January 6

Episode 66: Walk the Talk: Developing Meaningful Conversations with Ivan Farber


Learn how conversations are the structures that form meaningful relationships with this week’s guest Ivan Farber. Mike and Ivan discuss how developing good conversation skills are essential for forming business relationships at all experience levels.

Ivan Farber’s Biography

Ivan Farber is the author of Conversations: How to Manage Your Relationships One Conversation at a Time and host of the podcast Conversations About Conversations, who knows how to “walk the talk.” Ivan is a relationship manager at a privately held financial services company with over 30 years of experience in marketing, sales, training, and relationship management in the financial services industry.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • Why conversations are so important for building relationships
  • What a relationship manager is and how everyone is a relationship manager
  • What is rapport
  • Why rapport is critical to have conversations with people
  • Strategies for building rapport when having conversations remotely
  • Why three rapport questions at the beginning of a conversation build the foundation for rapport
  • Why listening is essential to rapport
  • How self-control is required for building and keeping rapport, as well as for being an effective listener
  • Why questions are fundamental to good conversations
  • CLEAR RULES to follow during conversations
  • Why managing our self-talk is vital to being able to have good relationships
  • Why it’s important to develop yourself constantly
  • What self-actualization is and why you need to be self-actualized to have successful conversations


  • After closely observing 10,000 conversations, I’ve concluded that the major problem relationship managers have in working effectively with their clients is that very few of them have a system, a process, method, or formula for managing their conversations. —Ivan Farber
  • Relationship management and relationships themselves all occur in conversations. —Ivan Farber
  • When we talk about helping people get unstuck and on target, like what you do, you can’t do that without a conversation because our conversations are where our relationships live. —Ivan Farber
  • Memos and emails only go so far, like if you’re trying to effect true change in your organization or improve people or help people self-actualize, you can’t do that without a conversation. —Ivan Farber
  • In order to have power in a conversation, you have to be listening. —Ivan Farber
  • Questions are the paddles for the conversation canoe. —Ivan Farber
  • Until you get unstuck, you cannot get on target. —Ivan Farber

Links & Resources Mentioned…

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Read The Transcript

Episode #66

Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders and we help leaders solve the tough people problems that are slowing their companies growth. Joining me today is Ivan Farber. For nearly 30 years Ivan has worked in marketing, sales, training and relationship management in the financial services industry. He currently works full-time as a relationship manager at a privately held financial services company. Ivan got his BA in international relations from Tufts University and an MBA in marketing from Boston College. But it's his side hustle that really has intrigued me. Ivan is the author of Conversations, How to manage your business relationships one conversation at a time. And he is also the host of the podcast Conversations about Conversations. Welcome Ivan. 

Ivan Farber: Mike, thank you. I'm grateful to be here with you. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, I have the good opportunity that we've gotten to know each other because you honored me not long ago by asking me to be a guest on your podcast. And your fantastic podcast host, but you really do walk the talk when it comes to your expertise in conversations. You are able to engage me as a guest in a way that made me feel very welcome. And I believe that the things that you spell out, particularly in your book, the book that I'm going to hold up. Called Conversations how to manage your business relationships one conversation at a time. You were kind enough to send me an autographed copy. Thank you for sending it. And it is that book that I love just to jump right into because I'm going straight to the preface and I'd like to see if we could kind of set the stage for what would be our conversation today. And you write, after closely observing 10,000 conversations. I've concluded that the major problem relationship managers have in working effectively with their clients is very few of them have a system, a process method, or ,formula for managing the conversations. They say too surface level and the transactional. And as a result, they really don't address their client's true needs. That is the opening paragraph of your preface to set up a, what is a 10 chapter book that I would look forward to learning more about in this conversation. I have to ask 10,000 conversations. How did that come about? And maybe what, what what's magic about that?

Ivan Farber: I mean 10,000 sounds like a good number. I started keeping track about 15 years ago on a log and actually just recently surpassed 20,000. But to me, relationship management and relationships themselves all occur in conversations. And so when we talk about helping people get unstuck and on target, like what you do. You can't do that without a conversation because our conversations are where our relationships live. But 10,000 just felt like to me a good number to say, okay, I've done some sufficient experimentation to be able to put that all in a book.

