TO HAVE A BETTER
We've all had really great conversations. We've had them before. We know
what it's like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling
engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you've made a real connection
or you've been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your
interactions can't be like that.
So I have 10 basic rules. I'm going to walk you through all of them, but
honestly, if you just choose one of them and master it, you'll already
enjoy better conversations.
Don't multitask. And I don't mean just set down your cell phone or your
tablet or your car keys or whatever is in your hand. I mean, be present.
Be in that moment. Don't think about your argument you had with your boss.
Don't think about what you're going to have for dinner. If you want to get
out of the conversation, get out of the conversation, but don't be half in
it and half out of it.
Don't pontificate. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity
for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.
Now, there's a really good reason why I don't allow pundits on my show: Because
they're really boring. If they're conservative, they're going to hate Obama and
food stamps and abortion. If they're liberal, they're going to hate big banks
and oil corporations and Dick Cheney. Totally predictable. And you don't want to
be like that. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something
to learn. The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said that true listening requires a
setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal
opinion. He said that sensing this acceptance, the speaker will become less and less
vulnerable and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind
to the listener. Again, assume that you have something to learn.
"Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don't."
I put it this way: Everybody is an expert in something.
Use open-ended questions. In this case, take a cue from journalists. Start your questions
with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you're going
to get a simple answer out. If I ask you, "Were you terrified?" you're going to respond to
the most powerful word in that sentence, which is "terrified," and the answer is "Yes, I
was" or "No, I wasn't." "Were you angry?" "Yes, I was very angry." Let them describe it.
They're the ones that know. Try asking them things like, "What was that like?" "How did
that feel?" Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you're
going to get a much more interesting response.
Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go
out of your mind. We've heard interviews often in which a guest is talking for several
minutes and then the host comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out
of nowhere, or it's already been answered. That means the host probably stopped listening
two minutes ago because he thought of this really clever question, and he was just bound
and determined to say that. And we do the exact same thing. We're sitting there having a
conversation with someone, and then we remember that time that we met Hugh Jackman in a
And we stop listening. Stories and ideas are going to come to you. You need to let them
come and let them go.
If you don't know, say that you don't know. Now, people on the radio, especially on NPR,
are much more aware that they're going on the record, and so they're more careful about
what they claim to be an expert in and what they claim to know for sure. Do that. Err on
the side of caution. Talk should not be cheap.
Don't equate your experience with theirs. If they're talking about having lost a family
member, don't start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they're talking
about the trouble they're having at work, don't tell them about how much you hate your
job. It's not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more
importantly, it is not about you. You don't need to take that moment to prove how amazing
you are or how much you've suffered. Somebody asked Stephen Hawking once what his IQ was,
and he said, "I have no idea. People who brag about their IQs are losers."
Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.
Try not to repeat yourself. It's condescending, and it's really boring, and we tend to do
it a lot. Especially in work conversations or in conversations with our kids, we have a
point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don't do that.
Stay out of the weeds. Frankly, people don't care about the years, the names, the dates,
all those details that you're struggling to come up with in your mind. They don't care.
What they care about is you. They care about what you're like, what you have in common.
So forget the details. Leave them out.
This is not the last one, but it is the most important one. Listen. I cannot tell you how
many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the most, the number one
most important skill that you could develop. Buddha said, and I'm paraphrasing, "If your
mouth is open, you're not learning."And Calvin Coolidge said, "No man ever listened his
way out of a job."
Why do we not listen to each other? Number one, we'd rather talk. When I'm talking, I'm in
control. I don't have to hear anything I'm not interested in. I'm the center of attention.
I can bolster my own identity.But there's another reason: We get distracted. The average
person talks at about 225 word per minute,but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute.
So our minds are filling in those other 275 words. And look, I know, it takes effort and
energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can't do that, you're not in a
conversation. You're just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same
You have to listen to one another. Stephen Covey said it very beautifully. He said, "Most
of us don't listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply."
One more rule,
and it's this one: Be brief.
All of this boils down to the same basic concept, and it is this one: Be interested in
You know, I grew up with a very famous grandfather, and there was kind of a ritual in
my home. People would come over to talk to my grandparents, and after they would leave,
my mother would come over to us, and she'd say, "Do you know who that was? She was the
runner-up to Miss America. He was the mayor of Sacramento. She won a Pulitzer Prize.
He's a Russian ballet dancer." And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden,
amazing thing about them. And honestly, I think it's what makes me a better host. I keep
my mouth shut as often as I possibly can, I keep my mind open, and I'm always prepared
to be amazed, and I'm never disappointed.
You do the same thing. Go out, talk to people, listen to people, and, most importantly,
be prepared to be amazed.
10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation
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