She Remembered?!

The power of following up on a conversation

Have you ever been at a conference and experienced mindless “small talk” during the breaks? Someone politely asks you about your job and where you’re from, as you wonder to yourself, “is he actually listening?” It’s thirty seconds into a conversation and you’ve already forgotten the person’s name.


And yet, there are some people who knock our socks off when they come up to us a week—or a month, or a year—later and ask us, “How did your presentation go?” or “How did your husband’s surgery go?”

The most important step in building a genuine relationship comes not in the first conversation, but in what happens afterwards, when you follow up with the person.

Overview


  1. Why follow-up is so powerful

  2. How follow-up spreads

  3. How to remember

  4. What to ask about

  5. Fake it ‘til you make it

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Why follow-up is so powerful


By following up with your colleague, you show that you are genuinely interested in him or her as a person—not just a cog in a wheel. Following up to see how something went shows your colleague three things:

  1. You were listening to what he said in the first conversation (it wasn’t just small talk)

  2. It was important enough for you to remember

  3. You care enough to ask about it later

People are truly impressed by this because it’s not so common at the workplace; it’s more common with family, friends, or other communities of people who really care about one another. As a result, you create a much stronger connection with that person.

Sidebar

Research shows that reaching out to a colleague sparks a chemical reaction (increase of oxytocin) that not only creates a much stronger bond between the two of you, but also reduces both of your anxiety levels and improves the ability to focus.

Sidebar

Mood Contagion


In an article about mood contagion, Stephanie K. Johnson cites multiple studies showing that positive moods cause individuals to be more cooperative and helpful, making them more willing to work hard.

How to follow up spreads

How follow-up spreads


A second benefit of following up with a person is that you role model a behavior that spreads. When your colleague hears you asking about how something went (e.g. a presentation), it not only increases the likelihood that she will behave the same way towards you, it also increases the likelihood that she will behave this way towards others. She may not ask another colleague how his presentation went, but she is more likely to be friendly, cooperative and helpful towards other colleagues. This attitude and behavior echos across the workplace, strengthening the feeling of community.

How to REMEMBER

Sidebar

Ethics


Some people may feel weird keeping a “database” of their colleagues, but if your intention is not to exploit, but to build relationships and a community, there is absolutely no reason to feel bad about using a memory aid.

How to remember


Perhaps the recommendation to ask follow-up questions a week later made you a bit anxious. For many people this is difficult, just remembering someone’s name can be difficult, let alone the fact that his wife was going to have surgery. This is okay. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with this.

The best thing you can do in such a case is to write the information down somewhere (afterwards of course). You don’t need to record everything, just the highlights:

  • name

  • role

  • background

  • family

  • interests

  • important events

Doing so has two benefits: it will increase your listening skills when talking to people, as well as increase your ability to ask follow-up questions.

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Variation


Whether it’s in the first conversation or in a follow-up conversation, it’s always good to vary the topics of discussion, adding different layers to the relationship (Lowndes). Not all questions need to be “getting to know you” questions.

What To Ask about

What to ask about


In an earlier conversation, the person might mention an activity or upcoming event (e.g. vacation travel, important meeting, new project, etc.). You will have to determine yourself which topic is most appropriate to ask about at a later date.


1. When a certain amount of time has passed—again, you have to decide yourself what amount of time is appropriate—you can ask how the activity is going or how the event went (or how the preparations for the event are going).


2. What if your colleague doesn’t talk about any upcoming event or activity in the initial conversation? That’s okay. As mentioned in the post “What do I say to her?”, the details of what you say or ask aren’t important. What matters to your colleague is that you show an interest in him/her as a person. If your colleague doesn’t mention an activity or event, here are a few alternative questions you can ask:

  • Ask a question that you didn’t have time to ask in your previous conversation

  • Perhaps you’ve thought of a couple of new questions since the previous conversation

  • Ask a casual question about the person’s day, weekend, holiday, etc.

Sidebar

Is it you or the culture?


We’re all different in terms of how much we’re interested in others. Many people tell themselves, “I’m an introvert” or “I’m an engineer.” However, if you want to have a high-performing work culture, there should be a baseline of interest in each other. Of course, we can all find ourselves in situations where we’re too tired or too stressed, but if you are regularly uninterested, the main cause of this is less likely your personality, and more likely the culture in which you work, a culture that views the workplace like a machine—not a community—and is more focused on getting things done than on accomplishing amazing things together. It’s your job to change this.

Fake it ‘til you make it


Even if you’re not terribly interested in how your colleague’s presentation went, ask about it anyway. It can take a little time to build the habit, but the extra effort will come back to you tenfold every time you see your colleague’s face light up when you ask a follow-up question. Just remember the positive impact it has on the person. (*see earlier sidebar about emotion)

Conclusion


Relationships are built over time, through a series of conversations—long and short, serious and casual. Just as you can’t force a garden plant to grow faster, you can’t force a relationship to become trusting overnight. But you can boost the trust level by following up on what the person said before, thereby showing that you are genuinely interested in the person.

Reflection Questions


  1. What colleague has shared information with you that you can follow up on?

  2. When can you follow up with this colleague?

  3. What can you do to better remember information that people share with you?

  4. How can you make it more of a habit to follow up and check in on how things are going?