In late July, I left the mountains for sunny, bike-friendly Boulder to attend the Account Manager Specialist training at Google. When I walked into the Boulder Falls meeting room at Google Boulder, the training leader, G.A. Bartick, warmly welcomed me.
I’ve never witnessed anyone greet one person after another after another with endless genuine enthusiasm, until G.A. I was impressed, and thought this workshop might be different from what I expected, a thought that proved to be true.
The first exercise of the day? Stand up, push in your chairs, give a high five to 5 strangers in the room, and tell them, “Google rocks!”
Back at our seats, G.A. asked us to create a 9 item list, which included a starter’s pistol and an airplane with tennis rackets for wings. This 9 item list is what G.A. called a conversation stack.
So far, high fives and a list of random objects weren’t my expectation. I wondered, “Where’s the slide presentation? The cheesy Powerpoint graphics? Where’s the familiar?”
The familiar, the comfortable took the day off.
Back to the starter’s pistol and tennis racket airplane.
What do these objects have to do with an Account Manager Specialist’s job? Everything. In fact, these objects are the key to having a meaningful conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
When you learn the conversation stack, you begin by writing down the list of objects, unadorned. To commit these objects to memory, you adorn them, you describe them. Working as a group, one person transformed a plain old starter’s pistol into a purple starter’s pistol ― Prince would approve! Another attendee turned the airplane into a Lufthansa aircraft with wings made of Russell brand tennis rackets, Russell being the uncertain contribution from Alec at the next table, who wondered aloud if Russell made rackets. They don’t, but in our conversation stack, why not?
Why are these objects a conversation stack, and more to the point, what is a conversation stack? A conversation stack is a map with objects that guide you through questions you can ask another person. The conversation stack starts with a doormat. The doormat ― ours was a big, brown, 6-foot doormat ― reminds you to introduce yourself, and ask the person’s name. Easy enough.
Object number 2? A house, which represents where the person lives, so you ask, “Where are you from?” Next, a family portrait (our group selected the Obamas). Ask the other person about their family. Then, a worker’s glove. Ask her what she does for work? Now, the Prince-approved purple starter’s pistol. Your question: “How did you get started in your field?” The Lufthansa airliner represents past and future travel. The Russell brand tennis rackets represent hobbies and interests. Object number 8 is a goalpost, which represents her goals with her career and life. The final object is flowers, which our group decided would be yellow tulips. The bouquet of yellow tulips reminds you to thank the person for speaking with you.
After adorning our conversation stack, we practiced using the stack with one another. Then, G.A. picked a few people to share what they learned about their conversation stack partner. G.A. pointed out that while these people shared what they learned about their conversation partner, the partner smiled, nodding their head. He wanted us to understand why the partner was smiling.
The partner felt heard, felt listened to. They shared personal information with a stranger, and when that stranger recalled what they learned, that was a validating moment. Feeling like the person you’re talking to is really listening to you is a really big deal.
That was the lesson of the day for me: make your conversation partners, especially if they’re clients, feel like they are heard and understood.
I learned a lot at the Account Manager Specialist training, but the conversation stack resonated with me. Learning how to have polite, meaningful conversation with anyone is a life skill we all need to not only learn, but also need to constantly practice. So, thank you G.A. for teaching me a valuable life skill, and thank you Google Boulder for providing a space for learning it.