Mike O'Neill: As I read your book and I'm still reading through your book and I'm marking it with, with highlighters. I don't mind sharing with you. It's not a book that I could just sit down and read in one sitting and get it all. It's a kind of a book that I found on going back to time and time again. It's very clear that when you say 10,000 conversations, that now are 20,000 plus, and the fact that you kept a log, you were very observant. And in that preface, you make a distinction relationship managers. Our audience is primarily business leaders. They may or may not use that title to describe their role as a business owner and alike. But why did you settle on the term relationship manager? 

Ivan Farber: It's the job that I've relished most and it's who I'm around on a daily basis. And when you write a book, I've always felt like it's best if you to a very select group of people, like think of like five people that you're writing to so that you can really get the voice in. And those were the people that I was and am mentoring and coaching still today as a side hustle. And so that's why I got really focused. But then I realized it's not that Nishi or it's not that much of a niche. Like we're all relationship managers. And I would say to the executives that are listening and the leaders. What kind of influence can they undertake without a conversation. Memos and emails only go so far. Like if your trying to effect true change in your organization or improve people or help people self-actualize you can't do that without a conversation. So I had more and more conviction that we're all relationship managers. And so that's where that came from. I will say my, my story kind of started because I'm the child of mental health professionals. So I grew up, my father was a psychiatrist, my mother, a psychologist. So if you think I had any chance whatsoever of being normal. Not a chance, not at all. But it got me attuned to thinking about conversations as the way to solve problems and help people, help people get unstuck. I mean, what does a therapist do all day? People come to a therapist they're stuck. What do people do when they're having trouble in the organizations that, that your audience runs, they come to you because they've got problems that they need to help get unstuck and get on target. And so. That's why I thought you and I would have such a good conversation because we have very similar goals in terms of the conversations that we're leading in the world. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, I agree with what you just described wholeheartedly. You know, we are recording this podcast in early December of 21, and the world has turned kind of upside down in the last 18 to 24 months, in your opinion, how have conversations been impacted by that? 

Ivan Farber: For the people that really needed to be in person, because maybe they're extroverts and are extroverts in such a way that they need to maybe they're extroverts and they're kinesthetic like feelers. So they need to feel the person in the room or they're visual and they need to see the head movements. And they need to see below the neck. Those people were most impacted. For people that were already doing work on the phone or remotely already and used to it like myself. There was very little impact at all. The sales people that took clients and prospects out for meals and drinks, they were impacted a lot more. Managers as you came on my podcast and talked about. Are not used to managing remotely and you really do need to have a handle on what your employees are doing. I would say managers are probably the most impacted of all. I know at the company I worked for. We hired people during the pandemic who had never, ever stepped into one of the offices and we're working with clients and prospects and did all their training remotely. There are some advantages to that. We're able to hire people in remote locations, but there's, that's very difficult for people. 

Mike O'Neill: You are an astute observer. And I think that also is reflected in your ability to listen and listen very well. You open your book with chapter one, you break down conversations into 10 chapters, but I'd like to start with really the first one, which is you chose to list the importance of building rapport right off the bat. Can you elaborate?

Ivan Farber: In my definition, simply rapport is liking and trusting someone. Or on the micro level, which is really where the book operates is not on macro. It's not like how to win friends and influence people and say the right it's really how to control a conversation such that you can control what's the outcomes of that conversation. If you have, if you don't like or trust, what's about to happen in the conversation or what's happening at this moment at any moment in a conversation, rapport goes out and the foundation for the conversation is gone. It can go out like a, like a candle, boom, it's gone. Even with someone, you know, for a long time, like you could be talking with your parents and you have rapport because mom likes and trusts you as a whole. And then all of a sudden a topic comes up that mom no longer likes, and now she doesn't trust where you're going. And so what I found when I was mentoring others and also my own conversations. If a conversation was awkward or difficult, it meant that rapport had gone out. And of course it's a big negative surprise when you think well wait we were just talking about being golf buddies and getting a drink on the 19th hole. And now all of a sudden it's awkward. What happened? Actually witnessed a conversation like that yesterday, where you're talking about Thanksgiving and what they were going to do for the holidays. Then they got to business and rapport was gone. So to me, rapport has to always be there and is the foundation. And I, I give some very specific strategies that are very easy to use. That I experimented with over the course of the thousands of conversations. And they're so obvious, so easy to use, but I don't see people doing them generally. 

