REAL TIME Episode 28: The Art of Conversation
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the podcast for REALTORS® and about issues affecting REALTORS®, brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m your host, Erin Davis. Today, we have a guest you probably know and who’s here to impart some of his trade secrets to help you every step along the way. We might be living in a digital age, sure, but a career in real estate is still personal. Buyers and sellers depend on REALTORS® to not only guide, inform, and advise, but to assure and reassure an emotional need.
Succeeding as a REALTOR® requires a strong knack for connection, the ability to build trust, a commitment to immersing yourself in a client’s vision so you can help them achieve it. In short, you need to communicate.
We have one of Canada’s best communicators, long-time TSN anchor, and sports journalist, James Duthie, to share some valuable insight to help us all. On this episode of REAL TIME, we’ll explore a fundamentally human experience, conversation.
How can REALTORS® better connect with clients and prospective clients on a personal level? How can you find common ground to instill trust? What questions should be asked and not asked and how can you become a better listener? Pairing knowledge and expertise with the right conversation skills can give REALTORS® a professional edge and that’s what we are here to talk about.
Thanks so much for joining us, James. We’re so happy to be talking with you here, and not about sports for a change. How does that feel?
James Duthie: It is somewhat of a thrill, Erin. I love my job. I love the people that watch me on TV, but you do get a lot in my world of, “So the Leafs power play, what do you think?”
Erin: I bet. I do have to ask you. If you could only work with one sport, you’re going to be totally focused on one sport the rest of your career, which is it, James?
James: That answer would’ve changed over the years. I would probably say now golf because that’s become my obsession. I’ve always loved golf, but I think as I get older, it’s my favourite thing to play. It’s the only thing I really still play because my body’s gotten too old for hockey and football and I get too beat up for that. It would probably be golf.
I was at the Canadian Open back in June. I got to do the Masters back in April. There’s just something wonderful about being at a golf course. It just doesn’t feel as much like work even though it is. The days are very long there. I probably go with golf, but I still love my hockey and my football and everything else.
Erin: Well, you mentioned football, so let’s start out with that. Going back to early in your career and before your career, tell us how it took shape? Here you are now, one of Canada’s favourite sportscasters. James, where did it begin?
James: I think, Erin, like most sportscasters, you’d find our failed athletes and I was one of those. I was a delusional high school football player who truly believed that I was going to play for the San Francisco 49ers. I was going to go to Clemson University because I think I fell in love with a cheerleader who had a paw on her face when I was in about grade 11.
I was determined to go to Clemson after I saw that one cheerleader. I really thought, I mean, I was a decent high school football player, but I think it was somewhere along the way in grade 13, remember when that existed, that I realized I was barely 5’10” and 145 pounds with mediocre speed and talents, and the Niners probably weren’t looking for that. I remember going into my guidance counsellor’s office and saying, “I don’t think I can make it as an athlete, so I’d love to do something in sport.”
She plunked it into her computer. Sports marketing and sports administration came up a bunch of different programs and journalism came up. I guess I’d probably had it in my mind. I was probably one of those kids who did, turn down the TV and do play-by-play a little in high school, I suppose. That’s where I went and that’s how I ended up here.
Erin: How did you get noticed by TSN because somebody doesn’t just start at a major sports network, or did it even exist then?
James: Well, not when I started, no. Most sports jobs were the local guys at your local CTV or CBC station who had been there forever. I actually couldn’t get a job in sports. I was lucky enough to get a job at the CTV station in Ottawa right out of school but as a news reporter. I spent seven years covering politics and murderers and fires and boring city council meetings and all those things all the while still dreaming about doing sports. I got to do a little bit of sports in Ottawa. I guess that’s where, by luck, a TSN executive was watching me one night and gave me a phone call.
I sent them a tape and I had an audition. They actually didn’t hire me the first time. I took a job out in Vancouver and actually went back to news reporting. Then I remember I really wanted to live in BC and I told the guy when he said, “I can’t hire you now, but I’d love to hire you someday.” I said, “Well, I’m moving out to BC to take a job there. Don’t call me for a couple of years because I want to live the BC life.” He called me in six months and offered me what really was my dream job. Much to my wife’s chagrin, we moved back east.
Erin: Somebody, and I believe it was Oprah, who said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You got that opportunity, but you had the preparation. You put in those Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours probably with all those interviews and the boring city council and all that kind of stuff, would you say?
