Do you know how to be a great conversation partner? I know I’m making progress, but it still feels like I have a long way to go. I’ve had a lot of teachers—my uncle, great books, friends, my spouse. But Celeste Headlee has earned a place high on my list of influential teachers of conversation.
I have been reading and listening to more and more of Celeste’s work these days, and I always feel it helps me. She gave a TED talk about how to have great conversations, and I love how she frames the topic. It’s a great talk—take a few minutes and watch it.
What’s so unusual is that she doesn’t make me want to argue with her; I just want to listen more and more deeply. It feels like she’s reminding me gently of what I already knew, but forgot or didn’t know how to use. So, rather than a feeling of shame, competitiveness, or defensiveness, I feel affirmed when I listen to her.
I think I know why. She has that ability to influence because she’s a great listener herself. In fact, even her TED talk must be a product of deep listening. It couldn’t have come from anything else.
Celeste wrote a book about this too, We Need To Talk. We need to talk to each other more than we ever have. We need to listen deeply and speak lovingly. But this isn’t something we are born knowing how to do. We need teachers, and Celeste is one of today’s great teachers.
I listened to her TED talk again a few times just now, and tried to summarize her ten suggestions as I understand them:
- Be present in the moment.
- Assume you have something to learn.
- Set aside your preconceptions and invite the other person’s perspective.
- Let go of the thoughts that arise while the other person is speaking.
- When you don’t know, simply say you don’t know.
- The other person’s experience is not yours, so don’t equate them.
- After you say something once, don’t repeat it.
- People care about you, not the irrelevant details, so omit them.
- Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.
- Be brief.
She concludes the talk by saying, paraphrased:
It boils down to “be interested in other people.” Assume that there’s some hidden amazing thing about your conversation partner. Keep your mouth shut and your mind open, and always be prepared to be amazed, and you never will be disappointed.
I’m not always skillful at deep listening, but I’m trying, and I’m improving. And when I’m able to really listen, I find her takeaway is true: I’m amazed. What a wonderful thought, that the people we’re with are amazing, and just by listening deeply to them, we can give them the opportunity to be their most amazing selves with us.