Writer and radio host Celeste Headlee discusses 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation at TED conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: 10 ways to have a better conversation by Celeste Headlee
All right. I want to see a show of hands: how many of you have unfriended someone on Facebook because they said something offensive about politics or religion, childcare, food?
And how many of you know at least one person that you avoid because you just don’t want to talk to them?
You know, it used to be that in order to have a polite conversation, we just had to follow the advice of Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady”: Stick to the weather and your health. But these days, with climate change and anti-vaxxing, those subjects are not safe either.
So this world that we live in, this world in which every conversation has the potential to devolve into an argument, where our politicians can’t speak to one another and where even the most trivial of issues have someone fighting both passionately for it and against it, it’s not normal.
Pew Research did a study of 10,000 American adults, and they found that at this moment, we are more polarized, we are more divided, than we ever have been in history. We’re less likely to compromise, which means we’re not listening to each other. And we make decisions about where to live, who to marry and even who our friends are going to be, based on what we already believe. Again, that means we’re not listening to each other. A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.
Now, part of that is due to technology. The smartphones that you all either have in your hands or close enough that you could grab them really quickly. According to Pew Research, about a third of American teenagers send more than a hundred texts a day. And many of them, almost most of them, are more likely to text their friends than they are to talk to them face to face.
There’s this great piece in The Atlantic. It was written by a high school teacher named Paul Barnwell. And he gave his kids a communication project. He wanted to teach them how to speak on a specific subject without using notes. And he said this: I came to realize…I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”
Now, I make my living talking to people: Nobel Prize winners, truck drivers, billionaires, kindergarten teachers, heads of state, plumbers. I talk to people that I like. I talk to people that I don’t like. I talk to some people that I disagree with deeply on a personal level. But I still have a great conversation with them.
So I’d like to spend the next 10 minutes or so teaching you how to talk and how to listen.