James: I think so. Actually, I really think that I don’t think I would have gotten the opportunity at TSN and all the opportunities I’ve had since without those years in news. Being a news reporter is a really fascinating thing. You basically go into work every day and get assigned a topic and your job is to learn as much about that topic in one day as possible. It’s a fascinating way to meet so many different people in different lines. It makes you a better interviewer, I think. It makes you a better writer for the job. I think that the skills I developed in news ended up being critical in sports and probably were the key to any success that I’ve had.
Erin: Not only do you have to be a good dancer and, of course, you’re tap dancing there in front of a live audience through all kinds of different circumstances and challenges, but you need to be a choreographer, the dance captain who, in the case of a panel, for example, people probably think as they do with anything that is done well, talent makes it look easy, but it’s not, James. What about coordinating panels and the different talents, “Go ahead, don’t be humble,” that are required to do what you do and make it look so easy?
James: I think it’s like being a traffic cop. You’re somewhat the conductor of this little four-minute orchestra in the intermission of a hockey game or after a golf round or a football game or whatever it may be. You’re so right. You get all these different personalities. Some guys want to talk the whole time. You get some ex-hockey players in there that it’s hard to get a couple of sentences out of. Your job is to balance those to maybe shut up the guy who wants to talk all the time and get more out of the guy who doesn’t talk as much and make it hopefully flow like a seamless, casual conversation.
In the end, that’s what you are, is basically a professional conversationalist, is to hopefully make some hockey topic or football or whatever it may be and just have a good conversation. Hopefully, a lively conversation, sometimes a debate, sometimes not, and that is hopefully appealing to the viewers at home. That’s essentially what I do. It’s hardly rocket science. I think sometimes it’s just basically trying to have good conversations.
Erin: Well, it’s almost like a dinner party too. If you are hosting a dinner party, I definitely either want to be at the table or to be listening in on the conversation because you’re bringing the best out of everybody who’s there at the table. Who’s the talker in your household, James?
James: Oh, unfortunately, my biggest problem, my wife often reminds me, is that I talk in my broadcast voice in dinner. You know what I mean? You’re not supposed to bring your work home, but I’ll be telling the story. I’ll be like, “Yes, so in the third period, you won’t believe what happened.” She’s like, “Honey, you’re not on TV anymore, all right? It’s just me and the kids and the dogs. You don’t have to yell like that.” I think in our family, it’s mixed around. I have some pretty bubbly personalities. I guess I do talk loud when I talk, but I’m actually fairly quiet, I think, away from things. I always feel like sometimes you have to play in these charity golf events when you are the “celebrity.”
Erin: Those used to be awful.
James: Oh, I know. I’m sure.
Erin: I used to get stuck in that fourth spot and I’m a terrible golfer, James, and they’re all looking to see, “Oh, is Doug Gilmour in our– Oh, no, it’s Doug.” James said, “Oh, we got this woman?”
James: I’m the same way you’re in where– First of all, they expect you to be a great golfer. I’ll say this right away that being a professional sportscaster does not mean you’re a great athlete.
Erin: More in a moment with TSN host James Duthie, exploring the art of conversation. You know what? It was at a charity event at which I first met James years ago. He was telling a very personal story while also helping to raise money for a cause that was important to our community. Of course, as a REALTOR®, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re ever looking for ideas on how you can light a spark of inspiration, follow Realtors Care on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Be sure to share your own stories using #RealtorsCare.
Back now to TSN’s James Duthie and the joy of having a virtual map, but also going off-road when you’re conducting a conversation.
Talking about someone who is talented as you are when you see someone who’s not, it tends to stick out now like a sore thumb. I think one of the things that we noticed and probably were guilty of early in our careers, and I’ll ask if you were, is having a set of questions and sticking to them. This translates to conversation of all kinds because we are talking about the art of conversation today, which means that this is where I’m quiet and let you answer and I will, but it’s that list of questions that some don’t deviate from. Tell us about those as road maps or guidelines or do you just chuck them out the window, James?
James: I think I learned that lesson in my first year of doing television at Carleton University and I was operating the camera. My colleague, my fellow student, was doing the interview and she had this wonderful long list of questions. She was very thorough, and I was just listening to what the guy was saying. She was so focused on getting every single question she’d written down out that she wasn’t listening to the answer.
