Great article Josh!
I look at every conversation as an opportunity for a connection. A connection is the positive exchange of energy from one individual to another. In this context, a connection can be identified as two people ending the conversation with more energy than when it started. No matter how productive, relevant, or intelligent the conversation is thought to have been, measuring the success of it by paying attention to your energy levels is a great way to let go of control of where the conversation "should have gone". Sometimes the best connections are when unexpected conversations take a tangential turn and people get to know each other on a more human level that is less related to the initial objective.
The other tool I use while conversing is to focus more on "being interested" than "interesting". This strategy helps you stay present and receptive to other people's thoughts. When you genuinely commit to being interested in the other person, you let go of the stress and intellectual clutter caused by searching for relevant thoughts. This is a great tool to use when networking, or collaborating; it practically ensures a connection! You're responses will come naturally when you are fully engaged in the other person, and stop thinking about what you should or could stay.
Finally, another great tool I use in conversations is "reading the need". Often times, we talk to people in professional settings and have a very clear objective of what we want to get out of our conversation. However, we are all people who have a lot going on emotionally, despite wanting to be productive and polished. Sometimes, the best thing to do before tackling a pragmatic issue through conversation is to "check-in" with the other person. It can be as simple as taking a moment before diving into the talk by looking them straight in the eye and saying. "How are you doing?" If the person is closed off and isn't prepared to talk about their feelings, it's great to make them feel more comfortable by saying something vulnerable about yourself to show them that it's ok. Such as "I've really been struggling with these long hours, I've been feeling quite overwhelmed this week. I'm looking forward to working with you and getting this project done in the most organized, efficient way possible. How has your week been?" Starting your conversation this way can uncover a true need that someone has that may have a huge effect on the direction that your conversation or project should go.
These are just some tools I keep in mind to ensure that my conversations are as fulfilling, productive, and energizing as possible.