STRATEGIES FOR CONVERSATIONS
With senior executives, it is most tempting to give a formal presentation. The problem with a formal presentation is that it often does not lead to great dialogue between the presenter and the senior executive. Better: using graphic slides and drawing diagrams of organizational structure and ideas, sit with the senior executive and have a dialogue about his or her goals, your goals, problems, implications, decisions to be made, and recommendations. Use a conversational tone of voice. Encourage questions. If the senior executive looks confused or preoccupied, immediately stop "selling" your idea and instead ask if he or she has a concern to voice. If they look away and seem to be thinking, stop talking for a minute or two as you would in a conversation.
Here are a few strategies for organizing your speaking during conversations. These will also help you to involve your listeners in the conversation.
2S + Q: 3 Sentences followed by a Question
In this approach, you state three sentences followed by a question. This approach buys you thinking time and keeps you calibrated with your listener by allowing you to get their feedback (by answering your question). An example is:
We have been studying our outsourcing plan and have found a few problems. They amount to lack of control and rising costs over a three-year period. We think that we can fix these before we sign a contract. What role will you play in negotiating this contract?
PIOUS: Problem - Issues - Obstacles - Understanding - Solutions
In this approach, you state the problem, identify the issues, discuss the obstacles you face in approach, talk about how all parties understand the situation, and the cover the solutions. Example:
The problem is that our costs are too high. This brings up the issues of outsourcing and cost cutting. An obstacle to outsourcing is the lack of day to day controls. An obstacle for cost cutting is that our budget is already very lean. We understand that although we have a few obstacles, we can still use outsourcing and some cost cutting as solutions. The solutions are to outsource the service and do some small cost cutting.
BE CRYPTIC: Say key words without elaborating and respond to the executive's response. Example:
You: High cost. Lack of controls.
Them: You know, we haven't looked closely enough at cost. We got out of the habit of controlling cost when we got so focused on quality. You're right. What costs do YOU think are too high?
FOCUS ON GOALS AND WINNING: Talk/ask about actions you propose in relation to beating the competition and reaching or exceeding current goals. Example: "This action gets us closer to our goal of 11% reduction in cost."
3 Challenging Scenarios in US Business: Breaking into Conversation, Designing Influential Presentations, and Asking and Answering Questions in Large Groups
Whether a professional working in the US is coping with cultural, individual, gender, or generational differences, challenging scenarios of breaking into conversations, designing influential presentations, and asking and answering questions in large groups are in the front of every person’s mind due to their impact on perception, networking ability, and career advancement.
Breaking into Conversation
Imagine the average business or technical discussion in the US, and right away you picture lots of people talking, including interrupting, boasting, challenging, and fast paced exchanges in American English with frequent reference to popular American culture, sports, and TV. Does this combination make you nervous, confused, and even sweaty? You are not alone. Here is how to cope with breaking into American discussions:
Read body language accurately: To read American body language, you need to think about only two parameters: openness and tension. Americans are fairly obvious about when they are open or closed to your talking with them, and openness is signaled by open foot posture (pointing toes or knees or shoulders toward you as a stranger), open eyes (looking directly at you and holding eye contact), and head direction (pointed toward you or away from you and smiling). When you observe “open” signals, then step forward and join in the discussion. In this figure, the woman in the black pants and the other in the tan pants suit are pointing at least one foot toward you and are open to your approach. The man in the brown suit on the right and the woman in the dress are pointing toward each other and are not open to you but are open to their networking partners. The man on the left is somewhat open. Easiest: at a networking event, approach people who are pointing their feet (and even knees and shoulders outward) and who are alone.
Get attention before speaking: Before you offer your input, start by both using others’ names, leaning forward, increasing upper body energy, emphasizing some key words to convey verbal energy and confidence (see bolded words), talking louder (stretch out words), and then making a general rather than specific comment. Examples: “MIKE made a GOOD POINT about the TIMELINE….I AGREE with Ming….YOU are saying some USEFUL things.”
Make a value judgement or give a brief opinion. Don’t wait until you have the perfect facts and opinions in the US. Why: the purpose of speaking is not be a total expert but instead to HELP the group have a useful discussion. Examples: “I think that cost is more important than the timeline….That is a good idea….That is an interesting solution.”
Ask an easy question that helps the room to think. In the US, you will be more rewarded for helping the whole group or whole project than just being an expert in one particular area. Examples: “Is the timeline clear?...Whom should we involve?...What are the advantages to doing it that way?”
Break into discussions with very brief comments so that you are more visible and participate more, and yet are still comfortable. Don’t talk too much. Examples: “Interesting!...You’re right….Really?….We can handle that.”
Break into the discussion and get credit for your thinking and work at the end of the meeting. Examples at the end of the meeting: “I’m glad I brought up the topic of our our strategic objectives….Thank you for discussing this difficult topic….I’m glad we talked about the cost of this project.” In US culture, there is something called “recency effect,” in which what North Americans hear last, they remember best. Break in at the end.
I hope these help you. Please let me know what you try to do and if you need help to do it.
ANSWER QUESTIONS SUCCESSFULLY & CONFIDENTLY
Questions have literal (overt) meanings and implied (covert) meanings.
Literal meanings are the meanings derived from the words that you hear.
Implied meanings are derived from tone of voice and from underlying concerns, needs, and emotions.
Respond to both literal and implied meanings.
: "Do you really think you can make this concept work?"
Literal meaning—"Can you do this?" Surface answer: "Yes."
Implied meaning—"Have you the capacity? I doubt this will work." Implied answer: "The concept may seem complicated, but we have thought it through and have the right people to lead it."
If you are struggling with a question, you probably need more information from the questioner. Ask a clarification question.
: "Isn’t your concept something that we have already?"
Your response seeking clarification—"Are you talking about the school’s mission or the location?"
For very tough questions, pause and give neutral and considerate responses, including polite comments or talking about topics you would investigate.
Example 1: How can we approve your charter when your operations model seems disorganized?"
Neutral response: “….That’s important to clarify. Let’s have Mike make the operations clearer.”
Example 2: “You should do X better.”
Neutral response: “I’ll make a note of that. Thank you for pointing that out.”
Neutral response: To answer your question, we would investigate X and Y and talk to our consultants at Innovative Schools.”
Paradoxical responses: Be the opposite of defensiveness. (You can find something right in what they said, even if very negative.) Be diplomatic and partnering, even for challenges.
"You are absolutely right that we need to focus on increasing STEM skills. We….”
If you cannot think of an answer to a question, switch levels of responses from conceptual to concrete or from concrete to conceptual. You can then match a concrete question to a concrete answer when you think of that answer, or answer a conceptual question with a conceptual answer. Answer questions directly but thoughtfully. Buy time if needed.
Example 1: "Are you sure about what you mean when you talk about efficacy?" (Conceptual question). Concrete answer—"By efficacy, I mean how well the students can …."
Example 2: Concrete question: “How many students could you attract your first year?” Conceptual answer: Student population distribution in that region is well understood….