How to Master In-Person Communication

While communicating digitally can be a boon, face-to-face relationship building is more important than ever. Use these strategies to strengthen your in-person communication skills.

1. Ditch Technology: Put away the devices and focus fully on the person you’re with. “The most powerful relationship building happens when technology isn’t present,” says Colin McLetchie, president of Five Ways Forward, a consulting and wellness company. “Keep it out of sight unless it serves a real purpose in the conversation.”

2. Adapt to the Prospect’s Communication Style: Some prospects want to get to the point and get done quickly. Others are socializers and like a little small talk so they can get a feel for you as a person. Still others are guarded and methodical, intent on exploring points slowly and seeing data to support claims. It’s your job to understand the prospect’s communication style and then conform to it. Do that, and you’ll deliver an experience that is vastly more satisfying for clients.

3. Remove Barriers: “Whenever possible walk with – or stand/sit with – the prospect without barriers like desks and tables,” says David Hernandez, cofounder of lotus823, a marketing communications agency. The lack of a barrier fosters a feel of collaboration, rather than competition.

4. Lead With Questions: When it’s time to talk business, start by asking questions – especially open-ended questions aimed at discovering a prospect’s needs and goals. “Questions show interest and demonstrate your willingness to learn what your client wants,” says Dianna Booher, a communications strategist and CEO of Booher Research Institute. “Starting with statements suggests that you have a canned, one-size-fits-all approach, which does not make your meeting personal.”

5. Rephrase the ‘Why’: Avoid asking questions that begin with ‘why,” which can put people on the defensive. “Choose ‘what’ or ‘how’ questions to keep the person engaged in the dialogue,” says McLetchie. For example, “Why did this happen?” becomes “What got us here?” or “How did this evolve for your organization?”

6. Practice Deep Listening: Move away from “agenda listening” and toward “deep listening,” says Trish McDermott, cofounder of Panic Media Training. Agenda listening is faux listening in which you’re essentially waiting for a reasonable point to interject with a pre-determined script. Deep listening, however, creates a conversation that’s about the client, giving the prospect time to tell her story. The client sees you’ve actually heard her, and may trust you more. Plus, when you deep listen, you can formulate unique insights that speak directly to the prospect’s most pressing needs. “Your customer will understand that with your guidance, she chose a solution that met her most important criteria,” says McDermott. “She is more likely to feel positive about her experience and come to you again.”

7. Acknowledge Emotions: Correctly responding to prospects’ emotions helps convey that you truly understand, and makes them feel you’re on their side. For example, if you hear frustration when a marketing executive discusses certain challenges, acknowledge that with a simple response: You seem really frustrated by this. “Most people respond well to having their difficult emotions acknowledged and will respond with confirmation or clarification,” says McLetchie. From this, you can ask more questions that help you find solutions.

8. Allow for Silence: Stay relaxed and quiet while a prospect is thinking. Nervous salespeople rush to fill silence with chatter and answer their own questions, betraying a lack of confidence and possibly annoying the client. “Try repeating a mantra in your head while your potential client processes their thoughts,” says Alexis Robin, cofounder of p.Link, an executive coaching firm. “My favorite is, ‘Let silence do the heavy lifting.’”

9. Pay Close Attention to Nonverbal Cues: Unspoken physical cues can yield important insights into what a client is really thinking. Fidgeting and frequently looking away suggest discomfort and disinterest. Arms folded across the chest indicate skepticism and resistance. Direct eye contact and head-nodding implies receptivity. There are subtler cues, too. “If the client’s feet point away from you, they’re looking for a way to escape,” Booher says. “If they make eye contact with you on certain issues but not others, that suggests they’re not being straightforward. Frequently touching their nose and mouth suggests they are lying.”

Christopher Ruvo is a senior writer for Advantages. Follow: @ChrisR_ASI. Contact: