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Conversation Skills

We will discuss
Art of Conversation Striking Conversations Sustaining Conversations Communicating Across Cultures Conflict Management

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University

(Course Code 293: Intra & Inter Personal Skills)

Conversations lie at the heart of communication. Good conversation skills are the key to leadership and success. They help you connect with people, wind up better in their affections, they put people at ease and help you to interact smoothly. Conversations can be easy and fun. This is simple but all simple things are not easy. Conversations involve both listening and talking skills. The most important sutra for learning the art of conversation is: Be interested and interesting. Leave shyness as shy people are perceived as disinterested. Think of strangers as future friends. Start liking people. Everyone has something to share, tell or teach. Listen to them and respond to what they say and how they feel. Before we move ahead: Do your homework: Go-ahead spirit, a contagious enthusiasm and a positive outlook. Always carry enough visiting cards. Prepare 5 current issues, anecdotes, jokes and general quotations. Be formal: Formality is essential. Remember that politeness and courtesy will pay and dress will count. Know your audience: Before you go anywhere, think about what you have common with the people attending the event. You might have to address: your family members, your colleagues, your boss, your juniors, your employees, your business associates etc.

Art of conversation

Striking conversations

The first thing to do before you are ready to strike a conversation is to be approachable. Be pleasant and have a smile on your face when you go to speak to someone you don't know. The more approachable you seem, the more inclined the person will be to talk to you. Further, the first few seconds are terribly critical as you do not get a second chance to have a positive first impression. Here are some techniques to strike conversations:

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University

Ask them easy questions

Start out by asking them questions that are easy for them to answer. A good balance is around two or three closed questions, that have short answers, and then one open question, where they have to think and talk more. Early on, it is often better even with open questions to keep them simple and easy. When doing this, remember to sustain interest in them and what they have to say. Easy questions can lead to stock answers, but remember that the goal is to get the conversation going. Easy topics include: The weather (especially in climates where it changes often). Recent news (though be careful about difficult topics that may lead to emotional arousal). Family (siblings, where they live, etc.) History (what school they went to, where they hav lived, etc.) Work (what they do, people at work, etc.) Holidays Hobbies and sports

Example Isn't it a great day? Did you get out in the sunshine, today? Did you hear about the accident down town? Isn't it awful? Do you have a brother called Joe? I do like your dress -- where did you get it?

Questions are an easy way to open a conversation, especially if you are prepared. If the other person is uncomfortable (and they often are), then questions that are easy for them to answer is a good way to make them comfortable whilst engaging them (rather than having them listen too much to you). Early on, do also remember to stay away from potentially contentious topics unless you deliberately want to create an impact. Criticizing the Pope, for example, is a not a good idea if you do not know whether the other person is a Catholic (even conservative non-Catholics may find such a move disturbing).

Ask them something about themselves. If you do not know their name, then start there. Compliment them about their appearance. Ask them where the got that nice suit, watch, hat or whatever. Comment on their cheery condition, ask them why they are looking a bit down. Say they look distracted and ask why. Ask if they have family, the names of their children, how old they are, how they are doing in school and so on. Ask about their occupation, their careers and plans for the future. Ask about hobbies, interests and what they do with their spare time. Pay attention when they give you an answer. Show interest not only in the answer but them as a person as well, possibly evoking a betrayal response. And when they tell you something, show interest in it. Follow up with more questions. Examples

Ask them about themselves

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University You look thoughtful. What's up? What are you going to do this weekend? That's a lovely jumper, where did you get it?

The most interesting person in the world is me. I can talk about myself all day long if somebody asks me the right questions and seems to be really interested in what I have to say. Note that the level of intimacy in the questions depends on the level of relationship. Be careful also with sensitive subjects. If you sense that they are uncomfortable with what you have asked, apologize as necessary and change the subject. If you ask questions but do not follow up, then then they may conclude that you are not really listening and are false in your apparent interest.