Mike O'Neill: I don't want to dwell too long on just chapter one here, but now that we live in a virtual world building rapport, is it harder? 

Ivan Farber: For some people. Again, I would say that of the 20,000 conversations, actually, it's not again, of the 20,000 conversations that I've had 350 of them have been in person. So for me, I had to really develop the skill of building rapport virtually or on the phone. And one of the strategies that I use is called the rapport sandwich. Where at the every conversation the opening piece of bread is just asking people how they are, what they're doing, what's going on in their life. When people kind of come at you with a heated agenda, you want to always react to that, but you will not establish rapport if you just go onto this heated agenda where they're coming at you. And I usually say, okay, I got your agenda before we move on to that. Can I just ask you how your doing? The first, how are you doing question often lands and knocks falls off of the person they say I'm fine. So I also go into rapport sandwich with asking three rapport questions and being prepared to do that. I find that when you ask one, it bounces off. Hi, how are you? Fine. What are you up to? Not much, but that third question really makes the difference. So I kind of go into every conversation with that to make sure there's a good foundation for rapport, but again, rapport can go out pretty quickly at any time. And there's other strategies in the book to make sure that you can get rapport with any person at any time in an under any circumstances. 

Mike O'Neill: You move on to chapter two, talking about this, the power of listening. And your third chapter connect caught my attention. And that is exercising self-control. I wasn't expecting that. Tell us more about what that means? 

Ivan Farber: So if you know that managing the level of rapport is important. And you know, that listening also is important. I also focus in the book on using questions, skillfully and satisfying needs. Well, if you have self-control, you're not going to be a good listener. You're not going to be focused on managing the rapport in the conversation. You're going to get lost in topics instead of focusing on the other person's needs. So that really became another linchpin towards being effective in conversations. Was having the self-control to manage all those things. In other words, to manage a conversation, you have to first manage yourself. And most people, most conversations or extraordinarily undisciplined, just extraordinarily. If you start really paying attention to it, people are very undisciplined. I don't find you to be on disciplined as a podcast host and as a, as a colleague. But I find mostly, and especially when there's emotionality that comes into it, then people may have been disciplined coming in. But then the discipline goes out the window. 

Mike O'Neill: In your observations what things tend to trip up folks most when it, when they have the lack of self control, what do you see as happening? 

Ivan Farber: The number one problem is people interrupt. So part of how to become a better listener is to stop interrupting. In the book, identify 14 ways to stop yourself from interrupting. From holding a rock to snapping a rubber band to, although it's not necessarily a good habit to put a pen in your mouth. Kind of do be a Rodin statue and be the thinker. But in order to have power in a conversation, you have to be listening. And that's not the way our society generally views it. Generally people think the person talking is in control and what I've found is no, it's the person asking the questions and doing the listening who's in control.

Mike O'Neill: You know, you actually use, your, I actually skipped over your second chapter and that was using questions skillfully. Then you moved to listening. You're saying the power of a conversation that could be misinterpreted when you use the term, the power of the conversation. How do you define having power in a conversation?

Ivan Farber: It can be misinterpreted and I've even did a podcast episode a while back called manipulation has a bad reputation. And, but at the same time, we want to guide the outcomes like your, your listeners of this podcast as, as leaders, you want to guide the outcome, the word manipulation comes from the Latin hand being manu. And I don't know what pulation means, but it's to, you know, to guide it with your hand to manipulate something. And the way I look at it is I want to be like a Jedi Knight and guide the outcome of the conversation. So specifically, to address your question on power, I want the power. I want the power to guide the outcome. I want it to be a great experience for both parties involved. And at the end of it, I want both of us to achieve our needs. And so if I'm not good at managing conversations or skilled at a conversation, we're going to have a subpar result at the end of things, neither of us are going to get what we need. If me as the relationship manager and the conversation leader. If I do not do my job well or have conversation power, we'll have a subpar result. 

