Unfriend anyone on Facebook lately? Avoiding someone because you’re afraid that the subject of politics, religion, or even the weather will come up? In a world that is growing more polarized by the day, there may be no more important skill than being able to hold a meaningful conversation with another human being. In order to free yourself from filter bubbles, radio host and TEDx speaker Celeste Headlee suggests ten ways to improve your conversation skills.
1. Don’t multitask. You can’t fully engage by being partially present. Show respect for the person you’re speaking with by giving your full attention, both physically and mentally, to your conversation.
2. Don’t pontificate. If you don’t enjoy being lectured to, chances are that the person you’re engaging in conversation with would be turned off by your sermon.
3. Use open-ended questions. By starting your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how, you are inviting the other person to think more deeply, and help you mine for insight.
4. Go with the flow. If you’re human, random thoughts will pop into your brain at inopportune moments. Let them come and go. Fight the urge to diverge.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Avoid the need to save your ego, and have the humility to admit that you don’t always have the data to support your position.
6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Conversations are not about one-upping each other. Let people tell you about their experience without jumping in with, “You think that’s bad …”
7. Try not to repeat yourself. Say it once and let it sit. Otherwise, you’re pontificating (See Number 2) or you’re not engaged enough in the conversation to keep track of your own side of the dialogue.
8. Stay out of the weeds. Nobody cares whether it happened in Tuesday versus Wednesday, in Detroit or Dallas. Skip the minutia and focus on the big picture to stay interesting.
9. Listen. Sounds simple. But talking is actually much easier than listening. Remind yourself that you’re in the conversation to learn, not to convert.
10. Be brief. “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” – Celeste Headlee’s sister
As Bill Nye said, “Everyone is an expert in something.” Rather than avoid half of the population, use conversations as a way to stay curious about your fellow human beings.
Question: How can you get to know people who see the world differently than you do?
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