5 Underrated Conversational Skills of Highly Successful People
Andrew Thomas is a co-founder of SkyBell Video Doorbell, a smart-home-security company that is making homes and neighborhoods safer with a video doorbell that lets users answer their door from a smartphone. SkyBell has raised millions in funding to date, was named a 2014 CES Innovations Award Nominee, and works with Amazon, Best Buy, Nest, Comcast, and Apple Homekit.
Do you ever marvel at how easily successful people seem to make friends and build strong networks? They make charisma look easy–even unattainable. This charisma comes from a few key conversational skills that are actually so basic that most of us overlook them on a daily basis.
As a founder of SkyBell, a video doorbell that homeowners can answer from a smartphone, I’m responsible for business development, strategic partnerships, and press–all of which require strong interpersonal skills. Prior to SkyBell, I frequently made mistakes while networking and meeting people. I turned this around by discovering and learning a series of fundamental conversational and networking skills to use instead of the usual networking gimmicks we often hear about.
In business and life, it’s not about what you know–it’s about who you know. Here are five underrated and fundamental skills that help highly successful people easily make friends and build strong networks.
1. Don’t interrupt.
There isn’t a soul on this planet who likes being interrupted, yet it’s the most common conversational mistake we make. When you interrupt someone, you suggest that your voice is more important. Interrupting also makes people feel defensive. Neither leads to a positive interaction.
Show more respect and stop interrupting people whether it’s at home, at work, or at an event. The best hack for this is to bite your tongue (gently) and to wait three seconds after the person is done before you start speaking. Three seconds is enough time to make sure they aren’t just pausing after a sentence. When I stopped interrupting others, I found that they were less inclined to interrupt me. The result is a pleasant, two-sided conversation.
2. Don’t give unsolicited advice.
I thought I was helping people by giving them feedback on their business or ideas. I didn’t mean any harm by it, yet I noticed that many people didn’t appreciate it–even if it was constructive. No one said thank you and no one followed up with me.
Here’s how to adeptly volunteer advice or help: Start by asking questions to gain more understanding of the other person’s situation, instead of relying on assumptions. If you still want to give advice, state that you have recommendations that might help and ask if he or she is open to hearing them. If the answer is yes, you’ll feel gratitude for your help–not resentment. If the answer is no, the other person will appreciate your gesture of kindness and respect you for asking. By doing this, you take a lose-lose situation and turn it into a win-win–and earn a fan in the process.
3. Ask questions (and actually listen).
There is no better way to make a new friend than by giving someone your full attention. Highly successful people focus on the other person by asking questions and actively listening to the responses–without interrupting. They learn about the person, and by doing so, connect with that person on a deeper level.
Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, says, “Nothing is more flattering than rapt attention.” He adds, “Ask people about themselves, and they’ll talk for hours.” Do this and you’ll make a friend for life.
You can ask anything you want. Ask people about their day or why they’re at the event. Ask them about their life goals or their passions. Try to ask questions that start with “what” or “how” instead of questions that start with “did,” “do,” or “have.” The former yield real answers that allow you to learn about them and respond in a meaningful way. The latter result in “yes” or “no” questions that can halt a conversation before it really starts.
4. Pay it forward.
Surely you’ve felt that overwhelming feeling of gratitude when someone helps you without expecting anything in return. We see the giver in a new light and we can’t wait to return the favor.
Paying it forward is a proven way to make meaningful connections and help someone in the process. The person you help will feel a strong sense of gratitude, which prompts them to return the favor or pay it forward to someone else. This creates a chain reaction of people helping people. Next time you speak with someone, think about how you can help them without any strings attached.
5. Meet the person, not their occupation.
Most interactions follow the same boring script: Someone asks us what we do and we answer with our job and company. Then we spend 10 minutes sharing a superficial and detached conversation.
Highly successful people know that there is a person behind the occupation, and they meet that person. You can do this too by asking questions about the person and not their job. Here are some example questions:
- How does your job fit in with your life goals?
- What have you been passionate about lately?
- What do you like to do when you’re away from work?
When I started asking these questions, I noticed that people were thrilled to stop talking about their jobs and open up, peeling back the superficial layer and allowing for a stronger connection.
Notice that these skills are based more on respect than on tactics. You’ll be amazed at how people respond to you when you treat them with respect. At the end of the day, highly successful people make others feel good about themselves. This should be your goal as well. When considering the skills in this article, remember that the golden rule is the best way to put it all together: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There isn’t a more universal, effective mantra for building real relationships and a powerful network.