July 25, 2014

Business Conversation Starters

From my perspective, success in the business world depends as much on your ability to build trust-based relationships with other people as it does on delivering quality results.

The Business Conversation Challenge

Conversation is a natural tool to connect with people in the business world and build trust.

However, it can be tricky to kickoff a conversation with a client, a colleague or any other person in a professional context. The norms that regulate interactions in the business world seem to be somewhat slippery and this makes it harder to find the proper business conversation starters.

For example, I notice many people have a hard time figuring out if it’s appropriate or not to start a conversation with a client on a personal level, talking about family or hobbies.

Business Conversations Starters Ideas

For this reason, I’m presenting you with some of my top ideas for business conversation starters:

1. Comment clothing. Many people in the business world put a lot of time and effort in dressing well, especially when they’re going to a business meeting.

One of the best things you can do when starting an interaction is to notice what the other person is wearing and make a positive, honest comment on their clothes as a whole or one particular item. You can easily kickoff the conversation this way.

2. Use the context. The place you’re in, the event you’re at, these will often provide you with good conversation starters.

If you’re at a conference, you can initiate a conversation with someone by asking them something related to the conference, such as: “What do you think of the speakers so far?” If you’re in your client’s office, look around and if something makes an impression on you, you can make a comment about it.

3. Explore the job. When I’m meeting a person for the first time in a professional context, I will often ask them questions about their job.

I’ll usually start with “What do you do for a living?” if I don’t know that yet, and I may continue with questions such as “How did you get into this field?” or “What do you do precisely in this job?” These are surefire business conversation starters.

4. Explore the organization. A good alternative to asking about the other person’s job at the beginning of a conversation is asking about the company or organization they work for.

Consider questions such as “How did you start working in this company?” or “What’s the work environment here like, from your perspective?”

5. Explore the passing time. If this is not the first time you’ve met a person, it can be a good idea to initiate the conversations by finding out what happened in this person’s professional life in the time that has passed from your last meeting.

Questions such as “What have you been involved in lately?” or “What have you been doing since we’ve last met?” can work wonders.

6. Go personal. If you’re talking with a person you’ve met before and you know some things about their personal life as well, you can initiate a conversation talking about their personal life.

You may ask them “How’s the family”, “How are your tennis lessons going?” anything you’ve talked about before and you’re authentically interested in.

Last but not least, keep in mind that although business conversation can have some important stakes involved, you don’t want to blow its meaning out of proportion. A conversation is a conversation. Avoid over-strategizing it and have some fun with it.

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