Check your list

Have a long list of things you can talk about. Keep it in your wallet and take a peek just before you get into a conversation. You can keep a standard list that can be used in any situation. You can have specialized lists, for example chatting up a member of the opposite sex or talking about technical topics with peers. You can also have one-off lists, for example when you are going to meet somebody important to you, you can spend time beforehand listing things that you can discuss (or maybe that you want to discuss). Keep building your list. Listen to other people in conversation (including people who talk to you) and add inspiring ideas to your list. Examples A boy is going out with a girl for the first time. He elicits help from friends and his list includes the concert next week, her family and how to dance the salsa (which he has found she is learning). Just before he sees her, he takes a peek at the list to remind himself. A sales person keeps a list of things to ask customers, including informal chat subjects and formal things to remember. She reviews the list in the car before going into talk with the customer.

In the pressure that we often feel when starting a conversation it is easy to freeze or otherwise run out of things to say. A list provides an easy way of remembering things to say or discuss. Just having the list close to you, in a purse or pocket, makes visualization and mental access of the list a little easier. In a business situation it often looks efficient to have the list out in front of you, and tick off the subjects as you cover them. In a social situation, this would probably look at bit banal.

Use environmental triggers

Look about: There are many things all around you that you can use to start a conversation. If you are outside, you can talk about the weather, the temperature, architecture, plants, trees, nature, the stars, clouds, and so on. If you are at a party or in a social situation, talk about the music, what others are wearing, who other people are, what they are doing, what to drink and so on. You can use trigger from the other person, for example complimenting them on their hair, dress and general appearance. You can also take a cue from their mood, whether it is particularly happy, thoughtful, anxious and so on.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University You can even talk about yourself, from apologizing for strange dress to saying something about how you feel. Try to say something original, though a straightforward comment is better than nothing! Examples I don't know if it is going to rain -- what do you think? Look at that woman over there! I've never seen such a low-cut dress!! That's Aquarius up there. What's your star sign? Perhaps I can find it in the heavens for you. When you are bereft of ideas about what to say, things around you can be an easy source of inspiration. They provide something for a frozen mind to latch onto and can thus be used to unfreeze and move into action. Triggers are often used in creative methods to bounce to new and very different ideas. Thus you could see a tree as a weird hand reaching out of the ground like a horror movie and hence start a conversation about horror.

Get to the point

In some conversations, it is better to get quickly to the point rather than start with small-talk. Situations where this may appropriate include: In many business conversations. When you have little time. When the other person has little time. When the other person has something that they particularly want to talk about. When what you really want talk about will not take long. When a quick question gets a quick answer and hence what you want.

All situations, however, are variable and this cannot be a definitive or complete list. When in doubt, add some brief niceties at the beginning and watch carefully to see whether the person looks impatient or interested in small-talk. Examples A child interrupts it's mother just as the doorbell goes and whilst she is on the phone, asking permission to go out with friends. The mother quickly agrees. A sales person, seeing a busy professional buyer, asks just enough business-focused questions to understand the buying context before getting to more serious sales talk.

In many professional situations, it is not appropriate to spend much, if any, time on small-talk. For example if you are talking with a busy senior manager, asking them about their person lives beyond a basic courtesy may well be considered rude or lacking business focus (the same is true in many other situations. Getting to the point straight away can also act as a kind of shock tactic, triggering a response which you are seeking, pushing the person into an unthinking answer. A danger when getting to the point because you are in a hurry is that this may discomfort other person such that they do not engage with you and might even take revenge in some way.


Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University The first few seconds of any conversation, the 'hello' part, is extremely critical, especially if you have never spoken with the person before. Yet many people blunder through these moments as they charge towards their chosen destination. The basic principle is to build the first steps of trust. In a few seconds?? Yes. The alternative is to lose it in a few seconds. Look them in the eye: When you talk with them, make eye contact, particularly during the greeting. Prolonged eye contact signals either aggression or sexual interest, so don't stare, but do give them a reasonable duration of friendly eye contact. Smile: Make the eyes friendly. Smile and mean it. False smiles do not reach the eyes, so whatever you do, don't pretend. It is difficult to control your eyes, so the best way is to control your feelings. If you genuinely are interested in the other person, then your eyes will convey this. As appropriate, do some self-talk before you begin to put yourself into the position of really caring. Tell yourself that this is a human, just like you and who deserves your respect whatever else you may think. Smile inside first, let it grow, then project it out with radiant warmth. Project: Just with how you look at them, you send big messages. You can show and build confidence. You can project authority or other attributes. In fact you will always be projecting something -- the trick is to project that which you want them to receive. Say their name: If you have been told their name, use it immediately. This both shows that you are paying attention to them and that you consider them important. If you do not know their name, discover it, then remember it. Introduce yourself: If you don't already know them, a simple neutral introduction is to say your name and employer. 'Hello, Jack, I'm Richie Bennow from Jemson Construction.' Resist the temptation to immediately dive into product talk. All you will get are objections. Greeting as promotion: Depending on your situation, you can use the words of the greeting to promote what you are selling or even yourself. When somebody asks you how you are, instead of answering 'fine, thank you', add something about what you want to say, such as 'I'm very well and looking forward to working with you today' or 'Mike, I'm good. I've just opened a new store and folks are flocking in'. Shake hands: ...or whatever the local custom is. Handshakes can tell a lot about a character and can show aggression, assertion or passivity in the first moments of a greeting. Generally, a firm handshake is best, but not a bonecrusher. Try to match the other person's pressure. If they go limp, don't squeeze hard. If you are a man, be particularly careful when shaking hands with a woman. Kiss, bow or whatever: Greeting is a social ritual that varies greatly across cultures, both within a country and particularly across countries. In many Eastern countries, bowing is often important, including how low you bow and how often. In other countries hugging and kissing can range from mandatory to forbidden. If in doubt, watch how others greet one another, though do be careful as a greeting between friends can be very different from a greeting between a senior manager and a lower subordinate.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University

A simple way of starting a conversation is to introduce yourself. This may seem simple, but it is also an opportunity to intrigue the other person and get the conversation going. Simple topics include your name, occupation, family and hobbies. More adventurous topics include some of the things you have done which are brave, daft or interesting. A powerful approach, particularly in sales, is to include a description of what you can do for the other person. Be very careful about appearing too arrogant or otherwise putting the other person off, although in some settings boasting can be permitted or even desirable, particularly if you want to dominate the conversation. Heaven forbid, but you can make up something strange about yourself. Say you are an Arctic explorer, a professional mud-wrestler, a reformed burglar or an assassin or something else outrageous. Play it cool. Particularly if you will never meet the person again, this can be harmless fun. If they challenge you, you can decide whether to bluff it out or admit you were having fun (and then talk about fun in general). Remember not to tell too much about yourself at once. Do this in the exchange of a balanced conversation or such as a teaser to surprise them. Examples Hello. I'm Jeff Barker, your union representative. I can help you with any employment issues you have. Phew. I spent all last weekend looking for a new house. Oh, I'm no good with computers. It's good to meet someone who knows what they are talking about. Hey, man. I'm the leader of the Kookahs. Yuh hear me? The leader, man. An' don' we have fun.

Introduce yourself

Talking about yourself can be used to show your status and superiority, thus taking control of the conversation. It can also be used to show that you are friendly and harmless. It helps you position yourself relative to the other person and also within their frames of reference. By exposing a vulnerability, you are saying that you trust the other person not to attack that vulnerability and so establish a pattern of mutual trust. Doing it too much or too early may make you look like you are seeking sympathy or are conceding in supplication to prevent them harming you.

Say something that is incorrect and which the other person knows is wrong. Ask them a question in which they will have to tell you that you are wrong. Make this a simple factual error, so they can easily correct you. Try to find a subject that will wind them up a bit, but not too much. It often helps to indicate that you have been informed incorrectly, rather than believe what you are saying is a firm fact.

Say something wrong

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University When the other person corrects you, thank them and be impressed by their knowledge (but do not over-do this). Alternatively, you can debate whether the item is true and perhaps let them persuade you. Examples Led Zeppelin are a German band, I hear. Now I've been told you are from Portsmouth, is that right? I thought I'd wear blue today. (when you are actually wearing green) When I say things that are clearly wrong, it offers a simple corrective response to the other person. This casts the person in an expert role, which usually makes them feel good. Thanking the other person for a correction also strokes their ego and positions yourself as an open person who can take criticism. The conversation can then continue around the question of how you got your facts wrong or how they know the right answer.

