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How to engage in a conversation with a recipient that only gives one-word answers?

I would break the ice when starting conversations with new connections by asking "How have they been coping during the COVID 19 situation?" etc.

Many gave me generic answers like, "I'm good, how are you?" (Seems like I'm the only one invested in the conversation)

I find it much easier to continue a conversation when the person replies something like, "I've been great! My company has been shifting our operations online and have adopted the use of a new software......."

#sales #conversation #networking

First, you could start with a more targeted question to kick things off. If that does not land, you could be ready to share something short and relatable about what you are dealing with to break the ice. For example, "I've been on the phone with Comcast for the last 4 hours trying to get my internet fixed, so I couldn't be more excited to speak with you in comparison!" If they continue to give you short answers throughout the discussion, you can pull the pendulum and say something along the lines of, "it sounds like I've caught you during a challenging time, would it be helpful to shelve the discussion for today and pick it up later in the week?" They will either come around or confirm it is a bad time, which would save you time as well. Hope this helps! Nate Collins

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Lindsey’s Answer

If you have a chance, try to do a little research before you speak with someone. For example, see if you can find out where they went to college, where they live, or what they like to do. From there, ask a question that is personally tailored to your recipient. For example, if they live in FL and you have been to FL before, mention something specific about the area. This helps build rapport in a natural way and helps alleviate awkward introductions! Good luck!

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Amanda’s Answer

Become a master of open ended questions. If you ask the right questions, you'll get the recipient to open up.

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Kim’s Answer

Talking to strangers is difficult. Actually, the response, "I'm good, how are you?" isn't a bad one. Conversations build over time. So, your next statement/question could reveal more about yourself, and then, they might reveal more about themselves. For example, if I was playing your part, I might say something like, "I'm good, but then, I live alone. I can't imagine how people with large families are dealing with this. I'd go bonkers if I was locked up with my family!" Or, "I'm doing good, but I can't get my 84 year old mom to stay home. She keeps finding excuses to run to the store."

The example you gave, sounds like you possibly expect positivity in the response. But, the human condition often is not positive. People are trying to cope; some are doing better than others. In my first example, talking about people in general, it allows the conversation to shift to the general situation, and talking about people in general, rather than expecting the person to actually divulge information about himself to me, a complete stranger! (but, leaves open that possibility, say, if he lives with family, he is free to volunteer that if he so chooses.) In my second example, talking about my mom, allows the conversation to shift to ME, rather than making him feel that he has to talk about himself. However, he is free to do so if he wants, so, he could volunteer that he is having trouble getting his grandparents to voluntarily quarantine.

Another idea is to try a different topic! The pandemic is affecting people in many different ways, and, there are lots of differences of opinion as to what is the correct way the government should be handling it. So, when he says, "I'm good, how are you?" You could say, "I'm good, but because we are working from home, my dog is getting totally spoiled, and it's going to break his heart when we go back to work." Dogs!!! Everyone loves dogs! Always a great conversation! "You have a dog!? What kind is it? How old is he?"

See where this is going? Don't expect complete strangers to open up to you! Dogs, sports, weather. . . Find something to discuss that isn't personal!

Also realize you have no idea what someone is coping with. So, be prepared for some pretty heavy responses. My dog was diagnosed with cancer right when the pandemic started. I took him to the Emergency Room, an oncologist, and a radiation treatment vet, NONE of whom I ever got to meet face to face. I had to wait outside! It was stressful! If I were to tell you that story, are you prepared to deal with it? That's why it's better to try to keep it light!

Hopefully something I've said will help you as you re-evaluate how to approach strangers. Don't give up! It takes a lot of practice! If you are not at work, and just out and about, you could also find that wearing a particular t-shirt or baseball cap helps pave the way. A particular band or sports team, for example. Good luck!


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Suddhasattwa’s Answer


You are not alone and I have battled this past 16 years in my sales career converting many introverts into advocates. Yes you can also do it but it needs a lot of physiology studies and must read a book of Dale Carnegie - How to Win Friends and Influence People. Its a book of 1936 but still works like a bible.

Understanding other people isn’t easy, because we view the world through our own filters and assume that if we do something a certain way, then it must be good for everybody, which is a big blunder and we lose trust easily and hard to recover. So don't try to fix which is not broken but try few of these below:

1. Find, Learn and analyze what makes them interested (do a social search on them, topics they hit likes/shared)
2. Learn the brands they follow, wear, car they drive - ask recommendations
3. Dip-checks with all questions and spot his/her point of interest and do a double-click on it
4. Some dont like small talks with strangers so avoid those
5. Offer them on any ongoing issue in his job to earn his trust and strengthen your relationship
6. By chance they start to speak - never interrupt them, acknowledge them and ask follow up questions and converse enough for them to associate you with this memory of conversation/topic.
7. Dont force them to be extrovert, there are reasons why they are as this. Allow them time to respond to your messages/mails.
8. Few introverts are over cautious about their appearance or other party's appearance, smell or body language so focus on non-verbal communication, avoid eye contact and focus on the drawing on the desk about your plan and ask how they feel about it, get opinions - it make them feel valued though being introverts.

