10 Ways to Get the Most out of Every Conversation You Ever Have

conversation tips

Celeste Headlee gives the 10 best tips ever for how to get the most out of every conversation you have in your life.

Have you ever unfriended someone on Facebook because they said something hurtful or offensive? Have you ever had a really boring ‘polite’ conversation, or avoided someone because you just didn’t want to talk to them?

Communication skills matter more than ever before.

We live in a world where conversation has really opened up on social media, but it can also get overwhelming and angry, because we’re more likely to communicate with people who live outside our social bubble and don’t think exactly the way we do.

As Celeste Headlee says, is there any 21st century skill more essential than being able to hold a coherent, confident conversation?

In work (and life) you might talk to people you like, don’t like, or disagree with.

How can you talk to these people with conversations that really get somewhere and make a difference? And how can you listen? Without wasting your time or getting bored?

If you even master one of Celeste Headlee’s 10 basic rules for holding a conversation, you’re already leaps ahead in how you communicate. So let’s take a closer look!

1. Don’t multitask

What does this mean? It means be present in the moment. Focus on the person in front of you. Don’t think about the last argument you had or what you want to do that evening.

2. Don’t express your endless opinions in a pompous way.

If you talk and talk and talk, it’s not a conversation. It’s the You Show. But a conversation takes at least two people. That means, with whatever you say, you have to expect the other person to respond. They might say thanks or challenge you or ask a question, but a conversation is not your stage.

Don’t just spout your opinion – instead, enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. Even if you can’t stand the person you’re talking with. When the person you are speaking with senses your acceptance, they will become less vulnerable and defensive, and more likely to open up and say something interesting, or new, or useful, or kind.

3. Use open-ended questions.

As Young Professionals we’ve talked about the power of open-ended questions before, and they’re questions that open up a conversation, instead of cutting it short with a yes/no answer.

Questions that start with ‘how’ or ‘why’, or ask someone to express themselves (‘what was it like?’) make them stop and think about it – and give you an answer that can reveal so much more.

Imagine a conversation with a friend who’s just gone through a bad break-up. Asking ‘were you angry’ just leads them to answer ‘yes’, but you already knew that. Asking ‘how are you feeling?’ lets them go deeper into how they REALLY feel.

4. Go with the flow.

In good conversations, we bounce off each other. If someone’s talking for a few minutes, keep listening. Don’t just think of something to say, then be determined say it when they finally stop talking. What you first wanted to say may already have been answered, or not matter any more. Stories and ideas will come to you as someone is speaking, but it’s okay to let them go.

5. If you don’t know, it’s OK to say you don’t know.

Honesty is important. Honesty moves a conversation forward. If you don’t know, say so, and you could learn something.

6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.

If someone is talking about something personal like losing weight or losing a family member or how much you feel, never say “I know just how you feel” and follow it up with your own similar personal exerience. It isn’t fair to do this. You don’t know just how they feel. Same as they don’t know exactly how you feel. And if you butt in with your own personal experience, you’re making the conversation all about you – when clearly they need someone to listen.

7. Try not to repeat yourself.

As Celeste Headlee says, it’s condescending and really boring and we tend to do it a lot.
Sometimes if you are having a conversation at work you have a point to make, so you just keep making your point and using different words to do it. BORING. And it makes you sound like you only care about your own opinion.

8. Stay out of the details.

People care about you, not all the details you’re struggling to remember like names or dates. They want to know about the big picture, or the story of what really went down. The little details are often not so important.

9. Listen.

Active listening is everything when it comes to having a good conversation.

As Buddha is meant to have said, if your mouth is open, you’re not learning.

As top lawyer Calvin Coolidge said, no-one ever listened their way out of a job.

Why don’t we listen to each other? Because we’d rather talk. Talking makes us feel in control of ourselves and the situation. Another reason we prefer to talk is that, when we listen, we can get distracted. It takes effort to pay attention!

But, in a conversation, you have to listen to each other. So you might as well REALLY listen when it’s your turn to listen. And listen with the aim to understand. Don’t just use your listening time as a chance to think of what you’re going to say next. Listen. Anything else is wasting your time.

10. Be brief.

Cut the waffle. Keep it brief. It means that everything you say is more likely to be interesting and new and important.

Do you do all these things? If so, you must be a really satisfying person to have a conversation with.

If some of them are areas to work on, that’s okay. We all have areas to work on.

And Celeste Headlee’s final tip for having a really good conversation?

Be interested in other people.

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