I recently watched a TED talk by Celeste Headlee, who is the host of the Georgia Public Broadcasting program “On Second Thought”, and she was talking about 10 ways to have a better conversation. To watch her TED Talk click here. I really liked this talk and I am going to share with you the 10 tips for having better conversation she shared. As Celeste said, if you just choose one of them and master it, you’ll already enjoy better conversations.
First a bit of research. Pew Research recently did a study of 10,000 American adults, and they found that at this moment, we are more polarized, we are more divided, than we ever have been in history. We’re less likely to compromise, which means we’re not listening to each other. And we make decisions about where to live, who to marry and even who our friends are going to be, based on what we already believe. Again, this means we’re not listening to each other.
A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we have lost that balance. Most of us love to talk, we’d rather talk because when we are talking, we are in control. We don’t have to hear anything we are not interested in. We the center of attention. We can bolster our 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.
So, here are Celeste’s 10 ways to have better conversation:
And this doesn’t mean just set down your cell phone or your tablet. This means, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your partner. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for lunch. 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.
If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.
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. Isn’t that what we want? To allow the person to whom we are listening to tell us what is important to them?
Use open-ended questions.
In this case, take a cue from journalists. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. Try asking the other person 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.
Go with the flow.
That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We have all probably been in a conversation where we are telling a story for several minutes and then the listener responds and asks a question or makes a comment which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or the question has already been answered. This means the listener probably stopped listening two minutes ago because they thought of this really great question or comment, and they were bound and determined to say that. And we do the exact same thing. We’re sitting there having a conversation with someone, and then we remember that time that we won the $500.00 jackpot on a penny machine. And we stop listening. Stories and ideas are going to come to you. You need to let them come and let them go. You don’t have to ask every question that comes to you or make every comment you think sounds good – listen for a change to what the person talking wants to tell you without steering the conversation in the direct you want it to flow.
If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
Err on the side of caution. Talk should not be cheap. Not knowing something is not a sign that you are “less than” or not intelligent – but acting like you know something and spouting off about something you know nothing about can make you look stupid.
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. 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 insert your life experience – again, it’s not about you, it’s their story so let them tell it without getting in the way.
Try not to repeat yourself.
It’s condescending, and it’s really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. This is one that I struggle with, I want to make sure I have made my point, so I just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t be like “Kathy”.
Stay out of the weeds.
I love this one! 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. When someone adds too many details to a story they lose me… Not to be rude but we don’t care about the details, we care about you, what you’re like, what you have in common. So forget the details. Leave them out.
So many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the number one most important skill that we can develop. The Dali Lama said, “If you talk you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you may learn something new.”
Celeste ended her talk sharing this: “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” — My Sister
Next time you are engaged in a conversation that is important to you, try to remember one or two of these tips and see if by doing things differently that conversation turns out differently- hopefully Better!