Better Conversations

I posted a little while ago about asking better questions to have better responses from students. Well, tonight I was out for a walk and listening to TED Talks Daily when I heard a great talk from Celeste Headlee about better conversations. In this funny and engaging talk she advises us to throw out all the stuff we have heard about how to show people we are listening (make eye contact, nod and smile, repeat and paraphrase) to make room for her ten tips about how to actually listen.

Headlee, a seasoned journalist, author, and radio host, give ten succinct tips for engaging with your interlocutor in mutually beneficial ways. The talk is short and sweet, so I advise you to hear it from Headlee on the TED stage, but I will list the ten tips here.

  1. Don’t multitask – put down the phone and don’t just think of the next thing you will say.
  2. Don’t pontificate – be open minded and prepare to learn something.
  3. Use open-ended questions – Let the speaker describe it, they are the ones that know.
  4. Go with the flow – as in, let the stories and ideas that pop into your mind come and go, you don’t need to inject them into the conversation.
  5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know – Have integrity. Talk shouldn’t be cheap.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs – Everyone’s experience is different. You don’t need to tell a story of success or grief just because they did.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself – Make your point and move on.
  8. Stay out of the weeds – Minor details are not important to most listeners.
  9. Listen – How else are you going to understand?
  10. Be brief.

As I was listening, I kept thinking how this could apply to me and my students. I consider myself a good listener and a good conversationalist but I do often multitask mentally while listening to students. And teaching can easily turn pontificatious. So much for tips 1 and 2. Some days I feel like all I do is ignore rule 7. Nevertheless, I think as teacher we can always endeavour to be better listeners and have better conversations in order to teach them to do the same. Does anyone out there have any tips for better conversations?

I thought it would be ironic to end with her expansion on number 2; If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog.

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