Mike O'Neill: You mentioned that the goal of an effective conversation is both meet their needs. What tips do you offer your readers and the people you coach, how to surface what the needs of the other person might be? 

Ivan Farber: Questions are the paddles for the conversation canoe. Questions are the guidelines and roadmap for where you want to go. Chapter two is on using questions skillfully and being able to distinguish the difference between when you use an open-ended question and a closed ended question. And then question eight is called explore, and it takes the two generic types of questions open-ended and closed ended and identify nine open-ended and five close-ended that you can use as a, find a fine tuned instrument in order to explore. And it is truly with questions that control and questions that probe and explore that I have found I can surface people's needs such that I can then address those needs and then resolve the situation like gain agreement for action. So it all starts and ends. I know I said it starts and ends with rapport. But in terms of the strategy and tactics, questions are fundamental. And mostly when you tell someone, if I'm tell some, telling someone I'm mentoring to use more questions, they use more questions in a fumbling, bumbling, unskillful manner. And so it's been in teaching people how to use questions skillfully is where I've seen great improvement in people's conversations. Great improvment. Can I give you an example? 

Mike O'Neill: Please. 

Ivan Farber: As you're getting to know someone, you might say something like, are you from around here or did you go to college at XYZ state university? And you're trying to get to know somebody and maybe A, they didn't go to college or B they're not from around here. And so they say no. And so you've started off with two close ended questions and what you know is they feel like they are not saving face cause they didn't go to college. And they're not from around here. Instead of it's so simple to say, where are you from? It's like having the self-control to just say, where are you from? Or what's your educational background? Because someone might say, well, I went to, I was in the army or I, my educational background is the school of hard knocks. So having that control to just say, I want to ask an open ended. To control and open things up and guide and make it easy for the person to answer it. There is a time and a place for closed ended questions, but people generally lean on closed ended questions. In fact, I've done observations and studies like I'll listen to sometimes I'm not a cold caller, but I'll listen to people who are cold callers. And they'll get someone in the line. And the last eight or nine questions out of 10 will be closed-ended. And just closes someone off. Have you heard about our materials? Have you received our materials? Have you heard about our company? Instead of things like we sent you some materials, what did you think of them? Or, you know, I'm with the company XYZ. When I say the name of the company, w how do you feel? Opening up gains control, and then when you're trying to nail things down, like, would it be a good idea for us to meet? Then you want to use a close-ended question. So a longer answer to your question, but I want to give you a full, robust answer. 

Mike O'Neill: But that was very, very helpful to kind of put this in context. When you're working with folks to help them improve their effectiveness. You are already in an astute observer of conversations. How do you ask them to kind of monitor their conversations? Do they record them? Do they just at the end, write things down? How, what do you advise them? So they don't lose that. 

Ivan Farber: The best way is to have a mentor or a coach, listen to the conversation and give you feedback after maybe even talk it through before. I actually use the 10 chapters and I keep the lessons of the 10 chapters on my monitor at work. And I go in and I say to myself, okay, I'm preparing for an important conversation. I know that I want to build rapport use questions, skillfully, listen, exercise, exercise, self control, and satisfy needs. Which by the way, there's an acronym there. And the acronym is rules. Like I've given myself rules to follow rapport, use questions, skillfully, listen, exercise, self control, and satisfy needs. The back half of the book is more about preparing and planning. And then the back half has an acronym of clear that I want to create a great conversation. I want to learn. I want to explore address and resolve. And so I've essentially created clear rules for myself. So in preparation, I think about those 10 things, 10 lessons during the conversation, I'm thinking about how is this going. Do Mike and I have rapport. Mike is doing an excellent job listening to me. That's the nature of the conversation that you and I agreed on because on my podcast, I asked the questions and you answer. So we had agreement for that. And by the way, that's really fundamental at each stage in a conversation, have agreement. We agree what it's for. We explore together. And what we're trying to accomplish when we explore is to get a clear, complete a mutual understanding of, of, of your needs, Mike. I mean, your need, as I understand it is to help your audience get unstuck and on target. And again, that's why we are so aligned because that's what I want to do too. And so that's how I monitor myself. I think in general, for most people, it really, they would really benefit from a mentor and a coach. Or, or have a colleague say, Hey, what did you think about that conversation? Now, Mike, I'm going to share something exciting with you. 

