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How to Have a Better Conversation
August 30, 2023
Most of us don't listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.
-Stephen Covey, 1932-2012, author and speaker

In her TED Talk, public radio reporter and host Celeste Headlee shares,

This world that we live in, this world in which every conversation has the potential to devolve into an argument, where our politicians can't speak to one another and where even the most trivial of issues have someone fighting both passionately for it and against it, it's not normal…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, 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…

I'm going to teach you how to interview people, and that's actually going to help you learn how to be better conversationalists. Learn to have a conversation without wasting your time, without getting bored, and, please God, without offending anybody.

Here are a few of Headlee’s tips for applying interview skills to everyday conversations:

  • Don't multitask… 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.
  • Don't pontificate...Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn.
  • Use open-ended questions...Try asking things like, "What was that like?" or "How did that feel?"
  • 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.
  • Listen…It takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can't do that, you're not in a conversation.


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Comments (3)

Displaying All 3 Comments
Kirsten Haugen · August 30, 2023
Eugene, OR, United States

Myah and Francis, thanks for reminding us all that none of us are exempt from bias or pontificating. Nancy Rosenow, recently retired from Exchange and Nature Explore, always reminds us, "Assume best intentions." It's amazing how far that goes to support positive listening.

Francis Wardle · August 30, 2023
University of Phoenix/ Red Rocks Community College
Denver, Colorado, United States

I totally agree with Celeste Headlee. However, it's somewhat curious to note that she is a public radio reporter. My recent experience listening to NPR is that they DO pontificate, they ask leading questions, and they don't listen to anything that might challenge their point of view. Two recent examples, 1) on a weekend show the entire discussion essentially reinforced the idea that ANYONE who listens to country music, is by definition a White supremacist; 2) on another show the conversation presented the view that anyone, for ANY REASON, who agreed with the recent Supreme Court decision on Affirmative Actions, is by definition a racist. My point? The directive mentioned in this article needs to be practiced by the national media. Recently even some early childhood publications have pontificated some very absolute and non-negotiable ideas and practices.

Myah Rousseau · August 30, 2023
Saginaw , MI, United States

I completely agree with what Celeste has to say. I feel like people are in their mind and already know their opinion and really don't want to hear different from anyone else. If people really have an opinion about something and can never agree they should have evidence and back themselves up instead of not wanting to talk about it and getting upset so easily.

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