3 vital conversation hacks for the writer journalist

I used to HATE describing myself as a journalist – ever since one of my first freelance clients, an independent music producer, described me as one – but I’ve since learned the hard way nobody knows what a copywriter is, and everyone is a little bit of a journalist; they just aren’t very good at it.

When my new(ish) employers sat me down and said they wanted me to step away from the laptop and get out there talking to people, I nearly had a panic attack.

Thanks to my writer background I could become a subject matter expert on the product we sell overnight, but talk to real-life people!?

Surely not.

Whilst I had a lot of writing experience under my belt, I didn’t have ANY talking.

I didn’t know what to do.

So I watched.

I listened.

I observed.

So much so, I actually got in trouble during my probation period.

My managers were concerned about my lack of histrionic behaviour.

The end result is something I am quite proud of: a stunning post-probation review from people within my department and without.

Because I took the time to learn my environment, and the unique – sometimes delicate – individuals that inhabit it, instead of most new people who come in like a wrecking ball, desperate to plaster their fingerprints on anything worth attention, I was able to quickly add the most value to the people around me.

I didn’t need to offer help to everyone, they saw my slow, deliberate approach and came to me.

Sadly, I don’t have enough time to do everything I want to, so I focus on what I can do best.

Here are three things I did that you can do tomorrow to have a better impact, and tell a better story.

I have kept the list short, so that hopefully what you read is original. I am not in the habit of repeating what better-qualified people espouse on LinkedIn.

Conversation hack 1 (My Favourite) – Call People “Sir” or “Mr/Mrs”:

It shouldn’t have taken a trip to the dingiest parts of Athens for my poet friend and I to realise we are always polite.

Even when we shouldn’t be!

Even when connecting flight cancellations mean an unplanned overnight stay in Dusseldorf and it’s 10pm on a Sunday night and you think you have to stay on the streets.

Being polite will get you everything.

Being polite took us from the streets to the 5* Maritime Hotel.

Being polite got us an open mini bar, dinner and drinks on the house.

All it took was to be slow, deliberate, and incredibly… decent? We didn’t raise our voices, and we showed respect.

In the office, I will often call someone Sir or Madame.

Everyone hates it.

I love it, because it demonstrates I think of all of us as equals, from the man on the front desk (nice lad) to the MD and the board (also a nice bunch). Those in “non-critical” roles, are not “non-critical” to me.

They are people.

When you remember this, and treat anyone with respect, it humanises them.

At the same time as you might make a recent graduate smile, you are reminding a senior member of the team that they are human too.

Try it, I wager others will imitate you very quickly.

Conversation hack 2 – ask for help, but don’t really ask:

This one is a real humdinger.

When you remove fear, pride, or any other emotion from the workplace, you will have a much better time.

People ask for “support”, or “recognition”, but they don’t ask for help.

I do.

I can’t even make a hot chocolate because I don’t understand how the machine works. But I want that sweet beverage, so I ask for help.

Now, I know this isn’t rocket science, but everybody tries to run before they can walk by researched advanced psychological techniques that few can really pull off.

It is important to go back to basics.

Once you’re “trying” to do something, you’re actually being deceitful and manipulative.

You must simply be this way. Ask for help tomorrow.

Don’t use business jargon either.

Nobody knows what “I’ve run out of bandwidth means”.

Try “this project is going to fail because I haven’t put the proper time and effort into it – that’s my fault – but I’d really like and appreciate it if you could help me get back on track because we are a team and I need you.”

Science tells us that people are more likely to keep helping once they’ve helped.

Make sure that isn’t a one way road, or they’ll make it a dead end.

Conversation hack 3 – reveal personal information:

This one takes hard work, but if you pull it off, it will take you places.

It requires attention to detail, emotional intelligence, and patience.

Thankfully, unlike lying, it doesn’t require memory.

See, liars have to remember every lie they’ve told.

The most recent lie I’ve told to myself is that I’d work harder on this blog and my writing. I’m still hoping I’m wrong.

Can’t remember any other lies.

When you choose to tell someone about yourself – whether the salesman bragging about his myriad dalliances, or the fresher admitting it’s hard – you make yourself vulnerable.

People like to see vulnerability in others because it is relatable.

It builds trust.

It forges relationships even between those destined to not get on.

Importantly, it defines your character, or your “brand”.

Letting someone know that – as much as you’d love to attend their optional lunchtime training session – you’ll be counselling a friend who is interviewing and finding it hard demonstrates where your priorities are in an interesting and genuine way, without the need to compromise your character by lying.

It takes guts to tell someone what you’re REALLY doing with time off. If you don’t believe me, try it.

I’ve had some time off (and need to take more) between January and March, and I admit that I don’t know what I’m doing; I know I need to write, practice my music, and acclimatise to living alone, which I’ve not really done yet.

Now, people ask thoughtful questions.

They want to help.

They know, but they don’t judge.

Because I didn’t lie, but I didn’t say nothing either.