Mike O'Neill: Okay. 

Ivan Farber: And your listeners, I'm writing a second book and I don't have a title for it yet, because what I've learned about great books is you actually name it after, and you have to test the name of the book. Like you test the product name. So I'm not planning to do that till it's complete. But my initial concept is an idea of becoming consciously incompetent. And just think about that for a second, that I'm going to write a book, telling people how to be incompetent. That's a little twist on it. But the thing that really has helped me through 10,000 now, 20,000 conversations is to realize how incompetent I am. Because before being consciously incompetent, of course I was unconsciously incompetent. And to help get people unstuck. I would, I would venture to say that mostly the problems that your listeners and your clients have is they're not good listeners and they're not approaching their conversations as both an art form and a science. And they're not approaching it to say, Hey, if I'm going to manage this relationship, I've got to manage it one conversation at a time, I've got to be completely responsible for the outcomes of the conversation. I would say most people are stuck if not stuck at work, stuck it in their home life with their family, with their significant others, maybe in dating. You know, I wrote a book for business people, but the ideas, concepts, strategies in the book are applicable, of course, to all of our relationships, all of them. 

Mike O'Neill: You know, when you write a book and it's published and you've got readers and you get some feedback, you don't get the immediate feedback as a podcast host, you have. How many podcasts now? 

Ivan Farber: 235. 

Mike O'Neill: Goodness. You are well ahead. This is podcast 66 for this podcast. But as you reflect on what you've learned with 200 plus podcast, you bring guests on. What have been some of the ahas that you've learned from guests? 

Ivan Farber: Well, just to start with, before I answer the guest part, I realize how incompetent I am at reading a podcast and how it's like a muscle, like anything, a conversation or any skill you have to do the reps to build the muscle. And so I feel, I feel more consciously competent, but I also still feel consciously incompetent with it. As far as guests go. I think what I learned is that it's really important to surface the conversation that people are leading in the world. I started off not with guests. I started off with just me talking to the camera. So I've actually of the 235 episodes I've only had about 45 guests. So as the podcast has evolved, it's now very much a conversation with others about the conversations that they're leading in the world. But it really started just in general as almost a Mo well, a monologue with my audience. And then you get very little feedback and you're talking to people and there's no one there. Of the guests that have had recently I would say the thing that I've learned the most and of all the guests that I've enjoyed is that you have to manage your self talk both while you're having a conversation. While you're just by yourself. Like managing your self talk is one of the most important things you can do to be successful. And he said on my podcast, 77% of our automatic self-talk is negative. And so if you're not managing that and he's like, that's for normal people, that's not. Psychotic people depressed people. That's just normal people, 77%. So that's something that has really stuck out to me. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, it ties perfectly back in to chapter five, exercise self-control. And that is if you're, if our natural tendency is to have over 75% of the self-talk being negative you have to be very mindful, of that. You have shared a number of examples where you've worked with folks that you kind of concluded that they may have been stuck. Is there any others you would like to maybe offer where they got stuck and what did it take to get unstuck? 

