Reading Length: 9 minutes
1. Stay interested in the other person.
Forget about the conventional advice you hear about maintaining eye contact and focusing on other body language. The important thing is to focus on the other person and actually listen to what they have to say without judgement and with genuine interest. From Celeste Headlee, journalist, author, speaker, and musician:
- 1. Don’t multi-task. Be present.
- 2. Don’t pontificate. If you want to state your opinion, then write a blog! Enter every conversation wanting to learn.
- 3. Use open-ended questions. Use who, what, where, when and why questions.
- 4. Go with the flow. Let your thoughts get out of your mind.
- 5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
- 6. Don’t equate your experiences with them. It’s never the same. It’s not about you.
- 7. Conversations are not a promotional attitude. Don’t keep repeating yourself.
- 8. Stay out of the weeds. People don’t care about the small details. They just care about you.
- 9. LISTEN!
- 10. Be brief. Be interested in other people.
2.Become a good listener.
“Thank you, I really just needed someone to talk to,” said a patient from a clinic I worked at. But I knew what she really needed was someone to listen. That’s what most people need. In a world full of talkers, listening has become a rare and valuable skill. Working in the healthcare field, I was fortunate enough to be able to practice my listening skills. I’ve come to realize that a lot of my closest relationships come from being able to just listen with focus and without giving judgment. So now I think to myself, is there a friend, a family member, a coworker or a stranger who needs someone to listen to them? From Adam Bryant, author of “The CEO Test,” :
- Be fully present. Clear your mind, react in the moment, turn off your phone and monitors. Don’t check email, plan your answers in advance, multitask and think about your upcoming schedule.
- No judgments or agendas. Be empathetic, know why you are talking and be grounded. Don’t judge, brag and bring an agenda. Use the acronym “W.A.I.T” which means “Why Am I Talking?”
- Show you’re listening. Nod encouragingly and lean in.
- Listen to learn. Ask open-ended questions, be interested and learn one thing from everyone. Here are some example questions:
- What surprised you about that?
- What has been the biggest memo-to-self moment?
- Why did that interest you?
- What did you like most about that?
3. Tell stories.
Stories tend to stick longer in people’s minds. Great stories will allow the conversation to be more memorable and interesting. But a boring story will disengage the person you’re speaking to. So story-telling requires continuous practice to become better. According to Scott H. Young, author of “Ultralearning”:
- Rule One: Know Where You are Going. Don’t just provide a story without interesting points. If someone asks how was your day, don’t just respond with a summary of your itinerary. Provide the interesting parts.
- Rule Two: End With a Bang. Your most interesting point should be the last thing you say in your story.
- Rule Three: Keep it Short or Keep it Interesting. People will stop paying attention if your story is too long. If it needs to be long, add some humor or interesting points to build up the final point.
- Rule Four: Keep it Personal. People prefer stories about people they know. Try to use stories involving you.
- Rule Five: Don’t Grasp for Stories. Questions like “How was your weekend?” are examples of story grasping. Have a great story as back up if the person can’t think of one.
- Rule Six: Practice Your Stories. The more you tell your stories, the better you will become at it.
4. Use Jerry Seinfeld’s secret trick.
Seinfeld used to have this trick for addressing uncomfortable meetings with people. Some examples are:
- How long have you lived here?
- What time do you start?
- When did you do that?
- How many of your grandparents are alive?
- What age were you when you lost your virginity?
5. Emphasize similarity.
Multiple studies have shown that we favor similarity. That explains why we tend to hang out with people who shares similar interests as us. From Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”:
- You like names better when they are similar to yours.
- You even prefer brands that merely share your initials.
- Birthdays are easier to remember when they are closer to yours.
- Salesmen deliberately fake little similarities in order to influence you and connect with you.
- On dates, when women mimic men the guys are more interested.
- Mimicry makes you a better negotiator.
- Improving listening skills is a matter of little more than repeating what people just said.
6. Address awkward silence.
Awkward silence can be painful to us. That’s why we fear it. But we need to realize it’s no one’s fault when there is awkward silence, it’s not that big of a deal and that it doesn’t always to be filled. From Chris Macleod, creator of SucceedSocially.com:
- Come up with a new conversation starter. You could ask a question, or comment on a piece of the news. Speak in a comfortable way to make this transition better.
- Comment on the silence. Sometimes you could make a casual observation on the silence. Saying things like “Hm, well it looks like we’ve come to the end of that thread.”
- Take the opportunity to exit the conversation. If you sense the conversation is coming to an end, you can say things like “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing…” or, “Anyway, it was good running into you. I’ll catch you later….” But be careful of making exits a bad habit as avoidance.
7. Give genuine compliments.
A compliment can truly brighten someone’s day in an instant. It can make them feel proud, happy and appreciated. I’ve made it a personal rule to find at least one genuine compliment I can give to each person I talk to everyday. From Madeleine Frank Reeves, a lifestyle director:
- Link your compliment to something you genuinely feel. Think of why you appreciate that quality.
