One of the joys of life is a good conversation; one where ideas flow and you really feel like you understand and are understood by another person. When we fail to have good conversations, we often end up feeling isolated and misunderstood. When we think about communicating better, we typically focus on saying things better but the reality is that really good conversations are had by people who know how to listen.
10 Tips for having better conversations
1. Don’t multitask. If you are listening to someone, give them your full attention. If you are distracted by worries, to do lists or your phone, you won’t be fully present.
2. Don’t pontificate. If you want to talk about an idea without being challenged or interrupted, write a blog, or a letter, or a slingshot article. A lecture can be interesting in the right context, but it’s not a conversation.
3. Try not to repeat yourself. We tend to say things over and over again, especially when we think they are important or feel they aren’t being understood. It’s not a useful way to engage another person.
4. Don’t equate your experience with the experience of others. They are not the same. Relating to someone else’s story is important but if you are always turning the focus back onto yourself, you aren’t demonstrating that you understand their experience.
5. Don’t get lost in the weeds. A lot of extra details when you are telling a story can be confusing and, in the end, the people you are talking to rarely care about the details nearly as much as how an experience has affected you or is relevant to the conversation at hand.
6. Do use open ended questions. Questions like “What was that like?” often yield far more diverse and interesting responses than questions like “Did you have a good time?”
7. Do say so if you don’t know something. Be honest with yourself and clear with others about the limits of your knowledge and the line between certainty, opinion and educated guesswork.
8. Be as brief as you can be while still getting your point across. Often, the more we talk, the less people hear what we say.
9. Go with the flow. Many thoughts come to us when we are listening to another person talk. Let them come and go. If they are important they will come back, but if you try to hold onto them, you can be distracted from the conversation at hand.
10. Listen to the person you are talking to. It sounds simple but can be very hard, especially if you disagree with them about something. Pay attention and be present so that you can go where the wave of the conversation takes you, rather than be trying to pull it back to shore.
(adapted from Celeste Headlee)