February 2012

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Every good conversation deserves a proper good-bye

When McGraw Hill asked me if I was interested in writing Perfect Phrases for Icebreakers, I accepted, partly because I had come to realize how much the way you open a conversation matters. Openings set the stage for good interaction. 

powerphrase_icon2Closings matter, too. You know this if you’ve ever been on the phone with someone who ended abruptly or clearly left you (in terms of attention) before the conversation had been mutually concluded. It feels odd.

Sometimes I’ll be ending a conversation when someone else will call, show up or otherwise invite my attention. Since the conversation is all but complete, it’s tempting to rush off to take the next call or tend to the visitor. What I prefer is to ask,

  • Can you hang on just a sec? I want to ask this person to wait a moment so we can say a proper good-bye. 

Most people appreciate the effort to close the conversation with the grace it deserves. I’ve yet to have anyone object to the short wait.

Stop making conversation and start inviting it

I visit a chiropractor who has great skills, a good heart, and tedious communication skills. He tried too hard. He makes conversation instead of inviting it.

phrase book for breaking the iceFor example, he asked, “how was your drive down?” This can be an acceptably good icebreaker question if you are actually interested in the response. I didn’t detect genuine interest, but decided to respond in a way that gave him something to go with. I briefly mentioned the CD I enjoyed while driving and shared a quick observation I made on the trip.

He proceeded to ask about the weather, what I’ve been doing lately and other unrelated topics without any indication of having listened to any of my responses. 

It would be okay if he was comfortable with silence, but he’s not. As soon as it gets quiet, he throws out another canned icebreaker.

One thing that helps me in my world of chit-chat is to think about my task as inviting conversation instead of making it. Of course, when you offer an invitation, you need to be prepared to respond to your guest. So an important tip is, don’t ask a question if you have no interest in the response.

Diane Windingland and I wrote a book of icebreaker phrases. It’s not about making conversation. It’s about inviting it. Check it out.