The TED talk “Ten ways to have a better conversation” by Celeste Headlee was suggested to me by my awesome sister so, of course, I dove right into it. I wanted to share the simple, effective steps with you.
“Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?” says Celeste. Great point! Being able to communicate well, to listen intently (even and especially when we disagree), and to get your point across is especially critical in our conflictual, divided, fast-paced world.
Yet despite how important conversation skills are, we are “lacking conversational competence” says Celeste.
And it’s compounded by our current context.
Pew Research in a study of 10,000 adults, found that we are more polarized, more divided than we ever have been in history.
I am not one to beat up social media and tech tools as they definitely have their uses however about a third of American teenagers send more than a hundred texts a day (Pew Research).Yikes! That’s a lot of heads down with no speaking.
Do you find yourself uncertain about what to say? Fumbling your words? Not being able to listen carefully to what people are saying? Distracted?
Keep reading. I’ve summarized Celeste’s points plus I made a checklist for you based on her points so that you can monitor yourself and your colleagues.
Number one: Don’t multitask. Don’t be half in and half out of it.
And she doesn’t just mean just set down your cell phone. Be present. Be in the moment. “Don’t think about the argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. 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”.
Bill Nye: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don’t.” Everybody is an expert in something.
Number three: Use open-ended questions.
For example, “How did you feel when that happened” is way better than “Were you scared?” The former will elicit a much better response than the second which will only get you a yes or no.
Number four: Go with the flow.
“Thoughts will come into your mind. Let them go out of your mind.”
Number five: If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
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. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you.”
Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself.
“It’s condescending, and it’s really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. ….we have a point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t do that.” As the old conflict resolution saying goes, when in conflict we tend to do more of what’s not working. Avoid that trap in conflict and in conversation.
Number eight: Stay out of the weeds.
If you pepper your conversation with too many details you’ll lose people. “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. What they care about is you. They care about what you’re like, what you have in common. So forget the details.”
Number nine: 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.”
“The average person talks at about 225 words 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.”
“Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen Covey
Number ten: Be brief
“A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” — Celeste’s Sister
When you put all the points together they “boil down to the same basic concept, and it is this one: Be interested in other people.”
“Go out, talk to people, listen to people, and, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”
Can I get a high five?!
Now go on and learn, learn some more, and lead
- Here’s that checklist I promised you, based on the ten points. Copy it and use it for yourself and with your colleagues (with their approval of course).
- I hope that you can have a smidgen of the enthusiasm this dog has for running, for holding terrific, engaging conversations.
- Use the checklist at your next staff meeting and see how you all do. Pay attention to where you shine and where you might need to work on.
- Speaking of having good conversations, amp up yours by taking my brand new online course “Ban Boring Online Meeting: a quick-start, step-by-step approach to making your online meetings engaging, appealing, and actually effective.”