Better conversations is an area that I'm working on everyday. Most of us have similar challenges but either we are not aware, or we don't want to work on it.
I was listening to the TED talk by Celeste Headlee, who beautifully articulated her views on how our conversations today are based on the pre-existing beliefs. She further talks about the importance of conversational competence as the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach in the 21st century.
Celeste in her talk referred to the Pew Research, who conducted a study of 10,000 American adults, and found that at this moment, we are more polarized, we are more divided, than we ever have been in the 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, that means we're not listening to each other. A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.
She further talks about learning to have a conversation without wasting anyone's time, without getting bored, and, without offending anybody. Our intent is to make a conversation where we walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where we feel like we've made a real connection or we've been entirely understood.
Many of us 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. Celeste calls this 'a crap' and wants us to forget all of it and focus on ten ground rules:
Number one: Don't multitask. This doesn't mean just to set down your cell phone or your tablet or your car keys or whatever is in your hand. This means, be present. Be in that moment.
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.
Number three: Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you're going to get a simple answer out.
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. We've heard interviews often in which a guest is talking for several minutes and then the host comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or it's already been answered. That means the host probably stopped listening two minutes ago because he thought of this really clever question, and he was just bound and determined to say that.
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. 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.
Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself. It's condescending, and it's really boring, and we tend to do it a lot. Especially in work conversations or in conversations with our kids, we have a point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. 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: Listen. Buddha said, "If your mouth is open, you're not learning. "And Calvin Coolidge said, "No man ever listened his way out of a job."
Number ten: Be brief.
Celeste shared a funny quote from her sister that is spot on!
"A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject."
If I look back, I failed to follow most of these rules on an everyday basis. It's a good reminder and all of it makes sense to me. End of the day, it's one basic concept: Be interested in other people.