Script the start

Write out a script that you will recite at the start of the conversation. Think carefully about what you will say and the effect it will have. Learn it off by heart so you can say it without sounding like you are reading it out. Record yourself and listen to ensure it is natural. You can also practice with a friend, which can be a very effective way of getting it right. Do not script the entire conversation, but do have a practiced words for important parts -- and the start is usually the most important bit. When you are going to regularly face a number of situations, you can have a whole repertoire of scripts. Examples A sales person practices her pitch in front of the mirror. A boy who gets nervous with girls writes out a number of chat-up lines and learns to deliver them with wit and aplomb. A person who is being given an award scripts the first part of the thank you and practices it with a friend.

Although you do not need to script the start of every conversation, when you are likely to be nervous or when the conversation is particularly important, it is well worth the investment of thoughtful words and practical practice. Typical situations where scripting is useful include: Sales presentations to customers Internal company presentations to important groups When you are meeting someone special and want to make a great impression

Shock and awe

Do or say something surprising or shocking. Create awe and wonder. Amaze them with your bravado. Show them that you are not afraid of anything. Show that you do not care what others think of you.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University Be anything but boring and normal. Do match your tactics to the situation: your goal is to amaze, not to terrify. Smiling whilst you shock and awe can be a way of showing that you are not serious. Examples You know, I've just come out of prison. Five years for fraud is just too much, don't you think? Well they didn't find all the money so I should be ok. Have you ever tried fighting a crocodile? It's not easy, I can tell you. (shouting) Good heavens! You are the most beautiful person I have seen!!

Displays of prowess are common across the animal kingdom, including humans. One way you can do this is with what you say, as well as how you look. Surprise happens when you break expectations. This can make you interesting. It can also lead to fascinating conversations. 'Shock and awe' is a name used for a military tactic where a display of overpowering might is used to encourage the enemy into submission. You do not want to create fear with your display, but you do want to impress.

Open the conversation with some witty or cogent remark that is designed to amaze, annoy or otherwise trigger an interesting discussion. You can use ironic, cynical, dry, ascerbic or any other style. The success of any method is in the effect that it has. You can add 'Don't you think' or some other provocation to respond after such a remark. Examples I wonder how people have time to come to these things. Anyone here must be a complete layabout, wouldn't you say? My dog wanted to come tonight, but he didn't have a suitable tie. If I were you, I would be careful about being seen with someone like me.

Wit and wisdom

Displaying wit signals that you are interested in something outside of normal mundane conversation. Wit must be played very carefully, as it can easily annoy some people. But if you do not mind winding up a few people, then even this can lead to interesting conversation. Oscar Wilde was a famous wit who would open a conversation with an often controversial, but very quotable comment, such as: It is very sad to see that nowadays there is so little useless information around. America was discovered before Columbus, but it was hushed up. Women can discover everything, except the obvious. The only thing worse in the world than being talked about is not being talked about. The husbands of very beautiful women often belong to the criminal classes. A man can be happy with any woman, so long as he does not love her.

You can either use quotes like these directly, or use the quotation, for example saying 'Oscar Wilde said...what do you think'.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University

Sustaining conversations

Here our goal is make our conversation partner comfortable. Before we move on to the techniques of sustaining conversations, let us look at some important points you need to heed to: Give discounts: Many times the conversation partner will carry different mannerisms than us. We need to realize that he might come from a different culture and need to give him discount. Listen intelligently: Listen to what is said and more importantly to what is not said. Be aware of what is skipped. Also be aware of how a thing is said and the gestures used while saying something. Talk eloquently: Maintain an appropriate volume. Use words of a sensory nature. These are words such as "see", "imagine", "feel", "tell", "sense", etc., in order to encourage the other person to keep painting a descriptive picture as part of their conversation. Mind your body language: Maintain appropriate distance. Avoid touching while talking and do make sure to nod while you listen. Here are specific techniques to keep the conversation interesting and lively such that the other person does not want to leave!

