Set the stage for more-productive professional conversations with an E.T.A. approach.

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Of all the goals you set for 2019, I’ll bet “Be boring” wasn’t one of them, but it should be — at least in the context of business conversations.

Suspense in a movie is great. Suspense in a conversation leads to confusion.

Make it a goal to walk people through a conversation, action or thought process. Don’t keep them in the dark about why you’re having a conversation or leave it up to them to figure out the next steps, because they probably won’t reach the conclusion you want.

Make it obvious by laying out the expectation and timeline before you start the discussion and include an action item before you wrap up.

It’s the E.T.A. approach and it’s a game-changer for becoming a more effective communicator and influencing others to talk to you. It’s also how I approach conversations with professional athletes.

As a sports broadcaster and sideline reporter, I conduct hundreds of interviews a year. Each time I ask for an interview I include the subject matter we’ll talk about, specify how long the interview will take and verbalize who’s responsible for taking the next steps.

For example, if I were asking Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner for an interview I might say, “Hey, Bobby, would you have time for a two-minute interview today about defending screen passes?”

The expectation is that we’ll talk about defending screen passes, and the timeline is two minutes sometime today. It’s straightforward, direct and honest — and it gives Bobby the information he needs to make a decision.

When he agrees to the interview, it’s important that the conversation doesn’t end there. Both parties need to be clear on who’s responsible for taking next steps, so I might say, “Great! I’ll catch you coming off the field after practice,” or “Thanks! When would you like me to track you down?”

Using an E.T.A. when I ask for interviews sets the stage for a productive conversation because everyone is on the same page and the conversation stays focused. There’s no suspense and no surprises to worry about.

This approach works in every business setting because it forces you to be clear about the reason for the conversation, honest about what you want from the interaction, and intentional about next steps. That’s effective communication.

It’s also a time-saver. Communicating next steps reduces the amount of lag time in reaching your objective. Expressing your intent at the beginning of the conversation allows you to cut to the chase.

If the timing or the topic doesn’t work for your colleague or client, and they put off having that conversation or end the interaction before you make your ask, you’ve saved time by getting to that point faster. Being vague about the reason for your conversation won’t win someone over, so be clear from the beginning.

Remember: Adding intrigue or confusion won’t lead to a better outcome. Being boring will.

Jen Mueller is the author of “The Influential Conversationalist” and a sports broadcaster based in Seattle. (Courtesy of Jen Mueller)
Jen Mueller is the author of “The Influential Conversationalist” and a sports broadcaster based in Seattle. (Courtesy of Jen Mueller)