I got even more tired just listening to her go on about it.
Then, I was getting a pedicure, and the woman next to me asked me what I did. I started to tell her that I run networking groups for executives. “That’s so interesting! I’ve always been involved in Network Marketing. A couple years ago, I was working with the LARGEST telecom company in the world…” And she said a lot more (probably something to the effect of how people can make MILLIONS doing this), but it was right about the time that Heather put the sea salt on my feet and began massaging. Needless to say, my thoughts were elsewhere. Honestly, it should be against the law for someone to talk to you while you’re getting a pedicure! Especially about network marketing – which is not what I do at all!!
But it reminded me, and I’m continually reminded every day, how many people steal the conversation. They take it right over. They think they’re adding to it, but they’re really stealing it! They should be arrested by the conversation cops!
To be a good networker, you need to “Let Them Win!” Practice letting other people win the conversation. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy to do. I used to be a conversation thief all of the time, taking over the conversation, one-upping people. That is, until I was exposed to this concept a few years back. Sometimes I fall back into my old ways, but I try.
You see, every time I’d be in a conversation about food, it would go something like this:
John: I had the best ice cream the other day.
Molly: Oh, no, the best ice cream is in Red Square in Moscow. The ice cream person comes around about 4pm and everybody buys it. It’s amazing!
John: Wow, this is the best hot chocolate.
Molly: Oh, no! The absolute BEST hot chocolate is in Paris – right in Montmartre where all of the artists are painting portraits. It is simply the best.
I kept one-upping people. And I didn’t even realize it. Here I thought I was adding to the conversation, but in reality, I was taking away from the conversation. The “I can top that” kind of message or “it’s all about me” don’t do anything to build a relationship.
This happens ALL the time in personal conversations, but it also happens all the time at networking events. So many times, I see people steal the conversation. They open it up with a question, and then just take it right back – with all about them – only to lose the ability to take the relationship further.
You’re probably thinking that the mere definition of a conversation is a two-way interaction. And yes, you’re absolutely right. But there are two thoughts here. First, when you steal the conversation, you bring it down to a one-way information spew. And secondly, in all relationships, there is some give and take. First, practice the give, then practice the give and take.
Before you decide to “add” to your next conversation, why don’t you wait a few minutes? Why don’t you bite your tongue? Why don’t you see if the conversation can stand on its own without you contributing all about you?
I used to have a friend (the operative words being “used to”) that was a constant conversation thief. It was all about her. I’d bring up an outfit I bought, and she’d follow it up with the fifteen outfits she purchased. I’d start to talk about a trip I was going to take, and for the next thirty minutes, she’d give me the play-by-play of every trip she ever took. Everything had to be about her. And it’s not that I was looking for everything to be about me. It’s just that if she asked. She answered. If I asked. She answered. If you asked. She answered. We’re no longer friends. She’s probably still wondering why.
Here’s what I do now. When someone wants to steal the conversation, I let them have it. I don’t care. Because networking and building a relationship is not about me. It’s about them. If what they have to say is sooooo important to them, then let them have it. Who cares? Remember the wise words from Dale Carnegie. The more people talk about themselves, the more they’ll like you. The more they like you, the more they want to help you. So, at the end of the day, who cares that you didn’t get to chime in with your story on Mt. Everest. Who cares?
But there’s a difference between friendships and networking. I have plenty of friends where sometimes I need the floor. And plenty of times where they need the floor. If they call me, they must have something to say. Something they need or want to discuss. So, it’s theirs. They can have the floor all they want. And if I call them, I talk about what I need, but make sure we talk about them.
But when you’re out networking, meeting people, you’re not yet at this stage. You’re still building the relationship. You’re not really at that two-way street stage yet. So quit being a conversation thief. If you want to be seen as something other than an arrogant [expletive], let them win. Let them talk all they want. If you have something to add, say it quick and turn it back to them (or don’t even say it…and let it be all about them).
So next time someone tells you how tired they are, don’t take it as a free ride to tell them how tired you are. The next time someone says they’re busy, don’t grab the baton and give them busier back. The next time someone is laid up with the flu, don’t think it’s an opportunity to talk about your last bout with the flu. The next time someone tells you about a big deal they landed, don’t steal the show with your bigger deal. The next time someone tells you about an interview they’ve landed, don’t steal their glory by talking about your own job search. Let it be theirs. Let them have the sympathy or the accolades. Let them win. And in letting them win, you’ll be amazed how much further you can take the relationship!