I listened to an enlightening and practical Ted Talk over the bank holiday weekend that changed my perspective on what a conversation should look like. It was called 10 ways to have a better conversation by Celeste Headlee.
Celeste’s years of interview experience as a radio host has given her a unique perspective on what makes a good conversation. The points Celeste made a lot of sense to me, so I decided to pay it forward & write them up for you all to read:
Don’t multitask. When someone is speaking to you, stay with them in the conversation. We can often find ourselves day-dreaming about what we’re eating for lunch or even thinking about what we want to say next.. but it is important that you don’t think about or do anything to take you away from the present moment.
Don’t pontificate. I had to look up the meaning of this word > pontification is the act of speaking for the sake of hearing yourself speak or to express your own opinions in a grand and opinionated way. True listening requires setting aside your personal opinion.
You should try to enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn instead of something to prove or teach. Everyone we will ever meet in the world knows something we do not know – this is a fact.
Use open ended questions. Ask an open question rather than a question with 2-3 possible answers or yes/no questions. If you let someone describe their experience or opinion in their own words, they will be more likely to open up to you. Allow them to expand: e.g. “what was that like?” You will find that you welcome more interesting responses than you did before and will naturally feel more engaged in the conversation.
Go with the flow. As mentioned in point #2 thoughts will come into your mind (related or unrelated to the conversation) but you need to let them go. Even if you think of something really cool, let it go – don’t force it.. this is about them, not you.
If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Talk should not be cheap. There’s nothing worse than someone pretending that they saw that film or ate at that restaurant you spoke about.. don’t be that person. Humans appreciate honesty a lot more than BS! You won’t lose points by saying you don’t know something and showing an interest in finding out.
Don’t equate your experience with theirs (my favourite point). Ok this point really got me because this is something I HATE.
We all know that person that always seems to have a personal experience matching (or topping) yours.
“I have such a bad headache” “oh you think yours is bad, I get migraines so bad that I can’t see properly sometimes”
“I had a really good holiday, I saw the Eiff-” “omg I remember that time I went to Paris on holiday …” <– at this point, I’ve switched off.
Why? Because it’s draining when someone always talks about themselves and doesn’t actually care about what you’re saying.
Our experiences are not the same, they are all individual. The conversation is not always about you. A conversation is not a promotional activity.
Don’t repeat yourself. This point explains itself. Please don’t repeat yourself over and over again!
Stay out of the weeds. I’m a direct person so this comes naturally to me but there are people out there who get caught up on the small details. They’ll be talking about something funny that happened and stop the story to ponder upon when it actually happened.
Was it Saturday the 5th? Or Sunday the 6th? Maybe it was the 8th actually.. no one actually cares about the details. They care about you and about your story, so please don’t get so caught up in the weeds.
Listen! The most important skill. In the words of Celeste: “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning”.Often, we don’t listen because we would rather talk. It takes energy to give undivided attention to someone and much less energy to talk. So we get distracted and stop listening.
Most of us also only listen with the intent to reply but we should learn to listen to understand.
Be brief. Our attention spans are short, so keep the other party interested by keeping things brief and concise.
If you would like to watch the original talk (which I highly recommend), you can view it here.
Let’s start being interested in each other and what we are all about. Everyone has something interesting about them and something to teach us so follow these steps and prepare to be amazed.