It wasn’t like I was some brilliant interviewer then, but I remember clicking into saying, “Wow, she’s missing all these opportunities here to ask some good questions.” I guess that’s stuck with me. I think that’s probably the most critical thing, not only in interviews but in any sort of conversation is listening. When we do that and a lot of journalists, I think, do that is they write down their questions. They’re so focused on getting to that next question that they don’t really listen to the answers, which usually lead to the best questions.
I’ve developed in the habit over the years of doing interviews, I will write down questions and I still handwrite my questions because I always feel like there’s a better connection between the hand and the brain than if I’m writing them in my phone or on my computer or my iPad or whatever. I’m really old-school that way. Almost everything I do in television, I write down. We don’t use a teleprompter in our studio or anything.
I will just write down handwritten notes of some of the things I’d like to say. Hopefully, it comes out decently on TV, but I find I remember it better that way. I’ll write a list of questions for an interview and I’ll go over them a couple of times, but then I’ll never pull out that piece of paper. I’ll keep it in my pocket. Maybe I have some sort of safety mechanism that I know it’s in my pocket if I need it and if I freeze.
For the most part, I will just try to listen and ask the questions based on that. It served me well over the years. I think the great interviewers that you see on television, whether it’s somebody like Oprah or whatever, is the same thing, right? They’re just listening, and all their follow-up questions are the ones that get the best answers. I think that’s a crucial tool, whether it’s in journalism or broadcasting or anywhere else in life, is to just listen to the person you’re talking to.
Erin: I am listening and we’re going to keep talking about conversation, but I have to go back to something you just said. Are you a rarity or unique in that you don’t have a teleprompter in the studio, James?
James: I think it’s fairly common now with sports studio shows. I don’t think it’s very common in news. I argue from my industry that I think sports broadcasters are some of the best broadcasters out there because there’s such a live element to everything we do in sports. From the beginning, my first day when I got to TSN, I’d done some anchoring for sports and news at the station. There was always a teleprompter. I remember getting to TSN and my first job was hosting CFL football games.
They quickly told me there was going to be no prompter. I probably was scared at first, but quickly realized that that’s the best way to have conversations. That’s been that way for my whole career. If you’re watching the show SportsCentre, the highlight show, they have a teleprompter. Any of the other shows we do, do not. I much prefer it that way. Going back to what we were talking about, about having normal conversations, I think it’s really difficult to have those when they’re all on a teleprompter, right?
James: “How are you doing today? What did you think about that first half of football?”
Erin: Dot, dot, dot.
James: Yes, and the other thing is I think it keeps your brain sharper because you are a little bit naked to the world. If you do forget what you’re going to say, there’s no backup there to help you. You’re just on your own. I’ve had the odd embarrassing moment in my career where I’ve completely forgotten where I was going. You teach yourself these tricks where you keep talking even though you’re not saying it. There’s one more thing I wanted to ask you just before we go. It pertains, of course, to the last subject you were– Kick in now. Kick in now anytime, brain, right?
Erin: That’s right.
James: We’ve all done that.
Erin: Just keep swimming.
James: That’s right. Usually, it eventually comes around. I think there’s been one or two times in my career where I’ve just said out loud on the air, “I’m sorry. I have no idea what I was going to ask you.”
Erin: That’s so relatable.
James: It’s okay, right? It’s human.
Erin: Yes, it does. It takes down that wall. What’s the foundation, James, for the way that you conduct a conversation in front of the camera? Then we’ll talk about off-camera in real life for the rest of it.
James: I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down, Erin, and come up with a set of rules or one way of doing things. Because I think when you do that, it also limits the scope of what you do. I prefer to not have that and to just– Look, it might be different if you’re doing an interview, which is the subject might be a little bit tough. You’re going to have to do more follow-ups or you’re going to have to challenge the person a little bit more.
I’m obviously prepared for that, but I don’t think I have any other sort of template either than to do it the way I do it in real life, which is if you’re sitting down talking to a friend on the couch or something, you’re not thinking about how the conversation’s going to go for the most part. Maybe I’ve had a few of my kids where I’ve had to think about the way it’s going to go. I don’t really follow any sort of set of rules. Hopefully, it comes to me naturally. If it doesn’t, well, then I fail a little bit.
One thing I do is you go off the person that you are interviewing, right? If they’re someone who you know talks a lot or tends to give you two or three-minute answers, you sit back obviously. Maybe there’s some body language you can give to let them know that maybe they want to wrap this one up to get to the next question. For the most part, if it’s the opposite, if it’s someone who doesn’t speak a lot, then I try to ask maybe more open-ended questions instead of pointed questions.
