Next to having the hard skills and the drive to succeed at the job you want, relationship building is the most critical career-building skill you can develop. When the coronavirus pandemic forced us all into lockdown, relationship-building as we knew it changed forever. As an expert in face-to-face communication, Tracy Hooper wasn’t sure her business would survive in an entirely virtual environment. She told her business coach, “I guess I’ll have to come up with a new hello.”
That sparked the idea for her first book, which she quickly followed up with another, The Now Hello, that covers confident communication in remote, in-person, and hybrid work environments. Though big changes in the world first brought on these ideas, their contents are about how we care for each other in all avenues of life. We need to be aware of people’s body language and facial expressions and all of those micro cues that let us know how people are feeling and whether they want to talk to us or not.
While communicating well is a big part of relationship building, carrying yourself confidently and treating everyone as if they are the most important person in the room are crucial to your success. The evergreen skills covered in Tracy’s latest book can be learned and applied by anyone regardless of age or profession. Tracy provides “pro tips” for confident communication and shared several of them with us during a recent Mulberry Conversation:
Names and Introductions
We are most comfortable hanging around with people we know, so it takes courage to meet someone new. Even if you’re not actively networking or looking to make a change, your company might be hiring new employees, and it’s up to everyone on your team to welcome new team members.
One of the simplest ways to make someone feel welcome is using their name in the conversation. This signals that you’re paying attention to them and is a great way to drill into memory. Beware of using their name more than a few times, though, as it may feel inauthentic!
Making an effort to use people’s names and pronouns correctly is essential, but there will be times when you need a little help. Much of Tracy’s advice is about keeping your cool, getting straight to the point, and moving on quickly when you mess up. If you’re not sure you’ll pronounce someone’s name correctly, just ask them to repeat it so you can get it right. If someone approaches you and you don’t remember their name, you can welcome them into the conversation and ask if they know the person you’re talking to—and let them introduce themselves. Don’t dwell, don’t say, “Ugh, I’m so bad with names.” Instead, ask for a reminder, say thank you instead of apologizing, and take it in stride.
Nothing kills your confidence faster than saying “I’m sorry” when you don’t need to. It sends a message to people that we’re making all kinds of mistakes when we’re not. So when you feel tempted to start with a knee-jerk apology, try flipping “I’m sorry” to “Thank you for your patience” or “Thank you for understanding.”
Similarly, many of us tend to use disclaimers like “You’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have,” “What do I know?” or “This might be a stupid question.” While these phrases are intended to sound humble or modest, it dampens our voices. So instead, move the focus away from you and say, “this thought is 30 seconds old,” when you know your thought is not fully formed and have enough confidence to share it and see where it lands.
Once you’ve cut out confidence-killing phrases, you can exude even more confidence by keeping the conversation moving. Complimenting someone is a great way to open things up, and the magic words to continue a conversation are what, how, and tell me more. Those words open up the conversation so you can take it in other directions. “What do you admire most about your manager?” “What’s the most interesting part of your job?” And remember to actively listen as the conversation continues. Like Larry King said, after 50 years in the broadcast business and over 50,000 interviews, “I never learned anything while I was talking.”
Mingling at a networking event in a room abuzz with people engaged in the conversation can feel overwhelming. Tracy recommends the 10 and 5 rule for navigating a busy space, a customer service staple adopted by companies like Walmart, Disney, and the Ritz Carlton. If you are within 10 feet of someone, you are encouraged to look up, make eye contact, and smile. Likewise, you’re encouraged to say hi if you’re within five feet of that person. The Ashner medical center in Louisiana found within two months of adopting the 10 and 5 rule that, they got higher patient referrals and higher patient satisfaction. Simply looking up and making eye contact elevates everybody in the room.
Another tricky situation is when you’re stuck in a networking conversation and want to leave. Use this four-part technique to make a smooth exit: say thank you, acknowledge the person you’re talking to, offer a farewell phrase, and give a goodbye gesture. For example, if you shook hands at the beginning of your conversation, you could shake hands to end the conversation since you know you’re both comfortable doing that. For example, “Jim, this has been such an interesting conversation. I was delighted to hear about your vacation after all this time. I hope you don’t mind, but I need to see Lauren before she leaves. And then, thanks so much for the conversation.” If they don’t know anyone, introduce them to someone and make a graceful exit.
Staying Confident in the New NOW
Conversation skills and confidence can be learned, and it comes down to being attentive and taking action in the present moment. People notice when we put our devices down, make eye contact, and listen to them. The Ritz Carlton’s customer service motto is “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.”Civility, manners, and grace are what people remember—and even though the communication might look a little different on Zoom or around a conference table, these tips apply in any kind of environment you can imagine.
Now go forth and be confident!