How to Have Better Conversations

Published: Jun 01, 2016

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Regardless of your career field, the art of face to face communication will help you get ahead in it: it cuts across everything from your performance in your first interview for an internship to your ability to have productive conversations with employees in your corner office. So why wouldn't you want to learn how to do that better?

As someone whose first instinct is typically to hide behind a screen and communicate digitally, I'm always on the lookout for advice on improving my conversational game. And, equally, I'm frequently disappointed by the quality of said advice: too often, it's about tips that try to make you follow a formula so that you wind up looking and sounding like someone else, rather than a better version of yourself.

So, I was skeptical when I came across the TED talk below by radio host Celeste Headlee promising "10 ways to have a better conversation." But, a couple of minutes in, she defined exactly what's wrong with so much of the advice on communication (Emphasis added):

"Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this, things like look the person in the eye, think of interesting topics to discuss in advance, look, nod and smile to show that you're paying attention, repeat back what you just heard or summarize it. So I want you to forget all of that. It is crap. There is no reason to learn how to show you're paying attention if you are in fact paying attention."

Once I heard that, I had no option but to plow ahead with the remaining 7 minutes, and found that Headlee's take on communication is something that almost anyone could learn from, without having to become a different person or memorize any special tricks in the meantime. Or, as she puts it:

"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."

Check out the full speech right here—it's well worth your time, provided that (spoiler alert) you listen to what she has to say: