Can you talk the stripes off a zebra?

Rosanna Machado | January 9, 2019


Anyone who knows me will know that I love a chat, whether that’s to a stranger on the tube or a client and whilst you may think this is about your personality type, I do think that we have lost the art of conversation and this can sometimes slow down progress in business.

 I spent this Christmas watching The Bridge and even the exceptionally talented Saga Norén realised that she had to try and master the art of small talk (it is perhaps questionable whether she mastered it or not!). Why did she feel the need to do this? Surrounded by all this technology, we sometimes underestimate the value of talking.

I know, I hear you saying, it’s so much quicker to send a WhatsApp or a quick email and then I don’t have to engage for 15 minutes but will you get the same result? Personally, I build up rapport and trust so much quicker through conversations and face-to-face interactions and ultimately that leads to doing a better job. There is a certain nuancing in spoken word which can be lost in messages. It’s also a great opportunity to listen and learn about who you are speaking to – what are they concerned about and how can you help to overcome that? By chatting and learning about personal topics you can also get to know a business colleague better and that will help your working relationship too.

My mantra is if you have to re-write an email three times, then it probably shouldn’t be an email. Don’t use email to shy away from a difficult conversation. By picking up the phone, you can explain your case, gauge reactions and adapt your responses accordingly and it is less likely that the conversation will be misconstrued. By all means follow up afterwards with an email to keep a paper trail. And guess what, you may even enjoy the human reaction which is a bonus!

I also started to think about my personal interactions. I think the death of the landline has made us reticent to call someone on their mobile for a chat, as we feel we might be intruding. But they can choose not to answer, or you can schedule a time to chat as if you were meeting up. Given how busy we all are, meeting up is never as frequent as we might like so the odd conversation goes a long way to keeping in touch.

This type of interaction doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everyone, so it’s up to us to encourage and mentor teams to explore different forms of communication depending on the situation and coach them through how scenarios might play out. In my first events company, we used to rehearse before we went into every client meeting. I remember my boss playing the client and I had to deliver the news that the budget had gone up and by rehearsing it and playing out the different outcomes, it made it so much easier to deliver the real thing (the real client was never as mean as my boss playing the client!). This has stayed with me and I still think through and rehearse conversations which I think is sometimes the barrier that people have to picking up the phone as they worry that they may be put on the spot.

Over time, I’ve learnt to enjoy these interactions and learning to read people and adapt your style and responses to counter their concerns will mean you can reach an outcome a lot quicker than a ping-pong of emails.

So next time your communicating with a colleague, think about what you are trying to achieve and the best communication to do this.

Tips straight from the Zebra’s mouth…

Think about the best form of communication

Adapt your style for different people and different situations

Offer coaching to your team

If in doubt, pick up the phone and have a chat!