Ivan Farber: It takes good questions and good listening to get unstuck. And it's very difficult to get unstuck on your own. People try to figure things out on their own. I know I do that being again from, from parents who are mental health professionals and who would basically sit there for 55 minutes and listen with just a handful of questions. To get unstuck, you need another person. Someone you trust someone that you have good rapport with someone who will help you problem-solve. That's the root, because until you get unstuck, you cannot get on target. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, I love it. There's obviously there's a quote right there. We'll be using it for sure. Ivan I shared with you before we hit the record button. Probably the biggest value that I have gained from being a podcast host is meeting folks like you. And learning and be willing to listen and take what I'm hearing from people who really know what they're talking about. You clearly kind of fit that definition in so many different ways. We've discussed a bit about your book. We discuss a little about your podcast, but as we began kind of wrapping some things up for this recording. If you were to kind of look back on what we have discussed or should have discussed, what would you want our listeners to have as takeaways? 

Ivan Farber: Two takeaways. I think it's always important to be developing yourself. Someone recently quoted on my, one of my recent episodes. You're either green and growing or overripe and rotting. And so without developing yourself, you're not green and growing. And when I say development, I'm thinking books and mentors and coaches and colleagues. I started reading a lot 12 months ago. I have read 140 books in the last 12 months.

Mike O'Neill: Goodness. 

Ivan Farber: I've done a few episodes about reading. I just, the last episode is leaders are readers. And so as you have leaders listening to this, the secret of the quick secret is audio books and audio books at a high speed. I've learned to listen at anywhere between one and a half and one and three quarters speed. But okay, the first idea is always be developing yourself. And the second idea is to always be self-actualizing. One of the needs theories in my chapter on needs. Is Maslow Abraham Maslow's pyramid of needs. And making sure that both I am self-actualizing and the people in my life are also self-actualizing, which is that the top of the pyramid.

Mike O'Neill: And for those who may not be familiar with Maslow's hierarchy to be self actualizing, what are you doing? 

Ivan Farber: Well, you have to get off of the lower level needs. Like it starts out with safety and security. Social needs. Needs for affiliation. Needs for esteem. And until those lower level needs are met, you cannot really pursue self-actualization. And so that's why, when I talked about having rapport, if the other person doesn't think you like or trust them, or have esteem for them, it's really hard to have a conversation about needs to help them self-actualize. And that's why even conversations where you have someone that you have rapport with, once it goes out, you have to rebuild it and make them feel safe again. But a really great needs theory and thinking about people's needs other people's needs. It's not that you won't get your needs met. In fact, you'll find that the more you focus on other people's needs and helping other people, the more they will help you. That's that's actually a quote from the great Zig Ziglar who would say you, if you help enough people get what they need, they will help you in return.

Mike O'Neill: Mm Hmm. Those are two great takeaways. Ivan, I know that our listeners will want to learn more, and perhaps reach out to you. What's the best way for our listeners to connect with you? 

Ivan Farber: Well, my website conversations.biz, because I'm all about the biz B I Z. So there's information about the book at conversations.biz/book. There's information on where to find the podcast conversations.biz/3podcast, but you can also just go to the main domain and see that on the upper level menu. And I can be reached at Ivan@conversations.biz. So those are the best ways to reach out to me. I welcome conversations with anybody about anything and, you know, hope to be introduced to more people that, you know, and be able to help people with something that truly is where people get stuck. And that is on the relationships. And if they're stuck there, then they cannot reach that level of getting on target. 

Mike O'Neill: Well, you have wove the title and spirit of this podcast so beautifully into this conversation. Contact information that you just shared that will be included in the show notes. We're going to also include links to how to order your book and also links on how to listen and hopefully subscribe to your excellent podcast. Ivan, thank you so much, 

Ivan Farber: Mike. I'm really grateful to be here with you and to be in relationship you.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I'm confident this won't be the last time that we interact. You have been so generous with who you are. And, and I'm very appreciative of that. Ivan, I'm also very thankful for the listeners who are joining us today. Every Thursday, we upload the latest episode to all the major platforms. So if you're listening and you haven't already subscribed, please do so. My question for our listeners are people problems keeping you up all night. If yes, let's talk head to bench-builders.com to schedule a quick call. We'll explore ways to help you solve your people problems. So you can again, focus on growing your business. So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you've picked up some tips from Ivan that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.

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