how to start a conversation

Maintaining many professional relationships is undeniably one of the most important aspects of career growth. You never know when a current colleague could turn out to be the source of your next job!

We’ve all heard the old saying, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know,” or the more modern (and definitely better) take of, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.” This makes total sense when you consider statistics from LinkedIn stating that referrals are the #1 way people discover new jobs, and is considered a top source of quality hires for companies.

Building professional relationships can be a rather difficult task in the workplace, since you’re supposed to be… you know, busy working.  However, there is one time that I’m certain is a missed opportunity that passes you by (literally and figuratively) every day. It’s the few seconds of time you get when passing your colleagues in the hallway!

Picture this:  You’re at work, walking one way down the hall to go get coffee and a co-worker is walking towards you (btw, who else has a long hallway where you make awkwardly make eye contact with someone walking towards you for the next 60 seconds??)

walking down the hallway

As you pass each other, a typical exchange probably goes something like…

You: “Hey, how’s it going?”
Them: “Not bad, you?”
You: “Pretty good.”
Them: “Cool, have a good day.”
You: “You too.”

This conversation holds no value other than being a common courtesy of acknowledging the existence of your colleague. Read this conversation again. This interaction is so boring and we do this every day.  It’s time to change the boring dialogue into something rewarding!


Ditch the ‘Old Script’

Instead of the old robotic responses like, “I’m good, how are you?”, we need to keep some fresh lines in our back pocket that actually mean something. Here are a few to get you started:

  • I’m good and you?  I just had the best breakfast sandwich of my life! How are you?
  • What’s going on?   The funniest thing happened yesterday…
  • How are you?    You look like a million bucks with that new haircut!
  • 3 more hours until I’m off.    Tonight I can’t wait to…
  • How’s the family?   How is your daughters soccer team doing?
  • Hey there.   I heard this joke yesterday, What’s the difference between…
  • *Any other boring talk*   Say something with value!

Say something that will cause people to either think, smile, or know that you are actually interested in them.

What are the common sayings that you always use and how can we adjust them to be less monotonous?


Don’t Be Like Vicki

Stop the mundane speech by replacing this with words that have value. Value will increase rapport, which will increase your influence, period. A strong influence will help you accomplish your goals at work and will give you a better chance at new opportunities.

Here is a scenario to think about:

John is a manager and needs to build a new team for a company initiative. He has to pick between 2 candidates that have equal talents and experience. Sue is a candidate and has built rapport with John by genuinely asking about his family and will share funny memes with him on a weekly basis. Vicki is also a candidate, but usually has short meaningless interactions with him and their conversations can be awkward at times.

John may naturally pick Sue because they have rapport built and the interactions are simply easier for him. We are wired to avoid anything that causes pain, stress, or difficulty.

Creating a routine like Sue’s will help us create value meaningful conversations. Once implemented, this process will be automatic and require minimal effort on your part because it is an established routine!

Let’s think about how we can create a system to provide this value.


Ditch Your Phone In The Halls

We need to make sure you give yourself the best chance at an organic conversation taking place.  This tip probably goes without saying, but just like any other relationships in the world, professional relationships are far more likely to grow when both parties are engaged with each other, and not their phones.  Try to keep the phone away when going around the office. Instead, shift your focus to the potential opportunities for engagement.  Read our article here for more tips on reducing time on your phone.


Observe And Compliment

It’s a great feeling when someone compliments you on a hew haircut or your favorite band t-shirt, right?  Paying someone a compliment is the the easiest wins you can find.  It can be something as simple as commenting on an article of clothing, their appearance, or even their positive vibe. You’ll have ample time to provide value if you don’t have your face buried behind a screen.

With conversations that are only meant to last a few seconds, odds are that the final feeling felt by your colleague from your exchange will be one of joy after having something about them noticed and/or complimented.

business goals

Be The Person That Remembers 

This is probably the most important section of the article.  Relationships grow much faster when people feel like you care.  This is most easily accomplished by actually remembering things about them and what they have shared with you. Make sure you follow up with them on what is important to them.

If they told you recently they were going on a trip, ask them how it was (extra brownie points for remembering where they were going)!  If they previously told you something about their family, a hobby, or favorite sports team, then you will find the greatest value in your conversations when you tailor it to these topics, as they are the things the person cares about most.

Prioritize conversing about things that are most important to them, and watch their excitement as they tell you about it!


Physical Contact

Ok, so this one may not be for everyone, but I think it is still worth mentioning. Some of the most powerful bonds that we can share as humans are formed from physical contact.  In the scope of professional relationships, it’s important to distinguish that there are limited number of acceptable forms of physical contact, but if done right they can definitely add value to the relationship with a colleague.

Please use your best judgement on these so no one ends up in an HR meeting. Some examples may include handshakes, high fives, side-hugs, a pat on the back, and fist bumps for the bros out there. For quick passing exchanges, I’ve found high fives and fist bumps to be the most effective as they are easier to execute and are more informal.


Final Thoughts

It’s as simple as tweaking some words and thoughts to make your interactions more fulfilling. The goal is to make them feel valued, which ultimately leaves a positive lasting impression.

But don’t stop there!  Professional relationships have many stages just like any other relationship, and while this method is aimed at giving you the greatest gains for the least amount of time, it’s still important to leverage other means of relationship building to really lock things down.


Ready – Set – Automate!

Let’s start today:

  1. Change your ‘script’ to words with more meaning and value
  2. When you see someone in the office, use this method and see their reaction
  3. Build your relationships over time and let us know how this has helped improve your life

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