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Tired of not connecting?

March 20, 2016

Real conversation is an oral exchange of ideas, observations, sentiments or opinions–the operative word being exchange.  In a conversation, presentations and monologues are out.

An exchange suggests we both get something.  This post is about how to hedge your bets so that you’ll be a little closer to getting what you want from your conversations.  It was sparked by a Ted Talk by Celeste Headlee.  She was so good that I started taking notes.

This is my summary and interpretation of her talk entitled 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.  It was filmed in May, 2015.

I encourage you to take a moment to listen to her talk in its entirety – she’s a fabulous presenter, and knows her stuff.  http://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation

  1. DON’T MULTI-TASK.  Be all in – no texting, surfing, TV or thinking about disagreement with boss.  When your attention wanders, bring it back to your conversation partner.
  1. DON’T PONTIFICATE.  Pundits are boring!  Whether you’re liberal or conservative, everybody already knows what you think.  Look to be amazed by them, not to amaze them.  Your conversation partner will blossom in front of your eyes.
  1. USE OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS.  ‘Were you terrified?’ gets ‘yes’.  Ask: ‘how, what, when, where and why’ questions to get a more complex, nuanced response.
  1. GO WITH THE FLOW.  Don’t insert the brilliant question or comment that came to you and made you stop listening 5 minutes ago.  Let it go and just listen.  The perfect response will come naturally when they’ve finished their thought or their story.
  1. KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW.  Be careful when you hint that you’re an expert.  If you find yourself telling someone how long you’ve been doing something,  or how much people like what you do, or how many times you’ve done it, you may or may not be an expert.  Likely you’re just reassuring yourself.
  1. DON’T EQUATE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THEIRS.  It’s not always about you.  If you want a really satisfying conversation, don’t share how much you’ve suffered or someone you know has suffered just like them.  Yours is not theirs.  If you’re really listening, you’ll know when it’s time to tell your story.  If they’re in pain, it’s probably not then.
  1. TRY NOT TO REPEAT YOURSELF–it’s condescending.  You get enamored of an idea or a story or an opinion or a word, and repeat it ad nauseum.  Stop!  You’re boring them to death.
  1. STAY OUT OF THE WEEDS.  People don’t really care about all the details.  They care about knowing you, you the person, what you feel.  Get out of your head and into your heart.
  1. LISTEN.  You can talk at 225 words/minute and listen at 500 words/minute.  You stop listening while you fill in the other 275 in your head.  When you do that, you end up being two people, shouting out barely related sentences, in the same place.  This one got me in the gut…have I ever actually had a real  conversation??
  1. BE BRIEF.  Here Celeste quoted her sister:  “A good conversation is like a miniskirt.  Short enough to retain interest; long enough to cover the subject.”

Again, I really encourage you to listen to her Ted Talk–she’s inspiring!

Clearly, I’ve got my work cut out for me.  I do ALL the don’ts and struggle with the do’s.  Yesterday I told a ton of unnecessary me, me, me stories.  And more than once I’ve heard myself say, ‘At this point I’ve worked with thousands of clients.’  Who was I trying to impress??  Nobody cares!  Accch!

Here’s my plan.  I’m framing this and putting it on the wall in my office waiting room, and I’m keeping it on the ‘to do’ note pages on my phone so that I can read it every morning.  My intention is to read it for 21 days and see if anything changes.

You in?

Much love,


  1. Dick says:

    I’m in! Robyn, what prompted you to listen to this lady? How did you come to find out about her?

    • Robyn says:

      Isn’t she great! I subscribe to lots of different newsletters – this was probably mentioned in one of them. And in general I tend to listen to lots of Ted Talks when I have a few minutes…

  2. Deb Rowe says:

    I’m “guilty” of so many of these! Celeste’s Ted Talk was great and made me feel like I can do this! I’ve been attempting to improve the act of listening for a while so this Seedling came along at a good time. Unexpected comments I’ve received while fully engaged in listening to others recently have gone like this; “why are you looking at me like that?” and “you are so quiet today, is something wrong?” Lol…and very enlightening…

    • Robyn says:

      I know! It’s been daunting when I really watch my habits – many of them unconscious and hard to see :). Challenging!

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