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Unfinished Conversations

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If you're still turning over various parts of the conversation, then the conversation wasn't over. There should have been "push back" in order to have communicated.


The conversation was supposed to be about marketing and business development. For some reason, it turned slightly vicious. It wasn't the type of viciousness where bite marks would be seen on departure. But it was definitely the type where on reflection, the wish to have said this or that in response to some outrageous words was definitely there. This is evidence of an unfinished conversation. Getting to the heart of what was being said. Being clear on the intent. Resolving any potential misunderstandings and underlying animosities. And then moving back to the primary and essential focus of the encounter.

Why was there silence instead of pushing back before the convesation ended and the parties went their separate ways? This conversation should not have ended. It should have continued until one party stopped needing to gain not-forthcoming acceptance from the other and the passive aggressiveness (actually, encouragement to be bold) subsided. The pair needed to reach a meeting of the minds.

Being tastefully (or even tactfully) silent serves no purpose for anyone. The one who walks away with thoughts still percolating needs to express those thoughts. The questions that accompany those thoughts need to be asked in order to gain the answers -- and enlightenment. But it didn't happen. Why didn't it happen? Because the challenges were subtle and off topic. Because one of the parties had the false impression that it was important to maintain the relationship by not challenging the subtle confrontation. The truth is, the other party would have relished the rise to the challenge. It may have even been intentional just to see the degree to which the other would push back and how effectively. Let's look at some examples of those challenges.

Lengthy Phone Calls

An allegation that the conversation had endured for twice as long as it actually had should have been challenged. Any outsider hearing that the conversation endured for as long as was charged would have the belief that either this was a very complex subject being discussed or else someone kept going off topic because they were not focused on what they wanted and merely rambled. They did a lot of wasting the other's time. A quick check of the call log after the fact would reveal that the entire conversation lasted 19 minutes. That does not save the fact that those words, "This conversation has lasted 30 minutes," will eventually become a reputation that the caller makes interminably long phone calls that waste time. Therefore, others who learn of the (false) reputation will avoid taking calls this person.

Someone was not fully engaged in the conversation. There was very little listening. In fact, this shows the recipient of the call has very little regard for the caller. Otherwise, they would have appreciated the fact that this was not a social call; it was for business purposes. Or it indicates the recipient was still immersed in another activity and had not mentally put it on hold while they engaged in the conversation. To shift blame for inattentiveness is a sign of irresponsibiity. But that's what the recipient needs to do -- own up to not being fully engaged in the conversation or excusing theirself to a discreet amount of time for the conversation or putting it off to a little later when they are able to fully listen and be engaged in the conversation.

The "push back" should have been, "Oh, have we been talking that long? I thought it was only 10 or 15 minutes. But back to what we were talking about and then we'll finish up. You said you had time but it seems it may be better that we talk a little later. What's a better time?"

Email Blizzards

It's the little things left unattended that begin to grow in intensity until it takes moving a mountain to rectify them. The unanswered question in the email is another unfinished conversation. The unanswered email is yet another situation, but let's deal with the first situation first.

The question is asked. There is a reply that goes all over the map and acknowledges the correspondence, but that's all it does. It does not go to heart of the purpose of the contact -- to gain business information. There are options. (1) Get distracted by the winding, nonresponsive answer and remain in the dark. (2) Write again and ask for the same information again but worded in a different way. Keep the wording in the second attempt briefer than in the first.

It is possible to respond to some of the windy message. It's important to validate, especially when growing or maintaining relationships. Point out that the anecdote was interesting, you comisserate, but what you want to know is . . . It's important to stay focused. It's important to push back, to ask again for what you originally requested.

One of the newest rules of etiquette is to write brief emails. There's a reason for that. People are busy and time is scant. Keep emails short and to the point. The result is a reply is more likely to arrive shortly after the message is sent that is on point.

Belabor details only if absolutely necessary. When is necessary? When specifications are needed in order to continue the progress, when there are specific things that need attention, when there is a deadline and a checklist is needed in order to make certain everything is done. These types of messages should be handled as bulletpoints with explanations or enumerated lists that can be easily referred to and checked off.

There are dangers in writing lengthy emails. One is that the response will not be likely to answer the query. Windy and windey messages tend to be convoluted. Keep the message simple. Emails are read on the fly, not as one would read a report or letter. The more convolutions, the less clarity, the less clarity, the more confusion and the more garbled communication -- or lack of it -- the less that gets done and the more emails are exchanged.

Take Charge

Whatever the lapse, if you don't attend to the lack of communication at the first instance, it will come back to bite in any of several ways. One way is a rap on your professional reputation. Another bite will be unsatisfying relationships because of lack of communication, a meeting of the minds. Things will take too long to get accomplished and with more than the usual amount of effort.

Being forthright about what you want and your estimate of how long it will take will set the stage for having a successful meeting. Being forthright about understanding what was said will result in better communication and better results. And being forthright about your interpretations will help the other party know you are communicating. Finally, being forthright will help you maintain your strength, credibility, and professionalism.

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