There's a long list actually and its totally experimental based, there is no single yard stick to measure them and fix it. So practice and practice.

Good luck on your pursuit
Let us know how it helps.

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Mark’s Answer

You're on the right track. Try to frame your question in a way that makes it almost impossible to respond to with one word or a short phrase. Examples...

- What are the top three things you like about...?
- Is there an experience in your life where you...?

I hope this helps!

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Itai’s Answer

Great Question! Its always challenging when a prospect is reluctant to provide context or details. Something I like to do before every conversation is set an 'Upfront Agreement' (UFA). A UFA will sound something like "Hey, before we dive in to our discussion today, I'd like to understand your challenges and how they affect your business/day to day/etc. Would that be alright if we spent the first half of our conversation going through that?'

If your prospect accepts this request, you've established a level playing field and expectation of what you are here to discuss. (If your prospect denies your request, you should tell them that you 'understand and are looking forward to having this conversation when it becomes a priority)

Once in a level playing field with your prospect, dig for the why in conversations by asking open ended questions. "How has COVID-19 affected your business" "What have you done to adjust" "If you don't do something, what will that cost you?" "Where does think rank among your priorities" instead of "has COVID 19 affected your business" "Is this a priority".

Set UFAs and be curious. Drive towards the Why. Good Luck!

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Bob’s Answer

Basically, to be a good conversationalist you will need to be a great listener. And to be a great listener, you will need to master a proven formula. *Start with broad current event or issues that concern everyone.
"This Virus is driving me crazy."
*Then expand upon the issue/event as it relates to you.
"The lockdown of (schools, churches, businesses, gyms, bars, et cetera) offer little opportunity to get to know any new people or stay in personal touch with friends." Then, "sorry, I should have introduced myself. My name is --------. And, you are?"
*Follow by moving to non directive questions.
"How is the Virus impacting you and your friends?" The response can't be yes or no.
*Now, while the response is coming to you, listen for something you can agree to while you focus on anything that looks like it would be common to each of you. Then respond.
"Wow, you are right in what you said about--------. It is true. I have found similar responses from my friends."
*If you have listened carefully, you will now continue with something you discovered in their comments that may lead you to areas of common interest.
" At the same time, my friends keep complaining that they can't get to the gym, it looks like you have a similar issue. right?" Now, you have moved to a common area to discuss.
*Once they respond, you move to the non directive supporting response.
Oh"! (then wait for a response.) Or, "why do you think your friends reacted that way"? Or, "tell me more". Or, "how do you think they came to that conclusion"?
This approach works! But, you will need to practice.

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Claire’s Answer

Hi there,

One word answers are tough to deal with, and any salesperson has had situations where they need to navigate through that. The first suggestion I'd make is to make sure you're being cognizant of the types of questions you're asking -- make sure they're open ended, not yes or no response type questions. I'd also think about the time we're in and how many of a specific type of question this person hears -- for example, I'd imagine most people get the question of how they're coping during COVID multiple times a day, and it can be a sensitive topic (you never know what someone is going through!) so maybe try something different. I'd do research on your prospect before the call and try to pick out something from their LinkedIn interests or background to ask about to break the ice, and then take it from there!

Hope this is helpful.

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Lindsey’s Answer

There are many reasons why the person you're conversing with is only giving one-word answers, but usually, it's because they're not interested in what you're speaking about.
This is a great opportunity to ask them open-ended questions about what they ARE interested in. Depending on your industry, questions can look like this:
- What are the biggest challenges your department/company face?
- What are bottlenecks in your workflows?
- What matters to you?
- How do you quantify success?

These are just a few.

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Stephanie’s Answer

You could ask a more pointed question that requires them to describe versus answering in short words or sentences. You could also try to compliment them in some way and/or word as you are seeking help or advice. In your example, you said "How have they been coping during the COVID 19 situation?" Maybe instead try, " Covid has been a challenging time for everyone. I value your opinion, so can you please share some ideas or actions you, or someone you know, are taking to best cope with the pandemic? "

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Britney’s Answer

Building a meaningful relationship helps a lot when networking. Avoid open ended questions where they can answer yes, no, or one word answers. I have listed below some of the tips I have used to build my networking skills.

