I’d like to believe I bring some skills to the conversations and other interactions in which I engage. If not skills, then at least experience.
As a newspaper journalist, I’ve spent 42 of my nearly 63 years on the planet getting paid to talk to people and listen — really listen — to what they tell me. That’s a lot of practice. While it hasn’t necessarily made me a perfect conversationalist, I’d assert it’s made me better one.
It’s also made me something of an anachronism in an age when people are more connected by technology than ever before, yet struggle to connect personally. It’s perplexing, because I can’t think of a more crucial ability, one that applies to nearly every aspect of life. While many factors go into success, never underestimate the importance of relationships.
I don’t claim to offer any expertise. I’m willing to lay a bet, though, some of what I’ve learned in my career applies to interactions. The next time you’re involved in an interaction — a business meeting, family gathering or just lunch with friends — engage like a journalist.
Here are four tips — call them talking points — to consider:
Be prepared. I never go into an interview without first conducting as much background research as time allows. And then planning not only the questions I’ll pose, but also their order. Think about what you want to talk about. If you need to ask for something, contemplate the reasons why. Even with a script of sorts, I don’t necessarily stick to it. Remain flexible enough to steer in a different direction and discover where that takes you. I conclude interviews by asking if there’s a question I DIDN’T pose. This affords an opportunity to bring up other and perhaps even more important information.
Ask the right questions. I’m interested in finding out not only the who, what, when and where, but also the how and especially the why. Ask people what motivates them and chances are good you’ll gain insights that prove valuable in developing deeper relationships.
Demonstrate your interest. This might be easier for me than others because I really am interested in the people I interview. They’ve got news I want to gather. That attribute extends beyond sources, though. Everyone is a subject matter expert on something. They’ve got fascinating information they’d love to relate if only someone would ask them. You might discover a shared passion that could serve as the beginning of beautiful friendship.
Above all, listen. Intently and purposefully. My work as a journalist has trained me to listen to what people tell me — not the next opportunity to interject my thoughts. Listen not only to what others say, but also the ways in which they say it. Are they animated, reticent or something in between? Watch, too. Not all communication is verbal. I make it a point to turn off my phone before an interview so I’m not interrupted. Turn off your phone and then listen as if you’d have to subsequently write a story about the conversation.
There are differences between journalism and life, of course. Not every encounter should turn into an interview. But there are also similarities in the opportunities journalism and life afford to glean information and, more important still, establish rapport and build trust.
Want to connect? Really connect? Engage like a journalist.