Soft Skills, Ted Talks, How to Lead a Conversation, How to be a Good Listener
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 14 December 2016
How to be a Great Conversationalist
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Nicholas Pung

Here’s an interesting fact: a majority of people aren’t listening to each other.

Crazy right? Currently, there are millions of people on this planet that don’t know how to have a proper conversation. How do I define a conversation? A conversation is a communication tool between human beings that balances active speaking and active listening. That’s it.

You may be thinking, who is this guy trying to tell me I don’t know how to talk to other people?! I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of people and noticed that sometimes things I say go into one ear and out the other. And I wondered why. 

So to better understand why, I learned from one of the masters of communication, Celeste Headlee, one of the best radio talk show hosts and was the Midwest Correspondent for NPR’s Day to Day.

In Celeste Headlee’s TED Talk called 10 ways to have a better conversation, she talks about a high school teacher named Paul Barnwell who assigned his students, who all owned phones, a conversational project. After the project, he said,

“I came to realize that conversational competence may be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have the opportunity to hone their interpersonal communication skills.”

Many of you know this. Talking to others can be good. You know networking with other people gives you a greater chance of landing a job. You know having people you can talk to makes your life so much more enjoyable. But rarely do any of us learn how to effectively communicate with one another.

So how do you become a better conversationalist? Here are the 10 ways to have a better conversation, based on Celeste’s TED Talk.

  1. Don’t multi-task. Be present, in that moment. They will appreciate you not looking at your phone.
  2. Don’t pontificate. Enter every conversation thinking you have something to learn. Set your personal opinion aside. Have an open mind!
  3. Use open-ended questions. Use who, what, when, where, why. Let them think about it and you’ll get a better response. Many of the best answers come from letting the other person sit in silence with your question.
  4. Go with the flow. This means whenever an idea or question comes to mind, let it go. Follow the conversation. Don’t think too much. If you find yourself wanting to ask the same question that you didn’t get to 10 minutes ago, let it go!
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Talk should not be cheap. Honesty is the greatest weapon of all.
  6. Do not equate your experience with theirs. It is never the same, it is not about you. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity. Listen to what they have to say rather than giving them all your opinions.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself. It’s condescending and it’s boring. Like hearing the same stories over and over again? I don’t think so.
  8. Stay out of the weeds. People don’t care about the people, the names, the dates. They care about you. They care about how you make them feel.
  9. Listen. This is the most important skillset that you have to develop. It takes effort and energy to listen to people. Don’t listen with the intent to reply, listen with the intent to understand. Try to understand what is exciting to them and what is boring to them. Read more here for how to be a good listener and a good co-worker.
  10. Be brief. A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” - Celeste’s sister.By doing these things, you’ll be one step closer to becoming a more likable person. By learning these skills, opportunities will arise from where you didn’t think it would. Be interested in people! Everyone has a story. Your barber may have an interesting story as to how he became a barber, crossing the ocean in a boat. Maybe your teachers have personal anecdotes of themselves when they were younger, joining the hippie movement and running away from home. 

So go out there, talk to people, and listen to what they have to say. Or, be an interesting person yourself! Take up new interests and hobbies, learn new skills like social media marketing or how to cook a mean cheesecake! What do you guys think? Leave a comment and tell me if this works for you!