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We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter Hardcover – September 19, 2017
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“Civil discourse is one of humanity’s founding institutions and it faces an existential threat: We, the people, need to talk about how we talk to one another. Celeste Headlee shows us how.” (Ron Fournier, New York Times bestselling author of Love That Boy and Publisher and Crain’s Detroit)
“We Need To Talk is an important read for a conversationally-challenged, disconnected age. Headlee is a talented, honest storyteller, and her advice has helped me become a better spouse, friend, and mother.” (Jessica Lahey, author of New York Times bestseller The Gift of Failure)
“A well-researched and careful analysis of how and why we talk with one another—our strengths and (myriad) weaknesses…A thoughtful discussion and sometimes-passionate plea for civility and consideration in conversation.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“This powerful debut offers 10 strategies for improving conversational skills. Tidbits from sociological studies and anecdotes from history, including from civil rights activist Xernona Clayton’s groundbreaking conversations with KKK leader Calvin Craig, round out a book that takes its own advice and has much to communicate.” (Publishers Weekly)
“In the course of her career, Headlee has interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life and learned that sparking a great conversation is really a matter of a few simple habits that anyone can learn.” (Jessica Stillman, Inc.)
“This book is necessary…Headlee’s treatise on creating space for valuable mutual reciprocity is one that should become a handbook in any school, business or even a doctor’s office where the everyday person visits.” (George Elerick, Buzzfeed)
From the Back Cover
Based on the wildly popular TED Talk with more than 10 million views
WE NEED TO TALK. They are, perhaps, the most dreaded four words in the English language. But in her timely and practical book, We Need to Talk, Celeste Headlee—a public radio host—makes the case that they are urgently needed.
Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.
And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist and offers
actionable steps anyone can take to improve their communication skills. For example:
• BE THERE OR GO ELSEWHERE. Human beings are incapable of multitasking, and this is especially true of tasks that involve language. Think you can catch up on your e-mail while talking on the phone? Think again.
• CHECK YOUR BIAS. The belief that your intelligence protects you from erroneous assumptions can make you more vulnerable to them. We all have blind spots that affect the way we view others.
• HIDE YOUR PHONE. Don’t just put down your phone, put it away. Research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone can negatively impact the quality of a conversation.
Whether you’re struggling to communicate with your child’s teacher, your boss, your neighbor, or someone you love, Headlee offers smart strategies that can help us all have conversations that matter.
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Furthermore, Headlee believes that "our world has become so fractured by politics and distracted by technology that having a meaningful conversation can become a challenge." Too often we become irritated when others express contrary opinions. Civility, respect, and tact may go out the window when people get on their soapboxes. In "We Need to Talk," the author offers excellent strategies for improving the quality of our verbal interactions. She touches on such techniques as avoiding distractions; empathizing; acknowledging that we all have biases; disagreeing without becoming disagreeable; getting to the point rather than going off on long-winded tangents; staying in the moment; postponing a conversation gracefully when you are exhausted or out of sorts; admitting that you are wrong and that you don't know all the answers; and listening with an open mind.
This book, based on a well-received TED talk, is breezy, intimate, honest (the author admits her mistakes and tells us what she learned from them), and includes relevant and lively anecdotes that nicely illustrate Headlee's points. Alas, nothing will bring back the lost art of letter-writing--and what a shame that is--but perhaps this well-written and entertaining book will help restore civil dialogue which, these days, appears to be on the brink of extinction. Let's put away our electronic devices and, as Headlee advises, "go talk to someone. Better yet, go listen to someone. People will surprise you."
I was pleasantly surprised how good her advice is. Here are the chapters:
Conversation is a Survival Skill
Communication and Conversation Are Not the Same
You Can't Outsmart A Bad Conversation
Set the Stage
Some Conversations Are Harder Than Others
Be There Or Go Elsewhere
It's Not the Same
Get Off The Soapbox
Keep It Short
That's A Great Question
You Can't Know Everything
Stay Out of the Weeds
Sometimes We Shouldn't Talk
The introduction establishes her bona vides in a variety of situations as an expert (as close as one can be) on communication. At the close of it, she clarifies her goal: ""We must learn how to talk to one another and, more important, listen to one another. We must learn to talk to people we disagree with, because you can't unfriend everyone in real life. ...What bothers me is that we don't talk to each other but at each other, and we usually don't. listen." She hopes to make an improvement in that.
This is an easy to read book with a lot of real world examples (not mainly of conversations). I wouldn't have expected a book like this--advice and opinion--to be footnoted, but it is, because of the many examples. She's done a TED talk you could watch online if curious.
She gets to Chapter 4 to make the point that "Maybe I didn't know as much about making conversation as I thought I did", dismissing some of the traditional "tips" (eye contact and so on) along the way. One of her main points seems obvious but is easy to overlook: "People get upset when their expectations aren't met". She has a lot of advice for conversations, as you'd expect, "respect" being a big part of all of it. The second half of the book goes into specific strategies--ones we've all thought of "mindfulness", "keeping it short" and so on--but they're easy to hear and then forget about. Her book has value in laying them out and taking one per chapter to focus attention and thought on looking at ourselves and how we could improve in conversation.