Improving your professional conversations

There is never a time when we are not communicating. Whether it’s the raise of an eyebrow or a slight smirk, a shrug of the shoulders or a nod of the head. Just because words are not coming out of our mouths does not mean we are not communicating with the world around us. Here are a few of my favourite communication tips, tricks and tools that will help you start improving your professional conversations.

Actually listen

 What? Crazy. I know, but you actually have to listen entirely when someone is communicating with you. Slow down. Listen with respect, empathy, and an attitude of curiosity. Reflect on what was heard and summarize. Decide slowly and mindfully how to respond. Try your best not to interrupt or get judgmental. I learned in coaching that there are three ways to listen. The first is from your perspective: how is this affecting you? What are your thoughts as the person is speaking? How do you feel about it? It’s first-person listening. Not great for the person trying to communicate with you. Second-level listening is where you are fully present with the person communicating. You aren’t finishing their sentence in your head, waiting for them to stop so you can tell your joke or think about your hunger. It’s all on them. Third-level listening is everything: you, them, the room, the other people, and your intuition. Do your best to be present and stay in second and third-level listening.

20 ways to impress your Executive

20 Ways to Impress Your Executive

The worksheet gives you 20 ideas to elevate you in the Assistant role.

Replies for frequent requests

Replies for Frequent Requests

This template gives Assistants quick replies to standard requests

Let’s talk about timing

If you know that you have to have a difficult conversation with someone, give them a warning that it will take place. If you go charging into someone’s office and start in on a serious discussion about the report they just finished, they may take that as a threat and get defensive right off the bat. Say something like, “Hey, can we meet at two to discuss your report?” That way, they are not blindsided and have time to prepare. In the same way, even if you have a talk or a phone call scheduled with someone, always ask if it’s a good time. You never know if they just got a horrible email, witnessed a car accident, or had some other catastrophe that is causing them to be distracted or react in an inappropriate way.

I was doing executive coaching for a client who was having issues with her boss. She was told the day she was hired, “Here’s your office; by the way, I don’t take questions.” Well, she had questions. He was a straightforward communicator and very much a driver personality type. I advised her to make an appointment with him via email, since he was a visual learner, to go into his office directly. Tell him that she had three questions that would take 10 minutes. And stick to that. She made the appointment. She asked her three clear, thought-out questions. She was out in eight minutes, and as she walked out the door, he said, “Thank you so much for coming in. Let me know if you have any other questions.” He obviously had many people wasting his time, which coloured his interaction with everyone. The way she communicated with him let him know that she respected that. We must meet people where they are in their communication styles and their timing.


If someone tries to start a conversation with you and you cannot handle it now, I think taking a time out is totally OK. Tell them you are not in a space to have that conversation right now, but that is very important, and you will regroup with them in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 2 hours, whatever you need. You owe it to yourself and the person trying to communicate with you to ensure your attention is wholly and entirely on them in a healthy way so that you can respond rather than react. This is one of the big fuels for arguments in couples. You do NOT have to resolve the issue in this sitting at this moment. It’s OK to say, “I’m getting heated; I need some space,” or “Our relationship is too important to rush this discussion; can we regroup later?” Take all the time you need to pamper and nurture your communication with your partner.

For any of you that have studied NLP (neurolinguistic programming), you have heard of the learning and communication styles of visual, auditory and kinesthetic. I am definitely a visual-kinesthetic learner. If I listen to an audiobook, I might as well be listening to white noise, as I will not comprehend nearly as much as I would if I was reading and highlighting.

Someone recently asked me how I write my books, more so how I organize them. I write things on notecards and then spread them out on the floor. I will put Post-ItTM notes on the wall or write them all over the mirror. If I can see it and move it around, it’s better for my learning and comprehension. Knowing your type will help you learn more and be more efficient in your work.

Now how does this figure into communication? If I know that I’m going to talk to the boss and I know the boss is a visual learner, I can use words to help build rapport or ensure I see him in person. This is one of the things I love about watching CNN, other than my utterly unnatural crush on Anderson Cooper. I like watching how the pundits that they have on communicate. Inevitably they start one of two ways: “Look, I see what you’re saying.” Or “Listen, I hear you.” As soon as you hear the words “look,” “listen,” “see,” or “hear” (or other similar phrases, you know what type of learner they are. If you are communicating with them, you can incorporate words that match their learning style, you will build rapport, and they will comprehend what you say better. It will feel more comfortable to them.

And you can also base your communication on which style they prefer. If they are an auditory person, you might want to call them. If they are visually kinesthetic, you might want to show up in their office (like the example with my client above). Sending a text to someone who is auditory isn’t going as well as hearing the communication from you with their ears. This is why I will always use PowerPoint when I speak. That way, the visual kinesthetics can take a picture of the screen and then, six months later, look through their photos and wonder, “What the hell is that?”

You can find quizzes online that will help you determine what type of communicator/learner you are. (and also your Harry Potter house, which is,of course, the most important)

Honing your communication skills is a lifetime task. Start slowly, learning more about yourself (and others) day by day. Pay attention to how people around you communicate and how you can build rapport during your exchanges. If nothing else, being fully present is the best gift you can give anyone.

Dr Kathy Gruver is an ACC-certified life coach, an international motivational speaker and an award-winning author of 8 books. She sees clients around the world. For more communication tips, check out her book, Say What?! How to Communicate Anything to Anyone.

More info is available at and