Maybe I’ll ask pointed questions to someone who tends to speak a lot. I’ll ask more open-ended questions to the person who doesn’t speak a lot. If it’s one of those hockey players who just speaks in little five-second answers and doesn’t give you much, that’s when maybe you use a little more of the: “Tell me about this,” that kind of question, which allows them to go in different directions.
Erin: REAL TIME returns with our conversation about conversation and TV sports host James Duthie about reading the room.
When it comes to feeling at home, there’s no place like REALTOR.ca Living Room. It’s the source for free engaging content for your social feeds. From key 2022 housing trends to design tutorials, Living Room is here to bring you entertaining and inspiring articles. We’ll continue our chat now with TSN’s James Duthie on REAL TIME.
I would imagine that the REALTORS® who are listening today have had experience with a couple where even one partner is ready to tell you about their history and what they want in a house and what they had and what they hoped for while the other one will be sitting there quietly contemplating or nodding or maybe not giving off any signals at all. Comfort is a big deal.
What you’re talking about, reading the room, reading the signs, who are you going to talk to, but having both parties comfortable, both you and the subject of your interview or the person you’re having your conversation within the case of a REALTOR®, that’s really important from the jump too, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s just rolling into it softly with whether it’s about the weather or anything like that. Tell us about that little bit of the art that you’ve used.
James: You’re so right. I think it’s probably the most important thing, particularly in television where people might not feel comfortable in front of the camera. Obviously, some of the athletes are so used to it, but some others are not necessarily. I think you always want someone to be comfortable. What I would do is maybe before the cameras are rolling or even after the cameras are rolling is try to talk about something other than the subject that we are about to talk about.
I try to avoid the weather, which is obvious, but maybe it’s a different sport. Maybe it’s something that happened the night before. Maybe it’s, “Did you see Top Gun yet?” that kind of thing. “Did you check out the new Netflix series?” whatever. Athletes, in particular, I think they get so bored with talking about their own stuff that they would love to talk about anything else but that. You have to be genuine, right? It can’t just be, “Okay, he’s just killing time before he gets to the subject.”
I think REALTORS® would have to be aware of that too, right? You can’t just go in there and say, “Oh, what a nice day. All right, let’s get down to the crux of the issue here,” right? You have to genuinely be interested in something else that they’re talking about. You have to humanize yourself away from the job, whether it’s talking about kids or dogs. I think my dogs probably come up a lot in conversation because I have crazy dogs.
Animals, kids, all those things, I think, are common bonds that we all have as humans. People always love to talk about their kids or their dogs or their cats or whatever that may be. I will, before an interview, try to talk about anything else, except the interview. The one other thing I will do, I think, for comfort though is be very upfront about what we are going to talk about. I don’t believe necessarily in the got-you interview that I don’t really have to do much anyway. It’s not like I’m 60 Minutes or something.
If I’m going to do an interview on a subject that is tough, I will tell the subject beforehand, “Hey, we’re going to get into all of this and I’m going to ask you about this, this, and this,” because I think, that way, they’re much more comfortable knowing what’s coming than if you suddenly throw something at them that they weren’t expecting right in the middle of the interview. Those are some of the ways that, hopefully, I make somebody feel comfortable.
Erin: Have you ever had anyone just take off their live mic and leave it on the chair and say, “No, I’m not talking about that”?
James: I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody walk out on me per se. That’s a great question. I don’t think I have. I’ve definitely had people very angry with me. The most awkward interview I ever had was with the legend, Steve Yzerman, who I’m a big fan of, who was, at that point, general manager of Canada’s Olympic team. It was the day they announced the Olympic team for the Sochi Olympics 2014.
Steve was also the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time and Marty St. Louis was the star for the Lightning. There was a big question going in about whether Marty would make the team. He was right on the line. The fact that Steve was his general manager, would that help him make the team? That was kind of the big story leading into that day. He ended up not being on the team.
Steve announced the team at this big gala event and then came right to us to do an interview with me. I asked him one question about the team. Then I said, “It must have been very difficult for you to leave Marty St. Louis off the team?” For whatever reason, Steve was not expecting that question and, I could tell right away, was extremely uncomfortable and said, “Well, I really rather talk about the players that are on the team.”