- Be authentic and specific, not hyperbolic. Follow the “KISS” method which is “Keep It Sincere and Specific.”
- Use adjectives. Instead of saying “I love your dress,” say “Your sunny yellow dress is beautiful and seeing it brightened my morning.”
8. Avoid proving someone wrong. Don’t judge.
When we encounter controversial topics, we’re tempted to add our own opinions and judge the opinions of others when we hear it. If you prove someone wrong, you hurt his or her pride. Judge people of their opinions not by your own. From Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,”
- Ask yourself:
- Could my opponents be right?
- Will my reactions draw them away?
- Is this difficult situation an opportunity?
- If you want to change their opinion, do it subtly such as saying:
- “I thought otherwise….but I may be wrong”
- “Let’s examine the facts…”
9. Know the 3 tiers of conversations.
“So, how’s your relationship with your family?” I mistakenly asked this to a patient I had just met. I know, big mistake. I had forgotten that my supervisor told me her family had abandoned her years ago. You can imagine her response next. She proceeded to tell me off, saying that I had no right to ask her that question as a stranger. I’ve learned my lesson.
So there are certain topics we can tread safely on depending on the status of our relationship with the person we speak to. From Tim Herrera, writer of Smarter Living,
- Tier one is safe territory: sports, the weather, pop culture, local celebrities and any immediate shared experience.
- Tier two is potentially controversial: religion, politics, dating and love lives.
- Tier three includes the most intimate topics: family, finance, health and work life.
10. Create a top 10 small talk list.
You can search through a bunch of small talk questions and pick your top 10. As an introvert, I HATE small talk. But I’ve learned that small talk is a bridge to building deeper connections later on. I especially hate boring talk about the weather. So I personally try to avoid that topic all all costs and have created my own personal top 10. Here are some of my favorites:
For someone I’m getting to know:
- Anything new with you recently? Working on anything exciting lately?
- What do you like to do for fun? Mind telling me more about that?
- What types of food/drinks/music/movies/books/sports do you like? What are your favorites?
- What made you choose your work? If you weren’t in this career, what else would you be doing?
- What countries have you been to? Any favorite countries or memorable experiences?
- What are some of your goals? What skills would you like to master?
- What’s special about the place you’re from?
- What are your pet peeves?
- Who do you look up to the most? Why?
- What do you think about the current events/news lately?
For someone I’m closer to:
- What are your deepest values? Or, what do you care about the most in life?
- If you could go back in time, what would you tell your past self?
- What’s the best and worst thing that happened to you?
- What was your childhood like? What was your family like?
- How many relationships did you have? How were your past relationships?
- What traits do you look for in a partner and/or friend?
- What are your greatest fears?
- What were your greatest accomplishments and failures in life?
- What’s on your bucket list? Which ones can you start doing?
- What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you think is the meaning of life, happiness and love?
- 1. Stay interested in the other person. Don’t multi-task. Don’t pontificate. Use open-ended questions. Go with the flow. If you don’t know, say you don’t know. Don’t equate your experiences with them. Conversations are not a promotional attitude. Stay out of the weeds. Listen. Be brief.
- 2. Become a good listener. Be fully present. Have no judgements or agendas. Show you’re listening. Listen to learn.
- 3. Tell stories. Know where you are going. End with a bang. Keep it short or interesting. Keep it personal. Don’t grasp for stories.
- 4. Use Jerry Seinfeld’s secret trick. Ask people questions in numbers.
- 5. Emphasize similarity. We tend to like people similar to us. Names, brands, birthdays, body language, words etc..
- 6. Address awkward silence. Come up with a new conversation starter. Comment on the silence. Take the opportunity to exit the conversation.
- 7. Give genuine compliments. Link the compliment to something you genuinely feel and appreciate. Be authentic and specific, not hyperbolic. Use adjectives.
- 8. Avoid proving someone wrong. Judge people of their opinions, not by your own. Ask if they could be right, if your reactions will draw them away and if the situation is an opportunity for improvement.
- 9. Know the 3 tiers of conversations. Tier one is safe territory. Tier two is potentially controversial. Tier three includes the most intimate topics.
- 10. Create a top 10 small talk list. Refer back for examples.
Check out this video I made on this book summary! Please like and subscribe!
10 ways to have a better conversation | Celeste Headlee
Mastering Conversation by Scott H. Young
Jerry Seinfeld’s One Great Trick For ‘Talking To Regular People’
The Key To Being Liked And Being More Influential by Eric Barker
Ways To Deal With Awkward Silences In Conversations by Chris MacLeod, MSW
How to Give Sincere Compliments by Madeleine Frank Reeves
3 Tips to Have Better Conversations by Tim Herrera
222 Questions to Get to Know Someone (Casual to Personal) by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.
How to Be a Better Listener by Adam Bryant