Recently I have really been enjoying listening to Ted Talks and have heard a variety of different ones. I ran across this one recently and I really love it, so I wanted to share, I think it’s one of my favorites. It’s entitled 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation and I think it’s spot on. As a coach, mother, friend etc I am always looking for ways to better communicate with others. In a brief 10 minutes, Celeste Headlee (a person that makes her living by talking to people as a professional interviewer) shares great insight on how to have better conversations. I just love her perspective and she promises if you master even one of these 10 things you will enjoy better conversations. I love that.
As I was preparing this blog post I printed out the transcript to this talk and realized the version I watched was edited and didn’t include all the insights she originally shared so I wanted to include some quotes that I loved as well as a summary of the 10 ways. I especiall love how number 6 related to grief in which I am familiar (RaceForGrief.com)
One of the many things shared before the video clip begins is how we’re not listening to each other and how technology has changed the way we interact. She has ..”came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.” I would have to agree. Having four kids of my own I can tell you that most of their communication with friends in through text, or while playing video games, Tik Tok, Instagram or the like. The conversation seems to rarely revolve around getting to know others. I am sure they have had some good conversations but I think overall feeling connected is lacking. She states, ““We’ve all had really great conversations. We’ve had them before. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can’t be like that.”
This is a quote that really stood out to me. I agree, interactions can be improved and we can do better. Here are the “10 basic rules” she shared (in summary with some transcript info not included on the clip)
- Number one: Don’t multitask. I mean, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about other things. If you want to get out of the conversation, get out of the conversation, but don’t be half in it and half out of it.
- Number two: Don’t pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion. He said that sensing this acceptance, the speaker will become less and less vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. Bill Nye: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” I put it this way: Everybody is an expert in something.
- Number three: Use open-ended questions (not yes, or no questions). Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response.
- Number four: Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind and I would add, stay with what is on their mind and not yours. Stories and ideas are going to come to you. Don’t stop listening to them.
- Number five: If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Now, people on the radio, especially on NPR, are much more aware that they’re going on the record, and so they’re more careful about what they claim to be an expert in and what they claim to know for sure. Do that. Err on the side of caution. Talk should not be cheap.
- Number six: Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about having lost a family member, don’t start talking about the time you lost a family member. I can really relate to this one (RaceForGrief.com) and agree whole-heartedly. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don’t need to take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
- Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself. It’s condescending, and it’s really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. Don’t do that.
- Number eight: Stay out of the weeds. Frankly, people don’t care about the years, the names, the dates, all those details that you’re struggling to come up with in your mind. They don’t care. What they care about is you. They care about what you’re like, what you have in common. So forget the details. Leave them out.
- Number nine: This is not the last one, but it is the most important one. Listen. I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the most, the number one most important skill that you could develop. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” And Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”
Why do we not listen to each other? Number one, we’d rather talk. When I’m talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in. I’m the center of attention. I can bolster my own identity. But there’s another reason: We get distracted. The average person talks at about 225 word per minute, but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute. So our minds are filling in those other 275 words. And look, I know, it takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can’t do that, you’re not in a conversation. You’re just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.
Stephen Covey said it very beautifully. He said, “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.”
- One more rule, number 10, and it’s this one: Be brief. [A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject. — My Sister]
You know, I grew up with a very famous grandfather, and there was kind of a ritual in my home. People would come over to talk to my grandparents, and after they would leave, my mother would come over to us, and she’d say, “Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America. He was the mayor of Sacramento. She won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s a Russian ballet dancer.” And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden, amazing thing about them. And honestly, I think it’s what makes me a better host. I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I’m always prepared to be amazed, and I’m never disappointed. You do the same thing. Go out, talk to people, listen to people, and, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.
Thank you for reading. I’ve love to hear your thoughts. Please share then in the comments below.
Coach Lora Erickson