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The art of conversation

The art of conversation

Having a good conversation leaves us feeling empowered and connected, so how can you up your skills in the fine balance of talking and listening?

The ability to have a good conversation is a universally waning skill, but following Celeste Headlee’s ten rules could turn things around for all of us.

It can be hard to feel truly understood in a world where communication is dominated by quickfire text messages punctuated with emojis. So when you get the opportunity to have a proper face-to-face chinwag with someone special, making it count is important. But have we lost our way in the art of a truly great conversation?

Journalist and radio host, Celeste Headlee has dedicated a TED Talk to improving your skills and with 1.6 million views it appears there are a lot of us who have indeed been out in the wilderness on this topic. There are plenty of moments that’ll have you nodding, either in recognition of yourself or others, because there’s something to learn for everyone throughout Headlee’s ten tips.

  1. Don’t multi-task. Be present in each chat and give the other person your full attention, without allowing you mind to wander. It’s mindfulness in the sphere of conversation and it can be hard to stop the monkey mind from wandering off. Either leave the conversation or fully commit to it, because glazed eyes can be spotted from a mile away.

  2. Don’t pontificate. Always assume you have something to learn from the person you’re chatting with. Don’t obliterate them with your opinion, rather cast aside your personal opinion and watch the other person open up and potentially increase your understanding of the world.
  3. Use open-ended questions. By putting out a simple who, what, when, why, where question like journalism 101 prompts, it allows the other person to deliver a full answer over a simple one.

  4. Go with the flow. Keep focused on what the speaker is saying, rather than preparing a dazzling response to something they said a few minutes ago, which might have lost relevance as the conversation has progressed and kind of makes you look like you stopped listening a few minutes ago. Oops.
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. It’s okay not to be an expert on something and admit to it. Far better than pretending and getting caught out. Red-faced emoji
  6. Don’t equate your experience to theirs. Sometimes your role is purely to listen and empathise with their individual experience, rather than using it to show how understanding you are because you’ve been there. You haven’t, because you aren’t them. Let them have their moment and tell you about it
  7. Don’t repeat yourself because it’s condescending and boring. Nuff said.
  8. Forget the details. People don’t care about the names of people they don’t know, dates that have no real relevance – they care about you and what you have to say. So give your overworked brain a break and leave the unimportant details out.

  9. Listen. It’s Headlee’s number one point, coming in at number nine. We’ve got two ears and one mouth, friends and it’s for good reason. It takes effort to pay attention so instead of listening to reply, try listening to truly understand.
  10.  Be brief. We’re with Headlee’s sister on this one, who says “A good conversation is like a mini skirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”

We’re taking them all on board as we connect with the people around us and prepare to be elevated by the ‘power of and’, because Headlee finishes with a compelling summary of why it works for her.

“I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open and I’m always prepared to be amazed and I’m never disappointed,” Headlee says. “You do the same thing… go out, talk to people, listen to people and most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”


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