Ask their opinion

Ask for their thoughts about some topic or another. Ask them what should be done about some situation in work, home, locally or nationally. Ask what you think will happen next. Ask what particular people should do. Ask 'if you were they, what would you do'. Ask 'What should I do'. Ask for a recommendation about houses, cars, restaurants, gadgets, books, plumbers, etc. Ask about people and what they know or think about them. If you want to be daring, ask them about something controversial or that has some social taboo about it, such as teenage sex or inter-racial conflict. And once you have asked them, listen carefully to their advice, taking it seriously. You don't have to follow what they suggest, of course, but it's a good idea that you show you have listened and considered their suggestion. Examples If you were the President, what would you do about education? We're going out tonight -- what restaurant would you recommend? How has Miguel been performing? Do you think he is ready for promotion?

Asking their opinion casts them as an expert, which is rather flattering. It says 'you know something that I don't' and so pushes them up the social ladder a bit, offering them status.

Concern for the person

Show a personal concern for the well-being of other person. Ask after their career, health, happiness and so on. Get them to open up and just listen. Accept what they say without criticism. Offer them ideas for how they can improve their lives (but only if you feel they are ready to hear these thoughts). Ask them what they think about your advice.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University Examples Hello, Jane. I was worried about you last week. Were you ill? Perhaps you should take a few days off to think things over. What do you think?

When people are troubled by health or other fundamental matters, then, as per Maslow's hierarchy, they tend to retreat inwards and away from more social conversation. This can limit conversation with them. When you show concern for the other person you build trust and draw them closer. When they trust you enough, they will expose something of their hidden self.

Interest in the person

Even better than enthusiasm for the subject is interest in the person. It affirms their identity, increases their sense of belonging and plays to their need for esteem. Be interested in their past. Admire what they have done. Compliment them on their looks. Use open body language or lean towards them and use romantic body language. A simple way of showing interest in the person is just by using their name. After initial interest, pause to determine what effect you are having and if they are not looking happy with your interest in them, then back off (itself a technique that may lead to them then following you). Look for points of connection from what they say. Show that you are similar to them. Examples So what did you get up to at the weekend, Sam? Where are you from? ... Oh, my cousin lives there... Which train do you catch? What do you think of the service?

I am the most interesting person I know, and when others seem to agree with this, I will happily go on about myself and my opinions as long as I have an attentive audience. Showing interest in other people can thus be an easy way of extending the conversation. This also gives you lots of information about them that can be useful. Showing similarity, for example, increases bonding. A caveat: Too much interest in a person may be taken as an undesirable advance or even leading toward harassment. Be careful that your questions are not considered intrusive.


Link what is being said to other things, for example: Link current discussion to what the person said previously. Link to things you know they are interested in. Link what they say to your goals. Link their interests to things you are working on. Link to current events in the news.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University Use the link to boost interest and draw the other person in closer. Examples You mentioned diamonds before -- I've got a friend in the business who can get discounts -would you like me to put you in touch with her? You seem to be ahead of the times -- we are just doing early work on this. There was a news item last night about racing -- you know a lot about this, don't you?

Information does not stand alone and naturally connects into wide networks of associated ideas (hence the web and hyperlinks!). Adding links adds new new possibilities. When you connect a person into another item or field, you give scope for much new thinking and understanding, much in the manner of metaphor. Linking in what the other person has said in the past boosts their sense of identity and hence is very good for building rapport as it shows that you have remembered what they say and are interested in them. When you show interest in them, they will be affected by the exchange principle and so be motivated to show more interest in you.

Plans for the future

Talk about what may happen in the future. Ask them about: What they want to do with their career. Issues they have and what they are going to do about them. What they are going to do at the weekend. Where they are going on holiday next.

Talk also about your plans, but be careful not to hog the limelight. Try to listen more than you speak. Examples I remember you said you really enjoyed skiing last year. Are you going again this year? I'm really looking forward to this weekend -- we're going walking in the mountains. Now that you've been promoted, what are you going to do with the department?