I came back and said, “Well, I realize that, Steve, and we will, but this is something that everybody was wondering about, so I need to get into it.” He deflected again and it got increasingly uncomfortable. I think if you asked my colleagues, they would say that was probably the most uncomfortable interview I was ever involved in.
I think Steve was mad at me for a while. In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of years later, I flew down to Tampa to do another story that I saw him and we hashed it out for 10 minutes. Hopefully, we have a better relationship today. He’s definitely very professional with me, but I don’t know if I’m his favourite interviewer. Hockey guys have long memories as you know, hold grudges for a long time, but I still think I did my job well there. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I’ve thought about it a lot. Should I have waited maybe two or three more questions to ask that?
Would that have helped? I don’t know. I’ll guess I’ll never know. For the most part, I haven’t had moments like that. Sports is fairly lighthearted. Most of the people you talk to don’t mind talking to you. I’ve had some awkward ones on NHL trade deadline, which is a 10-hour live show we do. Guys are getting traded, and their lives are being upended. There was one time where it all happens very quickly. A producer gets in your ear and says, “Hey, we’ve got so-and-so on the line. He’s just been traded.”
In this case, it was, I believe, Chris Stewart was the player and he’d just been traded from Buffalo to Minnesota. He comes on the line, and I said, “Chris, welcome to the show. What do you think about the trade?” He said, “I don’t know. Your guy just called me. I don’t know where I’ve been traded to.” This was live television. I said, “Oh, do you want me to tell you?” He said, “Sure.” I said, “You’ve been traded to Minnesota.” He said, “Oh, okay.”
He took it very well, but it was a few awkward seconds there where I was like, “Oh, how do I handle this?” Because even though it’s just a hockey show to us, lives getting upended, and children being pulled out of school and moved to another city in the middle of the year. Those things happened. In that case, it ended up being more of a chuckle than anything else because he took it very well, but lots of crazy things happen in live TV. For the most part, I haven’t had anybody slug me or walk out on me yet.
Erin: Is there a way to deflect or to avoid being shot as the messenger when someone has something that they have to impart like if you’d been telling Chris that he was going to some team absolutely nobody wanted to go to? I’m not even going to name one right now because it’s somebody’s favourite team, but is there a way for someone who has to deliver news, “The offer wasn’t enough,” or “You didn’t get the house”? Do you have any advice there, James? Obviously, you had to think on your feet there.
James: Yes, obviously, I think that would come up probably with REALTORS® probably a lot more than me where they have to say, “Hey, you didn’t get the house,” or “You’re going to have to come up $50,000,” or whatever that may be. I don’t deal with as many of those situations. Maybe it’s more so that you have to do an interview right after something devastating has happened to someone. I have to pick up the pieces with this person, right? They’ve just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final after working their entire life to get there. Now, I’m throwing a microphone in their face and saying, “What went wrong?”
James: That is a challenging part of my job. Most people accept it, but it’s not easy by any means to do that. I do feel it’s always a little bit awkward. I think you have to combine normal human decency and pathos and sympathy. At the same time, still being a professional about it, right? You’re not going to let them cry on your shoulder. Perhaps in realty, but I don’t think I can do that on live TV. You have to find a way to be understanding of their pain and still do your job and ask the pertinent questions.
I think that only comes with experience really more than anything else where you just say, “Look, I know that this is a terrible loss for you guys, but we appreciate you coming out and talking to us. Tell us what happened on that game-winning goal, basket shot, touchdown,” whatever the sport may be. For the most part, I think people understand that you have a job to do. I don’t think that would be any different in realty. It’s not your fault that the offer didn’t get accepted. You’re just having to be the messenger. I think if you just communicate it in that professional way with a little bit of sympathy, then that’s the best you can do.
Erin: In a moment, finding that comfort zone when you’re having a conversation.
You can always feel at home connecting with local leads, growing your network, or finding valuable content for your audience at REALTOR.ca. Visit REALTOR.ca today, reliable real estate resources, all under one roof. Now, back to James Duthie on REAL TIME.
You’re so good at drawing parallels for our listeners here today, James. Thank you. When we’re talking about buying or selling a home, for example, it can be a nerve-racking experience. For a REALTOR® then, first impressions are just so important. Let’s draw some parallels for our listeners. What other techniques do you use to keep people comfortable during an interview? Do you lay the groundwork that, “Look, you’re safe with me. When the camera rolls, I’m not going to be sabotaging you”? I guess that might be your integrity and your reputation that precedes you, yes?