1. Listen intently to what the other individual is saying. Sometimes this can give you information about them on likes, dislikes, and interests. This also shows them you are interested in what they have to say.
2. Ask follow up questions. For example, if you ask "How are you?" and they respond "I'm good. How are you?", respond by answering their question first and follow up with another question to show interest in their life. "I'm doing great. How was your weekend? Did you do anything exciting?"
3. When you answer their questions or make comments throughout the connect, find areas to add details about yourself as well. "I'm doing great. My cat snuggles was going crazy over the thunderstorm. Thunderstorms are good movie weather" This answer gives the individual some information about you and your interests as well.
4. Understand the person you are speaking to. For example, if you are talking to someone who has a busy lifestyle, you may want to keep short answers or have key topics to discuss.
5. Be confident in the topic you are discuss as this will show you have done your due diligence with research and that you are comfortable speaking.

Hope this helps!

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Jason’s Answer

Ask about safe topics. COVID's not really a safe topic as they can really go in any direction, some people have been really hurt and impacted by the pandemic and may release frustrations on you. I would suggest asking about simple, open-ended stuff. And pay attention to them, if they seem non-responsive or uncomfortable don't force the conversation on them. Just neatly wrap it up and they'll appreciate you more for it.

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Mitchell’s Answer

Prior to your meetings, understand who you are meeting with, identify your goals (best and acceptable), have as much knowledge of the organization regarding why you are there, prior to arrival. Create you questions in advance, work to have situational and attitude based questions that provide more than a single word answer. Such as, your current team generates reports manually which takes time away from your organization goals. While tools to measure the success are very important, how does the time spent on these reports affect the task, timelines for your goals and if this distracts the team for your core goal?

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shane’s Answer

Open ended questions. Example of questions would start off:

Tell me .....
How do .....
Tell me about .....
What is ......
Why ......

SHANE! That's what I was going to say as well! :) Regina Hofele

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Greta’s Answer

Position questions so that “Yes” and “No” are not an option.
When do you think you might assess your solutions in outside-training vendors?
• What do you think about our offer so far?
• How should we move forward after today?
• Which area about our product do you still have questions about?
• What’s your budget?

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Cindy’s Answer

Do your research on the person you're calling. LinkedIn can be helpful or just use Google Search. Use some knowledge as an icebreaker or relationship builder. Always ask "open ended" questions.
Some examples to start with could be; "tell me about.....", "what are your thoughts on.....", "how do you......". Start the conversation off with a purpose statement that's important to the person you're talking to.

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Sydney’s Answer

Lots of good feedback on this one. I would say repour building is a huge help in this type of situation, the ability to make a personal connection / come across as human makes it much easier for people to open up to you. I also recommend doing your research on the person and be prepared with case studies / examples of how the thing you are selling has benefited other people in roles similar to him, this will add to your credibility and encourage the person to open up. And don't beat yourself up if you've prepared, build report and asked all the right questions ... sometimes you just catch people in an off moment and no matter what you do they won't open up.

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Azrin’s Answer

Networking is a powerful tool. The trick is to find some common ground. In a business setting:
1. Start with your name and organization
2. Make a comment about the event you are at or the setting you are both in e.g. "That was an interesting presentation, I found the [comment] on [topic] thought provoking.
3. This gives the other person an opportunity to respond
4. Find out about who will be speaking to beforehand, to find common ground for conversation starters - e.g. university, where they grew up, a mutual contact, similar career background
5. Listen attentively, maintain eye contact, smile, acknowledge their views either with a nod, "That's interesting", or offer a comment of your own where you feel comfortable

I would start with something neutral. A "how are you coping during the Covid situation" may come across as too personal for many. Open that up only after a few neutral conversation starters.

Hope this helps!

This doesn't directly answer the student's question. It seems like they are having a hard time starting conversations with new connections. How do you break the ice with new clients? Gurpreet Lally

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Sunny’s Answer

Hi Yew,

I think it might be helpful if you focus on your goal from the conversations. If you just want to expand your network, I would try to have more friendly questions, which city they live, what they do during the weekends, what recipes they tried recently, etc.

Or, if you are trying to sell to strangers, you can start with a question that can be related to your products/services. For example, if you are selling electronics, "during this time, I can't live without Netflix, have you watched any interesting shows/movies?" and then "this device can provide multiple channels and give more selections on view settings." You can naturally connect the dots from the flow of the conversations.

Hope this helps!

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Ian’s Answer

I believe you answered the question

" I find it much easier to continue a conversation when the person replies something like, "I've been great! My company has been shifting our operations online and have adopted the use of a new software.......""

If the person answered " I am good and how are you?"

You can start talking about how you are and give a brief introduction about yourself to let the person understand where you are coming from (in term of school/business/background/hobby)
Furthermore, ask them about what you just mentioned with specific question such as : "how their company is doing", "what kind of challenges are they facing", "what do they do during their free time especially during pandemic", "what kind of changes is being made in their industry moving forward", "what is their alternative when restaurant is not available ( many people enjoy topic about food)"

I hope this help, good luck.