Knowing how to get the most out of a conversation is an art

Knowing how to get the most out of a conversation is an art
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When I’m talking with product managers who are first starting out, their questions all revolve around things like product road maps, how to create a product development definition, and the best way to collect customer requirements. It’s when I talk with product managers who have been doing this job for a while that the questions shift to being about how we can become more effective communicators. What these seasoned product managers know that the green ones don’t is that product management is all about the art of the effective conversation. How to do that well is the big question…

5 Ways For A Product Manager To Have An Effective Conversation

All too often as product managers we just show up and hope that the conversation that we’re going to have with someone will work out for us. However, it turns out that in order for a conversation to be successful, there are five different things that we really need to do. You won’t find these on any product manager resume, but you need to take the time to become good at doing them:

  1. Prepare: All too often when we jump into a conversation we are unprepared. We don’t know what we want to get out of the conversation and we don’t really have a plan for how we want the conversation to go. Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, take the time to prepare for your important conversations and make sure that you show up ready to communicate what you want and to learn what you need.
  2. Don’t Be Too Smart: Once you’ve prepared for a conversation, you may be the smartest person in the room. However, you don’t want to come across as a know-it-all in the conversation. Instead, you want to use the information that you’ve learned to help move the conversation along and to steer the other party towards answering the questions that you have for them.
  3. Why: They often say that small children are the best at conversations because they keep asking “why” over and over again. When you are in a conversation with someone, use “why” as your secret weapon. Use this word to drill down on a particular topic. Every time you ask it, you’ll force the other person to stop and think and in their response they’ll dive deeper into the topic that you’re talking about.
  4. It’s All In The Face: During a conversation it’s not just what the other party is telling you, but also what their face is telling you. Take the time to carefully watch their face and determine what parts of the conversation have caught their interest and which ones you can skip by.
  5. Don’t Be Bored: Not every conversation that we get involved in will interest us. Yes, we might need to communicate something to these people or we may need to find something out from them, but that doesn’t mean that they are interesting! What you need to do is to search for the one thing about them that does interest you and focus on it during the conversation so that you can remain interested and not drift off.

What All Of This Means For You

In order to be an effective product manager you are going to have to add mastering the art of conversation to your product manager job description. Having effective conversations with a wide variety of people is the key to both getting the support that your product needs as well as convincing partners and customers that your product is the one that they want.

In order to have a good conversation with someone make sure that you’ve prepared for it. Don’t try to impress them with how much you know about what is being discussed. Keep asking them “why” to find out more. Pay attention to what their face is telling you. Finally, stay “in” the conversation and be interested in what is being said.

Conversations are the cornerstones of how product managers connect with people and how we communicate what we need and want. Realize that the ability to have an effective conversation with someone is an art and with practice you can become better at it. Take some time and become a good conversationalist and you’ll start to see immediate benefits for you and your product!

- Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think that a typical conversation should last?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How much does your product cost? I’m willing to bet that you have a price sheet / guide somewhere that took a big effort to create. You probably had to study the market, study your customers, and study what the other guys were charging in order to come up with your prices as a part of your product development definition. Once you had done this, you then had to get a bunch of people to approve your prices. Whew – finally you were done, the prices were set in stone, and you moved on to other things. However, is this really the best way to price your product?


One of the responsibilities that we have as product managers is to teach others about where they can find good jobs — product manager jobs and others. As kids go back to college this fall, it’s the perfect time to open their eyes to the job opportunities in the federal sector.

We all know how hard it is now to find a good job after graduation, yet the federal workforce is in need of bright, young lawyers, engineers, scientists, enforcement officers, and more! Check out the National Treasury Employee’s Union (NTEU) president’s tips on how to help your child prepare for and land a job in federal service.


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