James: Right. I think you’re right on that, Erin. I think that you can only develop that over time, a trust that this guy is okay. Word gets around when you’ve been doing this for a long time that if you have a bad reputation or as someone that does the got-you type interviews or is looking to find some sort of clip that they’ll make it out to be more salacious than it really is and tabloid it a little bit, that sticks with you.
I think you have to earn that over time by doing good interviews and being trustworthy and I guess being likable to these people. That helps, but I think it does take time to establish that. Sometimes when I go to new sports, my job now is different than it used to be when I just used to be a hockey guy and I cover football and golf and soccer. I’m going to the World Cup in November.
Sometimes I do get into places where the athletes don’t know me as well as some of the others. It’s like you’re starting from scratch in developing these reputations. I have to go back to square one and try to establish trust with someone. Sometimes that’s hard to do in a very limited time window. If you only have 10 minutes with someone, 7 minutes through the interview and 3 minutes to get to know them, that’s a little bit of a challenge.
All you can try to do is do some of the same things I said before. Let people know that you’re not out to get them, that you’re a decent person, and that you’re just going to be doing your job here. I think, for the most part, people appreciate that, but it’s easier in the places that I’ve been longer where I know people or where word maybe have gotten around that maybe I’m an okay guy to have interview you or people that you’ve interviewed multiple times before, right?
That’s obviously the easiest part of it when, “Okay, I’ve had experiences with this guy before and he’s a decent guy. He’s going to do me all right.” There’s nothing more, I think, complementary than when someone requests you for an interview or says, “This is the one guy I want to do an interview with.” I had a really good relationship with Roberto Luongo, the former goaltender. He was involved in a major story once where he wanted to be traded by the Canucks, and then they ended up trading the other goalie and it was a massive controversy.
His agent called me and said, “Roberto wants you to come down and interview him in Florida.” He hasn’t done an interview since then. That’s because I had done stuff with him before. Some actually really ridiculous shtick-type stuff. Through that, we established a relationship. I think that’s part of it too, is I’m a bit of an idiot. I say that somewhat lovingly, hopefully towards me. We do a lot of silly comedy stuff on TSN. Hopefully, from that, people realize that I’m not the guy that’s going to nail you with– I hope I get taken seriously still, but at the same time that there’s a softer, lighter side to me.
Erin: A sense of humor on the side of it. Again, it comes down to that human connection, to not being afraid to let a tear well in your eye or to have some quiet in the conversation as well, and just let the talk breathe and not feel like you have to fill every second of the conversation.
James: Right, and that is massive. Something that I was probably not very good at in the beginning is a person would stop talking for a second and I’d be right down in there with the next question. I think sometimes the best answers you get are the second part of answers that come after a one or two-second pause where the person’s regaining their thoughts and then they want to say more.
I think that’s important on a TV interview or in life is to just let it breathe a little bit more. Sometimes that’s awkward with a person you don’t know that those seconds of silence, you feel that desperate need to fill them right away. If you can control yourself or we can control ourselves and not do that, I think sometimes that can lead to the best conversations that we have.
Erin: Certainly, our guest today goes into that column under one of our best. Back with James Duthie in a moment. Follow him on Twitter @tsnjamesduthie, D-U-T-H-I-E. So, you don’t miss our next REAL TIME, be sure and follow us. Subscribe or visit crea.ca/podcast to enjoy past episodes of REAL TIME.
Now, we wrap up our conversation with some great insight and tips on REAL TIME. It almost sounds like an oxymoron to say an active listener because listening to so many seems passive, but how important is it to be an active listener as part of being a good conversationalist, James?
James: I think it’s everything. It certainly is in my business is to– and it goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning with the whole list of questions, is you need to hear everything that they are saying. The conversation has to flow from that, right? That doesn’t mean that sometimes in the middle of a conversation, it can’t take a complete left turn. If you’re tired of talking about one particular subject, that’s okay.
Active listening to me is engaged listening as much as anything else. The biggest sign of engagement is eye contact. If you’re having a conversation with someone and they’re on their phone, I can get away with that with my wife or my kids maybe or my best buddies when I’m on the golf course. If you’re with a client or if I’m doing an interview subject, it doesn’t fly and it doesn’t do you any good either.
I think my dad told me when I was going to my first job interview when I was 17 was firm handshake and look them in the eye. I don’t think that’s any different. All these years later is to show that you care about what the person is saying. Eye contact is as important as what you’re doing with your ears.
