Thoughts On… 10 useful rules for better conversations. 

by Devin D. Marks
Founder |

Pew Research recently found that we are more polarized as a society than ever before in our history. And that reality can make an extended conversation over a meal a bit awkward. 

Thankfully, TEDster Celeste Headlee knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. She shares, “Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn…”  


In the following TED Talk, Celeste shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. 

TED Talk, Celeste.png

(Talk link here.)

Or if you just want to scroll through the ten. I’ve summarized them from her talk transcript below. 

Naturally, her insights outnumber ten. One of my favorite “extra” insights she shares is this: 

“Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this, things like look the person in the eye, think of interesting topics to discuss in advance, look, nod and smile to show that you’re paying attention, repeat back what you just heard or summarize it.

So I want you to forget all of that. It is crap. There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention!”



#1. DON’T MULTITASK. Be in that moment. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. If you want to get out of the conversation, get out of the conversation, but don’t be half in it and half out of it. 

#2. DON’T PONTIFICATE. If you want to state your opinion without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth, write a blog. 

#3. USE OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS. Take a cue from journalists. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. Try asking, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” You’re going to get a much more interesting response. 

#4. GO WITH THE FLOW. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. Stories and ideas are going to come to you. You need to let them come and let them go. 

#5. IF YOU DON’T KNOW, SAY SO. People on NPR, are much more aware that they’re going on the record, and so they’re more careful about what they claim to be an expert in and what they claim to know for sure. Do that. Err on the side of caution.

#6. DON’T EQUATE EXPERIENCES. Don’t take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered. All experiences are individual. It’s not the same. It is never the same. And, more importantly, it is not about you. Conversations are not a promotional opportunity. 

#7. TRY NOT TO REPEAT YOURSELF. Repeating yourself is condescending and boring. We do it a lot. Especially in work conversations or in conversations with our kids, we have a point to make, so we just keep rephrasing it over and over. Don’t do that. 

#8. STAY OUT OF THE WEEDS. The details don’t matter. People don’t care about the years, the names, the dates, all those details that you’re struggling to come up with in your mind. They don’t care. What they care about is you. They care about what you’re like, what you have in common. 

#9. LISTEN. I cannot tell you how many really important people have said that listening is perhaps the most, the number one most important skill that you could develop. 

#10. BE BRIEF. 

There you have it, ten simple rules that can powerfully combine to make your next THINKER THURSDAYS™ lunch hum. Yes, there are likely others that occur to you. Please share them below.