The Art of Conversation

by Hugh Gyton with Tracey Ward

Publisher: Customer Centred Consulting, 2009
ISBN: 9780980408706, Publisher: Messenger Publishing, 2007

Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*

Boards reach decisions through conversation. I was therefore thrilled to find a book that explains how to make conversations more effective.

This book is now a favourite resource when preparing for presentations or important meetings. It works as well for group discussions as for one-on-one conversations.

The book is based on the premise that what you say, what you think, and what you do must all be congruent for a successful conversation.

Intentionality in preparation for conversations is a strong foundation. Creating the right forum, alerting the other party or parties of the topic and expected outcomes, and providing the right environment are all paramount. It sounds logical; but how often have you tried to have a confidential discussion in a public place? Or ambushed someone by raising, and expecting to settle, an issue that was never on their agenda? If you are like me the answer is “too often.”

Choosing the right words (and not too many almost-right words) is another key. As is understanding the other person’s preferences for tone, rhythm or formality and altering your style to build rapport before, during and after the business is transacted. Hugh’s no-jargon approach is refreshing; it is based on deep understanding of the technical and scientific basis for language, communication and education. Unintelligible experts are explained in context with clear examples from social and business life. Citations from obscure (to me) journals are rendered comprehensible and relevant to every day conversations.

Managing one’s own physical manifestations to assist in conversational effectiveness is another aspect that too many directors ignore. This goes beyond ‘dressing appropriately’. When did you last frown (in concentration) as you asked an executive to explain something? And how was that frown perceived, even if your tone and words were neutral?

The book gives simple tips that any person can try. I tried some as soon as I had read it and conversations did seem to improve. I still quiver before presenting or entering a sales situation, but I have found the tools work and, being extroverted, once things go well I enjoy conversation. I lent the book to an introvert friend and she too found it useful. The tips should work for any director, or aspirant.

Hugh says, “Success is just a conversation”. This book could make it a short and effective conversation.

* Julie Garland McLellan is a governance and board consultant. She is a professional non-executive director and an AICD NSW Councillor. She is the author of “The Director’s Dilemma” newsletter and “All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector”. Julie mentors directors to be more effective in their careers.

Julie Garland McLellan to judge 2011 Global eBook Awards