Erin: Watching the body language too. Whenever I see someone with their arms folded and their legs crossed, it’s like, “Oh, you are closing off. You don’t want to have this discussion,” but the reverse of that is leaning in and giving them all of you, which you’re very good at doing.
James: Steve Yzerman definitely had the arms crossed that day. You’re right. I would say if I have one technique, I don’t really think about this stuff much. I suppose in interviewing, the one technique I would have with body language would be to lean in. I think that just says to someone that you care and that you’re really interested in what they say.
I probably do it naturally. I don’t really think about it anymore. It’s not like I sit down to do an interview with Erin Davis and I make sure I’m angled at 45 degrees towards her. I think just naturally when you care and when you’re engaged that you do that a little bit. I think it works. Again, I don’t think people should necessarily practice this at home. I think, hopefully, it’ll come quite naturally.
Erin: I’d like, James, if we could tie things up on an actionable endnote here. What is one thing that you suggest our listeners do to work on their conversation skills? Give us one for the road, would you?
James: Two things. I would say going back to earlier in our conversation, that listening is the number one thing, that becoming a good listener will make you a good conversationalist. They come together. Also, I would say, and this is about as simple as possible, is that I remember one of my bosses telling me early in my career that you have to be yourself. I think that I was being too serious. There was a point in my career where I was trying to become Walter Cronkite or something.
That wasn’t me and he had to pull me aside and said, “Look, you’re a funny guy. You’re a lighthearted guy. You’re a nice guy. Just go back to being that guy on TV.” I think it’s the same in all walks of life, is that you have to be yourself, that most people are pretty astute and can see a phony a mile away. I think the most important part of any conversation is to be yourself. That brings together everything we were talking about.
The casual conversation beforehand where, hopefully, you’re yourself and you’re talking about something in your life that maybe relates to something in their life. That part is absolutely critical. If you’re funny, then be that way. Don’t necessarily try to be Mr. Serious. If you’re serious, don’t try to be funny. That’s probably a bigger thing. Listen and be yourself. I know those sound pretty simple, but I think we forget about them sometimes.
Erin: You also have suggested that being self-deprecating has really helped in terms of your likability. You wouldn’t have put it that way, but I will. Your likability, your relatability, and not coming in and saying, “Look, I’m the person for the job. I know more about this than anybody, so you’re going to listen to me.” It’s just a matter of parking the ego and then just the humour that you say is so important. That’s the great note to remember too.
James: Yes, it’s probably my fallback, that self-deprecation and there’s probably some deep– If I got in front of a psychologist, they’d probably say there is some sort of insecurity or lack of confidence that leads to these things, but it’s always been my way of going about things, but I think it can disarm people, right? If you put your flaws right up in front of them instead of trying to be the Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, Mr. Confidence, then I think sometimes that can break down walls pretty quickly and help to better conversations and better relationships.
Erin: Well, I can’t think of how this could have gone better, James. I know I will when I’m trying to get to sleep tonight. I’ll think, “Oh, I should have asked him this or this or this.” No, you were a tremendous guest. We’re just so thrilled that you could find time in what is always your busy season because that’s the life of sports, right?
James: They do never end. I do get a little bit of break in the summer here, so it’s not too bad. With COVID, hockey goes later now. We have a World Junior tournament in August, which makes no sense because it’s supposed to be a Christmas time. You’re right.
My schedule doesn’t make any sense anymore, but I love it. I’ve been doing this now for, I don’t know, 30 years, Erin. My dad once told me, “Just find something that when you’re driving to work every day that you’re not going to be like, ‘I don’t want to be here.'” I’ve been so lucky to find something that I really love going into every day. I’m incredibly blessed that way.
Erin: It shows and that’s a wonderful thing to see too. You are the distraction, you’re the enjoyment, you’re the entertainment and the information. Thanks for providing all of those things for us today, James. We’re so grateful.
James: Oh, well, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I greatly appreciate it. I hope I’ve given something to all the REALTORS® out there. I’ve certainly used them many a time. I’m hopefully stuck in this house forever because I told my wife after the cost of the rental, we did a few years ago that they’d have to carry me out of here.
Erin: Yes, toes out. Thanks, James.
James: Thank you for having me.
Erin: REAL TIME is a production of Real Family and Rob Whitehead and Alphabet Creative®, brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m Erin Davis and thank you again for your time. We’ll talk to you soon on REAL TIME.