Field Notes: Tips on Having Better Conversations from Celeste Headlee


Having good conversations is so important, and reality check most of us are terrible at it. Eek! Part of it is because we’re getting less and less face time with each other. Oh, hey iPhone! And even when we do have conversations, we spend about 60% of the time talking about ourselves. That doesn’t seem crazy until you think about the fact that EVERYTHING ELSE has to fit into the 40%. Yikes! May’s Creative Mornings lecture on Reality was from Celeste Headlee, a professional conversationalist and radio host.

Besides blowing our minds with some statistics on how smartphones affect our lives in terrible ways, Celeste Headlee shared 5 things we can do right now to have better conversations with our spouses,  families and clients.

ONE - Take Note

The first step is to notice how much you talk about yourself. (It’s like 60% people!) (It’s 80% of the time on social media!) Talking about yourself triggers the same pleasure centers that light up during sex and cocaine. If you left a conversation feeling great about it, it could be for two reasons. One - because you connected deeply. Or two - because you talked about yourself a lot.

TWO - Equate Less

This one was a big faceplam. Celeste said to avoid equating your hard experience to someone else’s hard experience. If your friend tells you about losing a parent, don’t jump right in with, “ I lost my [blank] too.” By doing that, you’ve (unintentionally) forced the other (hurting) person to say “I’m so sorry” and offer you comfort. The sad thing is that most of us do this because we think it's helpful and establishing a common ground. The best thing you can do is to ask how it is for them and let them tell you.

THREE - Apologies

We’ve all been in a position when we’ve needed to apologize. It’s so easy to send a friend a text or shoot over an email to a client. But, an apology is a tough conversation, and that’s kind of the point. A written apology hits the brain like you never even said it. Apologies in person or even over the phone are rough, and it’s that struggle that sparks compassion and forgiveness.

FOUR - Phones

Let's get our cell phone off the table.

“Interacting in a neutral environment, without a cell phone nearby, seems to help foster closeness, connectedness, interpersonal trust, and perceptions of empathy —- the building-blocks of relationships,” Scientific American

This awesome study has shown that just having a cellphone in the room can weaken the trust and sense of closeness between two peers. On top of that, studies show that people would rather do business with those they trust, like, and can talk to, even if the product is of lower quality. Crazy right? 

FIVE - Discomfort is learning.

Growth is shut off when you decide you have nothing to learn. The best way to have good conversations is to go into it looking to learn something. Celeste says, "prepare to be amazed." Embrace how uncomfortable it can be. It’s the fastest route to meeting your customer, friend, donor, family where they are.

What do you think? Anything surprise you? All of this was a surprise to me. I've started working on some of these and already feel like my conversations are getting better. Fingers crossed. Let me know what you're working on in the comments below!