In 2015, journalist Celeste Headlee gave a TEDx Talk on how to have better conversations.
She spends the bulk of the talk on 10 core tips — but to me, the most compelling lesson comes at the very end. That’s when Headlee — who is currently the host of talk show “On Second Thought” — draws a connection between her childhood experiences and her conversational prowess today.
The story is best in Headlee’s words, so here it is:
“I grew up with a very famous grandfather, and there was kind of a ritual in my home.
“People would come over to talk to my grandparents and after they would leave, my mother would come over to us and she would say, ‘Do you know who that was? She was the runner-up to Miss America! He was the mayor of Sacramento! She won the Pultizer Prize! He’s a Russian ballet dancer!’
“And I kind of grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them. And honestly I think it’s what makes me a better host.
“I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can. I keep my mind open and I’m always prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”
Headlee’s grandfather, by the way, was William Grant Still, and he was the first black conductor to conduct a professional symphony orchestra in the United States.
Headlee urges the audience to display the same sense of childlike curiosity in their daily conversations.
If you assume your conversation partner is boring, you’re all but guaranteed to have a superficial interaction. Instead consider yourself an interpersonal archaeologist, if you will, whose job is to uncover the one thing that makes the other person fascinating.
Even if you don’t find it right away, the excavation process will probably make your conversations a lot more exciting.
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