Talking about the future can be particularly exciting as here you can daydream and hope for great things, no matter what has befallen you in the past. When you talk about your plans, you also encourage the other person to think about the future. Talking a little bit about your plans also offers easy questions for them to ask to fill in the detail. Of course you can also ask the same questions in return.

Tell the other person about yourself -- but only a bit at a time. Start with relatively simple facts (name, work, etc.) and steadily move towards more personal information (religion, political affiliation, etc.) and emotional content (personal problems, likes/hates, etc.).

Progressive disclosure

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University Only give them information that you think they can handle. Do not overload them or 'dump' your emotional problems on them when they are not ready or willing to listen to such issues. Do this in a reciprocal manner, only giving more detail when the other person has given you detail about themselves. If they stop at a certain point, then you stop too. Example ...Hi, my name's Jan. ... ...I've been here for five years. When did you start? ... ...I don't like on the food there ... ...I'm having an operation next week ...

I am the most interesting person I know and I'd love to talk a lot of the time about myself, but things are not always that simple. If you tell other people too much about yourself then they may well feel uncomfortable as the reciprocity norm sets a social obligation that they should return equivalent information. If they do not want to give you such details (for example if this is a part of their hidden self) then they may well displace their guilt. into anger at you for putting them into this difficult position. Information is power and disclosure thus may well give advantage to the other person, particularly in a situation of competitive negotiation. Controlling what you say about yourself lets you manage personal information that could later be used against you. The progressive disclosure strategy thus allows you to carefully progress up to (and hence discover) their level of comfort about self-disclosure.

Tell stories

Tell a story of some sort. It can be a personal story, a story from a friend or something from elsewhere, such as from television or magazines. The key with stories is in the storytelling. Bring it to life for your audience. Put yourself into the story and bring them with you. Take on the emotions of the story: if it is an exciting bit, be excited, if it is sad, look sad, and so on (but beware of overdoing it!). Start the story well. Create a hook that draws the other person in and then keep feeding them interest to sustain their interest and enjoyment. End well too, with a punchline and closure of the key story tensions. You can elaborate on the story to make it more interesting, but do be truthful when appropriate and always maintain your integrity. Make the story relevant to the other person. Show how what happened to you is connected to them and their experiences. Do swap stories, but beware of annoying the other person by playing one-upmanship, telling stories that show you to be superior and hence downplay the other person. Examples You know that reminds me of the time I was arrested and imprisoned. It all started the night I was mugged and left dazed on the streets of New York...

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University My brother tried that too and, well, it was so funny, he thought he could ... ... and then she pushed him back in the pool, turned around and walked away without a word! I heard a very sad story on the news last night about a couple who...

Stories can be used to empathize, explain, entertain and teach other people in a way that is interesting and engaging. We live our lives as a story and may think of it this way. Stories are thus easy to interpret and from which meaning can be easily created -- often far more so than some abstract description. Stories can be told as extended metaphors, using the content of the story as an allegory or representation of some other topic that is difficult to discuss, such as a romantic break-up or inappropriate behavior. Stories also may take more or less time, depending on what you want to do. If you have a lot of time to kill, you can extend the story, whilst if you want to make a simple point, you can tell the bones of the story in a very short period.

Topical events

Talk about something topical. Discuss recent news. Offer an opinion on what has happened in the world, the country or your town or city recently. Talk about something that has been announced and is going to happen. Speculate about what that might be. Ask the other person if they have heard the story in question (if not, tell it to them). Talk about something that has happened to you recently. Tell it as a story. Ask the other person what has happened to them of late. Probe the story they tell. Examples Did you hear about the fire down town? It was right over the road from the fire station, but apparently they still took five minutes to get there... I just heard that CEO is coming to the office next week. Last time he came he fired five people. Do you know why he would want to visit us? My daughter passed all her exams -- I'm so relieved. She was really not working well last year...

Recent news is often of particular interest to other people, for example because it has some personal impact or because the general subject area is of interest. When people have heard about the same thing, this gives them something in common, and hence allows similarity to be used to develop trust. When people have heard or seen different versions of the same story, this gives something to discuss further, perhaps exploring the differences between the stories. Controversial subjects (such as sex, politics, religion or war) also give the potential for discussion of opinion--or even heated debate.

