How to Have Brief Conversations

Brief conversations when traveling can be some of the most rewarding, they also can be the most agonizing. Have you ever been on a flight where someone has you as a captive audience and you can’t escape?

Of course, there are ways to deflect people from talking to you: Headphones, sunglasses, or just a back turned to look out the window work. But why would you risk the opportunity to meet a great prospect? If you can figure out a way to engage in conversation without it lasting the entire flight, it’s usually pretty rewarding.

Conversation Mistakes People Make

I found people tend to make these three common mistakes that draw them into long, unwieldy conversations:

  1. Passive listening. Let the other person ramble on about everything and say nothing (result: no control).
  2. Waiting for their turn. Let the other person talk and then jump in to say their part (result: two conversations).
  3. Impulsively reacting. Respond to a word or thought the person has said (result: no clear direction).

Do any of the above sound familiar? I bet you’ve encounter these situations more often than you wished.

How to Have Brief Conversations

If you want to have brief conversations that you can direct, particularly on a flight, you have to make the conversation about the other person by asking thoughtful and intentional questions centered on him or her. Because you find out what’s important to him or her, you control the conversation and can converse confidently.

You can accomplish brevity in your conversations by doing something incredible rare: Listening. When you aren’t talking as much, you are making the conversation more about the other person. After a short while, the person next to you starts enjoying the conversation because they’re doing a fair share of the talking, but not all of it. You ask questions based on interest, and you control the frequency of the questions and comments.

Benefits of Brief Conversations

Asking thoughtful questions and active participation keep the conversation going, but also brief.

Here are some benefits of brief conversations:

  1. You’ll be understood. Most people mistakenly assume what they say is clear. Instead, be convinced that the audience gets easily lost. Your primary concern is to ask good questions.
  2. It ensures you’re clear and concise. By pausing periodically, you’re not only trimming, you’re also testing whether they get it.
  3. It eliminates monologues. If you don’t check in, they’ll check out.

Want to know more about being brief? Check out The Brief Practitioner, an online course from The Brief Lab that teaches executives how to avoid information overload and become lean, effective leaders and communicators.


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