This process begins with building, or rebuilding rapport.
My clients often tell me how difficult it is for them to start or continue conversations with people, especially those that may be prospects in their business development.
What I've found to be typical is that they only ask one or two questions, then immediately move to the information about their product or service without "getting to know" the person they need to serve.
Anxiety, fear, or impatience are often at the root of the problem, but often it is simply that they don't have a tool to help them know where to start and where to go in the flow of the conversation.
During an interview with a psychologist years ago as a radio host in the Washington, DC area, they suggested that a conversation is like a train engine with box cars. A conversation is one idea hooked to another; how you hook them together can be intentional, and yet also spontaneous.
First, you must want to hear what the other person has to say. As you listen and ask questions, you can drill deeper, or peel off layers of experience, perspective, emotions and values.
I often use the acronym FORM as a tool to help a client start and keep conversations going. This tool is effective even if they get lost or sidetracked and need to get back on track as they move toward their conversation’s goal. This goal may simply be finding out more about a person, or it may be to build rapport and trust to gain a business prospect.
Each letter is a prompt, and can be used in any order, but I suggest that you begin with F because most are willing to talk about where they are "From". The conversation may begin with "Are you from this area, originally?" Then offer where you are from, and if there is common background that can be extended to weather, landmarks, current news or family, seize the information and build upon it for your next question, whether or not there is something in common.
I've found that others will follow your lead if you give a little information about yourself, and then ask a follow up question based on something they mentioned. The process looks like this: you begin with a question, they respond, you relate your experience or information, ask another question, and continue the cycle. Listen for common interests, feelings, and experiences, and use it for the basis of your next question. Keep it conversational, not as if you are interrogating them.
Secondly, a question about their "Occupation" or work, especially if they mentioned their move to the area was work related. This continues the flow. Here's the key…. Listen to the facts, but also listen to their tone, because they may reveal pleasant or unpleasant feelings about the situation that may prompt the direction of your next question. Be careful to not jump too quickly to an emotional point because they may feel awkward about an emotional question too soon in your conversation.
If I find myself in a situation like that, I will often offer a similar feeling or experience, and shift to another, less emotional question, i.e., “after my dad passed away, we were open to a move. That's when my company offered a transfer to this area. Pause, and then “So since you've been here, have you enjoyed any of the local landmarks?” If they have not, share one you like and offer others they may like.
The process of prompting conversation is to start it and "connect" the next thought to their comments, and ask a question based on what they have said.
This sounds rudimental, and it is, but most stop the conversation having asked only two questions, such as where are you "From" and what is your "Occupation". It is possible to ask multiple questions within the F and O portions of the conversation, but most often the conversation stops because of anxiety or lack of direction.
The third, "R” is for “Recreation", and is a part of common conversation, especially if a team jersey or accessory is being worn. It could also be a simple transition point as above in the ‘local landmark’ comment which could be the springboard to other attractions, sporting events, or local offerings that can continue a conversation and develop significant rapport.
Lastly, but of great importance is the "M", which can be a prompt to talk about Motivation or Money.
This can provide the transition to the business portion of the conversation, or at a minimum the next step toward understanding their motivation or "Why" they may have an interest in your product and/or service.
Even though the word FORM only has four letters, I suggest that you set a goal to drill deeper by pursuing a minimum of five questions as you begin a conversation, and peel off the covering that will reveal interests, values, and motivation. You will experience greater rapport and trust.