Topic list

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University Develop your own list of things to talk about with other people. Keep a notepad with you and listen to other people's conversations. Make notes about good topics of conversation. Make particular notes about the opening words. Carry the list with you and take a secret peek at it when you feel you may be drying up or the conversation needs an extra boost. Examples Christmas dinner What would you like for Christmas I was arrested last week (when I saw you from across the room) The coffee here is awful - have you tried Carluck's? The British monarchy Car racing Do you speak any foreign languages

These pages only give you a few ideas -- there are so many other things that you can talk about. We often run out of things to say not because there is nothing to say but because we are paralyzed by the social situation and are perhaps afraid of saying the wrong thing. In practice, how you say it is much more important than what you say. Note how some people seem to get away with quite controversial comments -- and how they do so with a pleasant tone and perhaps a wicked but friendly smile.

Communicating across cultures

Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, the single greatest barrier to business success is the one erected by culture." Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall Hidden Differences: Doing Business with the Japanese It's no secret that today's workplace is rapidly becoming vast, as the business environment expands to include various geographic locations and span numerous cultures. What can be difficult, however, is understanding how to communicate effectively with individuals who speak another language or who rely on different means to reach a common goal. The Internet and modern technology have opened up new marketplaces, and allow us to promote our businesses to new geographic locations and cultures. And given that it can now be as easy to work with people remotely as it is to work face-to-face, cross-cultural communication is increasingly the new norm. After all, if communication is electronic, it's as easy to work with someone in another country as it is to work with someone in the next town. And why limit yourself to working with people within convenient driving distance when, just as conveniently, you can work with the most knowledgeable people in the entire world? For those of us who are native English-speakers, it is fortunate that English seems to be the language that people use if they want to reach the widest possible audience. However, even for native English

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University speakers, cross-cultural communication can be an issue: Just witness the mutual incomprehension that can sometimes arise between people from different English-speaking countries. In this new world, good cross-cultural communication is a must.

Understanding Cultural Diversity

Given different cultural contexts, this brings new communication challenges to the workplace. Even when employees located in different locations or offices speak the same language (for instance, correspondences between English-speakers in the U.S. and English-speakers in the UK), there are some cultural differences that should be considered in an effort to optimize communications between the two parties. In such cases, an effective communication strategy begins with the understanding that the sender of the message and the receiver of the message are from different cultures and backgrounds. Of course, this introduces a certain amount of uncertainty, making communications even more complex. Without getting into cultures and sub-cultures, it is perhaps most important for people to realize that a basic understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural communications. Without necessarily studying individual cultures and languages in detail, we must all learn how to better communicate with individuals and groups whose first language, or language of choice, does not match our own.

Developing Awareness of Individual Cultures

However, some learning the basics about culture and at least something about the language of communication in different countries is important. This is necessary even for the basic level of understanding required to engage in appropriate greetings and physical contact, which can be a tricky area inter-culturally. For instance, kissing a business associate is not considered an appropriate business practice in the U.S., but in Paris, one peck on each cheek is an acceptable greeting. And, the handshake that is widely accepted in the U.S. is not recognized in all other cultures. While many companies now offer training in the different cultures where the company conducts business, it is important that employees communicating across cultures practice patience and work to increase their knowledge and understanding of these cultures. This requires the ability to see that a person's own behaviors and reactions are oftentimes culturally driven and that while they may not match are own, they are culturally appropriate. If a leader or manager of a team that is working across cultures or incorporates individuals who speak different languages, practice different religions, or are members of a society that requires a new understanding, he or she needs to work to convey this. Consider any special needs the individuals on your team may have. For instance, they may observe different holidays, or even have different hours of operation. Be mindful of time zone differences and work to keep everyone involved aware and respectful of such differences. Generally speaking, patience, courtesy and a bit of curiosity go a long way. And, if you are unsure of any differences that may exist, simply ask team members. Again, this may best be done in a one-onone setting so that no one feels "put on the spot" or self-conscious, perhaps even embarrassed, about discussing their own needs or differences or needs.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University

