10 tips for better conversations

To start well, stop talking.

Relaxed rooftop picnic at sunset

Conversation is essential to networking and to building relationships, it's essential to business and life success. Short, effective conversations show people that you're intelligent, in control and confident. And, most importantly, that you care about other them.

Writer and radio host Celeste Headlee has 10 rules to have a better conversation.

1. Listen

The most important ability for good conversations (and life in general) is the ability to listen. It’s the most difficult, but it’s also the most important.

“When I’m talking, I’m in control. I don’t have to hear anything I’m not interested in. I’m the centre of attention. When I talk, it's all about me," Celeste explains. 

She adds, "Buddha said that If your mouth is open, you’re not learning."

You are listening to understand, not just to reply, and it’s something that’s important to remember.

2. Don’t multitask

Give people attention and respect.

“Be present. Be in that moment,” Celeste explains. “Don’t think about the argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about dinner. If you want to escape the conversation, then escape but don’t be half in it and half out of it.”

3. Don't simply state your opinion, have an open mind

If you simply say what you think is correct, you’re not talking with people, you’re just talking at them.

“If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for discuss and debate, write a blog. You need to enter every conversation thinking that you have something to learn… sometimes that means setting to one side your personal opinion.”

4. Use open-ended questions

“If you ask a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple answer,” Celeste explains. “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.”

5. Go with the flow

Almost everyone is guilty of this speaking sin: someone will be talking, you’ll think of a great idea or story and interrupt, or wait impatiently until the person finishes the sentence to jump in.

When you are thinking about your answer, you stop listening,” Celeste says. “Thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind.”

Interjection is fine – if it helps reinforce a point for the person talking, if it’s short and it doesn’t derail the thought process of the speaker but don’t forget to give someone else the space to tell a story. That’s called listening.

6. If you don’t know, say you don’t know

Don't invent or lie because you don't know. Saying you don't know won't make you look stupid – it will make you look honest.

“Be careful what you say,” says Celeste. “Talk should not be cheap.”

7. Don’t compare your experience with theirs

We may have similar experiences to our colleagues or friends but we are different and things will affect us differently.

“If they’re talking about their difficulties at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job,” Celeste says. “It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And more importantly, it is not about you. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.”

8. “Try not to repeat yourself”

Put simply: it’s boring. And it makes your listener feel that you are so self-centred that you forgot what you said before. Many times.

“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,” Celeste points out.

9. Focus on what's important

“People don’t care about the years, the names, the dates, all those details that you can't remember,” Celeste says. “They don’t care. What they care about is you.”

Giving lots of details is fine but only if it helps your listener, not your own peace of mind.

10. Be brief

No one likes people who never stop. We don’t like being talked at.

Celeste quotes her sister on the subject: ‘A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject.’



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