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Weekly 3: Have better conversations (part 2)

Summary: Play catch. Become an explorer. Handle interruptions with grace. (~5 min read) Note: We’re t

Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 10 · Issue #77 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Play catch. Become an explorer. Handle interruptions with grace. (~5 min read)
Note: We’re trying something new. You can think of this Weekly 3 as a sequel to a previous issue, with additional ideas on how to have better conversations.

#1. Approach conversation like you're playing catch
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, musician and radio journalist Celeste Headlee says that an effective conversation involves a mutual exchange of information: “If people walk away from a conversation and have learned nothing from the other person, then it wasn’t a successful conversation.”
For Headlee, the best model for a good conversation is a friendly game of catch, for 2 reasons:
1. It’s balanced: In a game of catch, you can’t throw more than you can catch. Similarly, in a conversation there should be an even balance between listening and talking.
2. You care about the other person: When you’re playing a friendly game of catch, you’re trying to throw the ball in a way that allows the other person to catch it, and then throw it back to you. You’re not only thinking about how well you throw, you’re also trying to set the other person up for success in order to keep the game going.
In conversation, you should be thinking not only about what you’re saying, but also about what the other person is saying: Are you asking them questions? Are you keeping them engaged?
As Headlee notes, “A good conversation is interactive for both people — it doesn’t even allow the other person to tune out.”
#2. Become actively curious about the other person
If we agree with Celeste Headlee in Idea #1 that interaction is fundamental to good conversation, how can we remain attentive to the other person when we’re so focused on ourselves?
In his book The Laws of Human Nature, author Robert Greene acknowledges that it’s hard to listen deeply to others during a conversation because each of us is naturally more interested in our own experiences, feelings, and thoughts. 
For Greene, the key to silencing your own internal monologue during a conversation is to become actively curious about other person. 
You already know your own thoughts all too well, and you’re unlikely to surprise yourself. But each person you encounter is like an undiscovered country full of surprises: “Imagine for a moment that you could step inside people’s minds and what an amazing journey that could be.”
People who seem dull or quiet have strange inner lives for you to explore. Even those you consider foolish can provide opportunities to better understand the origins of their flaws.
Greene offers a few tips to make the most of your conversational journey: 
1. Look for nonverbal cues: Instead of simply barraging the other person with questions to learn more about them, pay attention to which topics make their eyes light up. You should then guide the conversation in that direction: “Almost everyone likes to talk about their childhood, their family, the ins and outs of their work, or some cause that is dear to them.“
2. Internalize and mirror their interests: The best way to signal to the other person that you’re listening deeply is to occasionally say something they have said, but in your own words and filtered through your experiences.
As Greene points out, your goal in listening deeply is to allow the other person to come away from the conversation feeling better about themselves. 
You’ve made them the star of the show, and drawn out the wittier, more fun-loving side of their personality: “They will love you for this and will look forward to the next encounter.”
#3. “Sorry for talking while you were interrupting.”
Communications expert Leil Lowndes writes in her book How to Talk to Anyone at Work that everyone hates to be interrupted: “I do, even when I’m saying something pointless.”
Lowndes tells the story of a former colleague who constantly interrupted her and others, and how she started to take note of how people reacted to his interruptions. 
In one instance, the person being interrupted stared at him, pointed to her own mouth and said, “Hey, lips moving, still talking.” Someone else responded to his interruption by asking, “Did I take a breath and give you the impression that I’d finished?”
For Lowndes, these kinds of reactions to being interrupted are well-intentioned, but often only result in uncomfortable silences. 
Instead, she suggests that a better approach is to welcome the interruption and “kill the interrupter with kindness” by following these 4 steps: 
1. The moment they cut you off, stop speaking mid-sentence and give them an accepting expression. 
2. Next, look down at your computer, materials, or notes. When their interruption is finished, look back up and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was distracted for a minute.”
3. Then continue with, “Please, I’m anxious to hear what you have to say. What was it again?” This forces them to repeat what they’ve said, making the interruption even more obvious. As Lowndes points out, this works especially well in a meeting context when they have to do this in front of a group.
4. Now, smile as though nothing happened, and without a trace of rancor, finish your point: “As I was saying …"
Quote of the Week
“A friend who moved to Silicon Valley in the late 90s said the worst thing about living there was the low quality of the eavesdropping. At the time I thought she was being deliberately eccentric … Now I understand what she meant. The conversations you overhear tell you what sort of people you’re among.”
- Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham in his essay Cities and Ambition
Idea Journal
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