Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

10 Tips for Communicating Like a Pro

Aug 17, 2017


“And look, I know, it takes effort and energy to actually pay attention to someone, but if you can't do that, you're not in a conversation. You're just two people shouting out barely related sentences in the same place.”— Celeste Headlee

Who doesn't love a good "ten tips" list?

Well, okay, but this one really is good.

If you're a facilitator, coach, consultant, speaker, or anyone with an interest in communication skills and personal development, you must watch this TED Talk. (Key points summarised below.)

Celeste Headlee has built her career on having meaningful conversations. This is what she's learned.

Runtime: 12 minutes 

1. Don’t multitask

Don’t just put down your phone or your food—be present. Really present. Stop thinking about what you’re doing later or what you’re having for dinner. Jump out or be present—but don’t be half in.

2. Don’t pontificate

Monologue is for lectures, blogs, political pundits, and evil villains. Dialogue is for dialogue. Put your ego aside. “You want to enter every conversation,” says Celeste, “assuming you have something to learn.” Everyone knows something you don’t.

3. Use open-ended questions

Know the basics: who, what, when, where, why, how. “Yes/no” questions tend to get simple “yes/no” answers. Open-ended questions tend to get more insightful answers. Instead of asking “Were you terrified?” (yes or no), instead ask “How did you feel?” It’s their story. Let them tell it. Your job is to help them get there.

4. Go with the flow

When people talk, neurons fire. Someone might mention something about Australia and all of a sudden you’re wanting to tell everyone about the time you met Hugh Jackman in a coffee shop. Let the thoughts come and go. Don’t wait for your moment to jump in and take your turn.

5. If you don’t know, say you don’t know

Have you ever noticed that people on NPR tend to be more careful about what they say? Having their words being turned into transcripts means that any declarations are immortalised in stone. Should you pretend or exaggerate, it can cast a shadow over everything you’ve said in your career. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with others.

6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs

Even if you’ve lost a family member in the past and someone has just experienced a loss, you run the risk of seeing his/her experience through your lens. It’s not the same. If they hate their job, and you hate yours, it’s still not the same. Similar, maybe, but not the same. All experiences are individual.

7. Try not to repeat yourself

This often happens in the workplace: when we want to get a message across, we just keeping rephrasing the same thing over and over like a broken remix tape. Not only is this boring, but it’s also condescending.

8. Stay out of the weeds

Sometimes we’re trying to remember if the story happened on Tuesday or Wednesday, whether it happened in 1976 or 1975. If the facts are important, be thoughtful; otherwise it happened in the 1970s or “some time back.” People don’t care about the details; they care about the story.

9. Listen

Who doesn't like to be in control of the conversation? We know what we’re going to say is interesting. After all, we're interesting. Celeste believes this is the most important point of all: Listen. Listen. Listen. She quotes Calvin Coolidge, "No man ever listened his way out of a job" and Stephen Covey, “Most of us don't listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply."

10. Be brief

A quote to remember: “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.”

We have a saying in our office: Be brief, be bright, be gone!

Okay, bye for now!

Topics: Coaching & Mentoring

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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