February 14, 2015

Resetting during the conversation

Have you ever experienced, as a coach or consultant, that you were in a conversation with a client and felt that the conversation wasn't going too well? I guess we all have experienced that. Perhaps the conversation wasn't going too well because your own contribution in the conversation was not the best, for example because your questions were not so relevant or your way of responding to what the other person has said was not adequate. Or maybe you were not satisfied with the conversation because your conversation partner did not seem to find the conversation useful or pleasant. You may get such an impression when they frown or seem to have some resistance. Wouldn't you like to be able to reset the conversation in such situations? Well, you can. Here is a simple way in which you can do that.

When you are wondering whether the conversation is useful or pleasant for your conversation partner or when you are not satisfied yourself with how the conversation is going, you may ask the usefulness question, for example like this: "May I ask you ... is it useful for you to talk about these things like this?" Asking this question in such situations has several advantages. One advantage is that it helps you find out what your conversation partner is actually thinking about the conversation. Did you interpret his or her frown or 'resistance' correctly? When I once did this in a conversation which I was convinced my conversation partner did not find useful at all (because he kept frowning deeply) he replied, much to my surprise, that he found it very useful and was thinking deeply about how he might apply the things we were discussing in his team. I had completely misinterpreted that deep frown....

Another advantage is that the usefulness question offers the opportunity of making a switch in the conversation. I have once experienced that I seriously doubted whether the conversation was useful to my client. This person gave answers to my questions which seemed interesting and relevant but while doing that, non-verbally he seemed to be hesitant. This confused me and I asked the usefulness question. Then, he replied that he did find the conversation useful but that he wondered whether he was allowed to introduce a different topic into the conversation which was also quite important to him and which he had not yet mentioned at all.

Of course, if your conversation partner says that the conversation is not too useful this is helpful as well. You can use this moment to discuss how the two of you can use the remaining time as useful as possible.

You can also use the usefulness question to adjust your own approach. By asking the usefulness question you are temporarily entering a metalevel in the conversation. This offers you a moment of reflection which you can use to think about what further questions you may want to ask or what other things you may want to say. What your conversation partner says in response to your usefulness question is very useful for this, of course.

So, do you want to reset during a conversation which is not going too well? Try the usefulness question.

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