5 Lessons in Creating Conversation

The relationship is the conversation. Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations

Oh, how I wish I’d written that sentence! In five words, Susan Scott has summarized my deepest belief about the value of the telephone – it allows us to participate in conversation with anyone, anywhere at anytime. And whenever we are in conversation, relationship is possible.

Relationships grow and strengthen our businesses and organizations, so it’s essential that all of us know, learn and practice how to create and participate in conversation. Easily said but how, exactly, does it work? How do we enter into conversation with others? My recent experience at Coles in Yarmouth offered five perfect lessons:

I’m visiting several bookstores in the coming weeks as part of marketing my new book, The Phone Book. This is not something I’ve done before and I’ve listened to a lot of writers disparage this activity over the years. (It’s similar to staffing a tradeshow booth except only a very small percentage of the people who walk by are your target market.) So I was nervous as I headed to Yarmouth to do my first in-store signing.When I acknowledged this, I also discovered that I wasn’t excited, that I was giving a lot of weight to the negative stories I’d heard.

“What!”, my inner coach said. “You’ve written a book and you’ve been given the opportunity to meet people and talk about it. Get your act together and enjoy every second of this experience.”

Lesson  One

This is how we need to approach our conversations with customers and prospects. We must put aside our nerves and all our thoughts about negative outcomes. We have, or are part of, a company that has something of value to offer. We need to get our act together and enjoy every second of talking about that value.

Brandi and her team at Coles were incredibly welcoming. They had created a lovely table display for me, along with a place to sit.  The first thing I did was add two of  my antique rotary phones to the display. The second thing … I pushed the chair in close to the table and stood instead.

Lesson Two

What’s vital about creating conversation is letting others know we are interested in speaking with them, that we are open to having a conversation. Most of us have some level of shyness and discomfort around people we don’t know. Through our body language and tone of voice we can create a sense of welcome and allow others to feel more comfortable speaking with us.

Lesson Three

And the rotary phones? We need to engage people in conversation, to inspire them. When it comes to phone work, this is the job of your pitch. At a shopping mall on a busy Saturday, an antique telephone does wonders.

This phone

One of my antique phones

drew the attention of an elderly gentleman who told me that he and his wife had once had that same model, in yellow, in their home in Windsor, Nova Scotia. We talked about how reliable it was, how sturdy. And then he told me that his wife of 54 years had recently died. He told me that she died of a heart attack in 2013, right in his arms.  Through his words, he shared with me the depth of both his love and loss. This is conversation and relationship.

Lesson Four

My contribution was a place to start (the rotary phone) and encouragement as he shared his thoughts. Now, if I’d stayed in my nervous, negative space about the book signing experience, perhaps I would have only nodded when he mentioned his old yellow phone. Perhaps he would have ended his story there – sharing a comment but not engaging. Always, in conversation, both people are present  and supporting each other in the experience. That’s how it becomes relationship.

I offered him my condolences on the loss of his wife and he moved on to do his errands in the mall. But about 20 minutes later he came back. In his hand he was holding a 1.5 by 2 inch colour photograph from 1961. “This is my wife on our wedding day,” he said to me, putting the picture in my hands. I looked down at a beautiful young woman in a gorgeous blue dress and matching hat. Her smile revealed love, joy and excitement.

I was in awe that he carried this photo with him in his wallet, that he  had taken the time to come back and share it with me. We talked a bit more about her, their wedding, their life together. As he began to walk away again he said: “It’s hard, you know. It’s really hard.” And I responded, listening to my heart (not my head, which was insisting I keep quiet): “I know,” I said. “But she’s still with you.”

Lesson Five

Creating conversation demands that we take chances, that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Conversation is immediate; we can’t go back and edit; we can’t be perfect. Conversation demands both courage and confidence – which is why it builds relationship.

When those words left my mouth I thought “Uh oh,  that might have been the wrong thing to say.” But he turned to look at me with a lovely, soft smile and he said “I know it. I know it everyday.” And then he disappeared into the crowd of  Saturday shoppers.

No matter what else results from my current book signing tour, this I know … it is a perfect opportunity to practice and learn new conversation skills, to get better at building relationship. I’m looking forward to each one.

Enjoy your phone work everyone!

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What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

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