Demand Tolerance

Next, cultivate and demand understanding and tolerance. In doing this, a little education will usually do the trick. Explain to team members that the part of the team that works out of the Australia office, for example, will be working in a different time zone, so electronic communications and/or return phone calls will experience a delay. And, members of the India office will also observe different holidays (such as Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday, observed on Oct. 2). Most people will appreciate the information and will work hard to understand different needs and different means used to reach common goals. However, when this is not the case, lead by example and make it clear that you expect to be followed down a path of open-mindedness, acceptance and tolerance. Tolerance is essential, however you need to maintain standards of acceptable behavior. The following "rules of thumb" seem universal: Team members should contribute to and not hinder the team's mission or harm the delivery to the team's customer. Team members should not damage the cohesion of the team or prevent it from becoming more effective. Team members should not unnecessarily harm the interests of other team members. Other factors (such as national law) are obviously important. When dealing with people in a different culture, courtesy and goodwill can also go a long way in ensuring successful communication. Again, this should be insisted on. If your starting point in solving problems is to assume that communication has failed, you'll find that many problems are quickly resolved.

Keep It Simple

When you communicate, keep in mind that even though English is considered the international language of business, it is a mistake to assume that every businessperson speaks good English. In fact, only about half of the 800 million people who speak English learned it as a first language. And, those who speak it as a second language are often more limited than native speakers. When you communicate cross-culturally, make particular efforts to keeping your communication clear, simple and unambiguous. And (sadly) avoid humor until you know that the person you're communicating with "gets it" and isn't offended by it. Humor is notoriously culture-specific: Many things that pass for humor in one culture can be seen as grossly offensive in another.

And Get Help If You Need It

Finally, if language barriers present themselves, it may be in every one's best interest to employ a reliable, experienced translator. Because English is not the first language of many international businesspeople, their use of the language may be peppered with culture-specific or non-standard English phrases, which can hamper the communication process. Again, having a translator on hand (even if just during the initial phases of work) may be the best solution here. The translator can help everyone involved to recognize

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University cultural and communication differences and ensure that all parties, regardless of geographic location and background, come together and stay together through successful project completion.

Conflict management

Whenever two or more people come together, there are bound to be disagreements. These disagreements can be an opportunity for growth and learning, or they can become detrimental to the involved parties and the organisation. When that occurs, conflict exists. The ability to deal with conflicts is undoubtedly one of the most important skills you will need to be successful in your career and life. There is no one best way to deal with conflict. It depends on the current situation. Here are the major ways that people use to deal with conflict:

1. Avoiding: Pretend it is not there or ignore it. Use this approach only when it simply is not worth the effort to argue. Be aware that this approach tends to worsen the conflict over time. The avoidance style can best be described as non-confrontational. A person passes over an issue or totally ignores the person with whom he is in conflict. He or she might even deny an issue is a problem. 2. Accomodating: You can give in to others, sometimes to the extent that you compromise yourself. Use this approach very sparingly and infrequently, for example, in situations when you know that you will have another more useful approach in the very near future. Usually this approach tends to worsen the conflict over time, and causes conflicts within yourself. A person uses the accommodating style when his behaviour is agreeable and nonassertive. The person cooperates even at the expense of personal goals. 3. Competing: You can work to get your way, rather than clarifying and addressing the issue. Competitors love accommodators. Use this approach when you have a very strong conviction about your position. A person is confrontational aggressive and must win at all costs. He totally disregards the needs of the other person.

Lecture notes by Prabbal Frank for students of Lingayas University 4. Compromising: You can engage in mutual give-and-take. This approach is used when the goal is to get past the issue and move on together. A person using the compromising style when he is both assertive and cooperative. In the process, the person gives up something in order to gain something and will only be partially satisfied. 5. Collaborating: You can focus on working together. Use this approach when the goal is to meet as many current needs as possible by using mutual resources. This approach sometimes raises new mutual needs. Collaboration can also be used when the goal is to cultivate ownership and commitment. Problem-solving style when both partner have a high degree of respect of reach other and consider the needs of the other.