Everybody knows how to have a conversation because they’ve been having them since they were toddlers. However, most people develop bad habits that almost guarantee that their business conversations will sometimes be meaningless wastes of time.

Here’s a simple four step process for making certain that every work conversation that you have is both meaningful and worth having.

1. Know WHY you’re having the conversation.

Every conversation must have a point, or there’s no point in having it. With friends and family, the “point” is often to simply enjoy each other’s company. You already know how to do that. Hey, relax and have fun.

In business, though, there’s always an agenda to every conversation, even if it seems as if the conversation is only to “get to know” you better (or vice-versa), until such time as your co-worker becomes a friend or a family member.

Therefore, whenever you start a conversation with a co-worker (and this includes customers, bosses, colleagues, and the guy who empties the trash), have an explicit goal in mind. That way you’re less likely to waste time and energy.

Similarly, if somebody opens a conversation with you, it’s worthwhile to wonder why the conversation is happening and why now. It’s not worth obsessing about, but if you’ve got a sense of the “why” it’s easier to get “where” the conversation needs to go.

2. Ignore your “monkey mind.”

The ancient Chinese believed everyone has a “monkey mind” that jumps from thought to thought, like so:

  • What is she thinking about me?
  • Will I make a sale?
  • What if I can’t pay the mortgage?
  • Gosh, that wallpaper is ugly.
  • I’ve got to get the airport in two hours.

This constant mental noise pulls your attention away from the customer and towards your own perspectives, priorities and goals.

If you listen to your “monkey mind,” you’ll only hear a percentage of what the other person is saying. In all likelihood, you’ll misunderstand and misremember what was said.

3. Acknowledge what you’ve heard.

When the other person has finished speaking, re-describe, and characterise what the other person just said. This confirms that you were really listening to the other person, rather than your internal dialog (“monkey mind”).

It also prevents you from continuing the conversation based upon a misunderstanding. The restatement gives the other person an opportunity to correct your perception or elaborate as necessary to make sure that you “get it.”

4. Think and then respond.

Pause a moment to consider what you heard and have echoed back. Respond with a statement, story, or question that adds to the conversation and moves it closer to its point and purpose.

Having this kind of conversation is both difficult and easy. It’s difficult because some people’s “monkey minds” are the size of King Kong and chatter so loudly that they can’t hear anything else.

However, once you’ve learned to ignore the chatter, this way of listening, reflecting, and talking quickly becomes second nature. And that’s the easy part.