Skip to content

Conversation is a two-way street and that road can occasionally be rocky, winding, or completely stagnant. When it is, the best thing you can do is take a step back and listen.

In a past interview with tastytrade, Mattersight CEO Kelly Conway shared some personality-based tips for being a better listener. The next time you find yourself in a conversation that seems to be heading in the wrong direction, keep this always-relevant, three-step plan in mind.

Step #1: Tune into the “How”

A great conversation is about what’s being said. In a less-than-great conversation, it’s how things are said that matters. Identifying someone’s personality style is the first step in salvaging your conversation with them, because it gives you an immediate understanding of their needs and motivations. Personality style comes through in tone, tempo, syntax and grammar, and if you know what to listen for, it’s easy to spot.

Download our Personality Labs piece on how to spot and talk to different personality styles.

Step #2: Look Out for Distress

Distress is the state we go into when things are important, uncertain, or unknown — and can often be the demise of conversations. Because distress looks different in different personality styles, however, it’s not always clear when and why a conversation is going south. Is the person you’re talking to getting flustered? Are they becoming hypercritical? Are they being too specific? Distress patterns like these are a red flag that a person’s psychological needs aren’t being met. Until they are, the conversation likely won’t go anywhere.

Our language patterns and distress signals are like advertisements. They tell the world exactly how we want to be communicated with. If you want to get a conversation back on track, set your own preferences aside and give the other person’s advertisements right back to them. “If you do,” says Kelly, “you’ll have much more successful meetings and more success in selling and servicing customers.”

Step #3: Give Back What You Get

Our language patterns and distress signals are like advertisements. They tell the world exactly how we want to be communicated with. If you want to get a conversation back on track, set your own preferences aside and give the other person’s advertisements right back to them. “If you do,” says Kelly, “you’ll have much more successful meetings and more success in selling and servicing customers.”