Years ago, I watched a Ted talk by Celeste Headlee about her key pointers to a more intelligent approach to a conversation. They all seemed completely obvious actually, but as obvious as they were, I realized I was guilty of not following a single one of them. We all know how we should behave, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we apply what we know. That is why it is fundamental to REMIND OURSELVES. CONSTANTLY. Oftentimes, learning is not so much discovering something new but simply refreshing and mastering the already (well)known.
Celeste Headlee’s 10 Basic Rules to a Better Convo:
1. Be brief. A good conversation is like a miniskirt: short enough to retain interest but long enough to cover the subject.
2. Do not pontificate. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn, sometimes setting aside your personal opinion. EVERYBODY YOU WILL EVER MEET WILL KNOW SOMETHING THAT YOU DON’T.
3. LISTEN. It is the #1 skill you can develop. If your mouth is open, you are not learning. No man ever listened his way out of a job. We get too distracted. Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. Most of us listen with the intent to reply.
4. Go with the flow. Thoughts will come into your mind but let them go.
5. Stay outta the weeds. People do not care about all the dates, names, etc. What they care about is you and what you both have in common.
6. Do not equate their experience with yours. It is never the same. All experiences are individual.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
8. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
9. Use open-ended questions, such as “What was that like?” instead of asking “Were you terrified?”
10. Do not multitask. Be present, be in that moment.
And… Be prepared to always be amazed.
I might add a few more from my own experience. Again, they might be stupidly obvious, but for us forgetfuls they can serve as a useful reminder:
1. HAVE MANNERS. USE ETIQUETTE. MAKE EYE CONTACT. LOOKING AROUND THE ROOM WHILE THE OTHER IS SPEAKING IS RUDE AND HURTFUL. “Thank you,” “Please,” or “Excuse me” if we are summoned or have to answer a call. Follow up with a message afterwards, if apropos.
2. Intuit WHEN and TO WHOM to give your opinion. Not everyone appreciates (or is ready) to hear an opinion when it is contrary to their own. Be keen to understand personality types that do and don’t.
3. Insert the other’s name every now and then when speaking. We all adore and are so taken when we hear a new acquaintance or long-time friend addressing us by our name. It gives us an immediate sense of intimacy and importance. I personally love it when people come up with their own nicknames for me.
4. Be a connector. If you have a contact who might be able to help the other in their career or life challenges, bring them together. We all want to be cared for!
5. And my guiltiest-of-all fifth rule. We’re not always willing to be humble or patient enough to listen to others. Normally we might not expect to learn from what others have to tell us. It can be hard to free ourselves of our self-importance, but to do so can be key in making us feel more relaxed, open and content. However, although we know we SHOULD be quick to listen and slow to speak, SOMETIMES the motive for interrupting is not necessarily self-importance but enthusiasm. If you’re like me and burst out with contributing remarks to what the other is saying, that can be a sign of excitement and interest in what is being talked about. If this is the case, I wouldn’t mind it from someone else as it can be endearing and invigorating to the conversation and even a glue to connection. In this regard, rules can depend on context, circumstance, and personality type.
6. Do your best, because frankly, my dear, that is all that matters.