Let’s face it, interacting with people in both our professional and private lives is simply about having excellent conversations. So what can we do to make sure those conversations are as effective as possible?
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One of our favourite TED Talks is called ’10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation’ by Celeste Headlee. At nearly 28 million views it seems it’s a favourite of many others as well! Here is a summary of Headley’s tips. However, we DO recommend you watch the Talk as well, we can’t do justice here to Headlee’s wit, expertise and oral communication skills.
1. Don’t multitask. As Headlee rightly says, you’re either in or you’re out of the conversation. Respect the person you’re conversing with by giving them your full attention.
2. Don’t pontificate. Many people love the sound of their own voice but remember, a conversation should be two-way. Make sure your contribution to the conversation is balanced.
3. Use open questions. These types of questions require more than just a one-word answer so are ideal for getting a person talking and showing your interest.
4. Go with the flow. This is about staying present and fully focused so you can adapt easily to any change of subject. Resist the temptation to stick rigidly to a previously thought-out ‘script’. Be spontaneous.
5. If you don’t know something, say so. Nobody likes a ‘know it all’ and in this day and age, it’s impossible to know everything, even about our own specialist area. Be prepared to be vulnerable and to admit when you don’t have an answer or even experience of a topic. As Headlee says ‘talk should not be cheap’.
6. Don’t equate their experience with yours. It’s never the same. This tip speaks to empathy and how to use empathy effectively. Let people talk freely about their experiences and emotions whether positive or negative. Don’t try to ‘steal the limelight’ by relating details of something similar that happened to you.
7. Don’t repeat yourself. Have you noticed how some people repeat a point several times? This can be frustrating if done too much. The reason people do this is because the point is very important to them and they want to make sure others have heard and understood. Don’t be that repetitive person!
8. Stay out of the weeds! This is Headlee’s way of saying, don’t go into unnecessary detail. Again, I’m sure you’ve experienced the situation where someone is telling you about something that happened and you are thinking ‘get on with it/what’s your point?’ (or you might even SAY it if you have a close relationship with the person.) Don’t be the person who takes ages to get to the point.
9. Listen. Wouldn’t so many conversations be improved if people simply listened better? We’re all guilty of not listening properly at times. Just improving this skill will do wonders for your reputation as a ‘conversationalist’.
10. Be brief. Perhaps this tip is similar to number 9 but it’s worth repeating. Resist the temptation to give too many details. Raise your awareness by tuning into the other’s body language and noticing whether they are tuning out of the conversation. Adjust your message accordingly.
There are some solid tips here for improving your skills as a competent conversationalist. But what makes a lasting impression is Headlee’s foundational theme – being curious.
If you go into every conversation with the mind-set of assuming you will learn something and acknowledging that everyone is an expert in SOMETHING, you will get the most out of every conversation. And people will love you for it!