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Management Skills: How to Steer Conversations

Knowing how to control a conversation can help you be a more effective manager.

No. I don’t know. I’m not sure. Are you sure?

There are plenty of ways employees, customers, and potential business partners can put up a roadblock in the middle of a conversation. However, good managers know how to guide a conversation to achieve employee buy-in, make the sale, or win over a new business contact or partner. If you’re a manager or are considering going into management, learning the art of steering a conversation can be vital to your career success. Here are five tips you can use:

Management Skills: How to Steer Conversations

Tip 1: Ask Good Questions

Questioning is an ancient skill dating back to (at least) Socrates, who used to rely completely on questions to guide his pupils through complex lessons. Questions work well when trying to steer a conversation because they fully engage the person you’re taking to, preventing them from tuning out. And if you ask the right questions, you have a better chance of leading people to the conclusion you want them to reach. There are four main types of questions you should be using:

These questions are essential if you want to understand the opinions/reference points of the person you’re talking to. If they say no, ask them to explain why. If they mention something you’re unfamiliar with, ask them for more details. It’s the best way to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Where clarifying questions get into details, adjoining questions help broaden the scope. For instance, if your marketing team doesn’t think they can successfully market your department’s new widget to a specific target audience, ask them what groups would like the widget, or what products they think would appeal to the target market. This can help you understand how the person you’re talking to thinks about the broader subject.

A funneling question challenges assumptions. In the example of the hesitant marketing team, you could ask if there are ways to influence what the target audience finds appealing, or ask how the marketing team determines what products appeal to what audiences and how accurate those determinations tend to be. Such questions can help push your conversation partners beyond their reflexive responses.

Elevating questions raise the conversation to a strategic level. With the hesitant marketing team, you could ask what they see as the overall trends among the target audience and question whether there are new media/methods of reaching this audience. Getting people to think about the bigger picture opens them up to new possibilities.

Tip 2: Answer the Questions You’re Asked

The person you’re conversing with will ask questions, too. Make sure to answer their questions in a satisfying way. If you don’t know the answer or if you aren’t at liberty to divulge certain information, admit to that instead of trying to dodge the question. This way, you can build trust and keep the person you’re talking to invested in the conversation.

Tip 3: Stay Positive

In the course of any business conversation, the person you’re talking to may challenge or even insult you. You wouldn’t be the first manager to hear, “that’s a stupid idea.” In such moments, don’t get defensive. If you do, the conversation becomes an argument. Instead, treat even harsh responses as constructive criticism. If you’re idea is labeled stupid, use questions to move the conversation toward parts of the idea that the person you’re talking to may find more appealing. When you’re positive, the conversation is much more likely to remain positive, too.

Tip 4: Put Yourself in Your Audience’s Mindset

One of the best ways to anticipate how the person you’re talking to will respond to any aspect of a conversation is to put yourself in their position. What are their objectives? What are their worries? What do they need most to succeed? If you keep the answers to these and similar questions in mind, you can significantly increase your chances of steering the conversation toward the result you want.

Tip 5: Earn an MBA Degree

An important aspect of any conversation is your knowledge and credibility. Earning a Master of Business Administration can help you improve both. At a top MBA program at one of the best business schools, you can gain in-depth business knowledge and give your résumé a serious boost. That’s why a master’s in business administration is considered one of the best business degrees out there.

Thanks to online learning, you don’t even have to take time off from your current job to earn your business administration master’s. Instead of attending classes on a campus, an online MBA program allows you to complete your coursework from home. Plus, like all online graduate degree programs, online MBA programs offer flexible schedules that make it possible for you to fit your coursework around your full time job and other responsibilities.

Being able to steer a conversation is a key skill for anyone in management. If you want to advance your business communication skills, earning an MBA degree from an online university can be the perfect choice.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Business Administration degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,