I love TED Talks. These short, informative and often witty lectures allow me to peek into the professional world of some highly influential and inspiring thinkers of our day. I’ve learned all kinds of things from people who have spent a lifetime studying, refining, researching and loving the journey of discovery. As a communication trainer, I also nerd out on observing the different communication styles of the various speakers. However, I was completely caught off guard by the TED Talk, “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” by Celeste Headlee, who is the host of the Georgia Public Broadcasting program On Second Thought.
From the moment a child is born, we beg, coax, teach, reward, and applaud those first words. Conversations are daily occurrences, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes necessary, sometimes difficult, but never really rare. We’ve been communicating since existence. Although we don’t talk 100% of the time, we do communicate 100% of the time. Although Headlee does an outstanding job with the presentation, she isn’t dealing with conflict, confrontation, awkward, or crazy conversations; just a polite one-on-one verbal exchange. How is it possible that we need a TED Talk to be able to talk to each other?
Headlee isn’t alone in thinking we need a few tips to help us talk to each other. She quotes Paul Barnwell, a high school English teacher who said, “I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single-most overlooked skill we fail to teach students. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and one another through screens—but rarely do they have an opportunity to truly hone their interpersonal communication skills.”
As the self-appointed communication evangelist, this makes me want to weep. If we can’t talk to each other, what else can we possibly hope to do? If I’ve learned anything as an unlikely church leader, I’ve learned that relationships determine the culture of our churches, and conversations dictate our relationships.
I wonder if the Sermon on the Mount was the forerunner of the TED Talk. Headlee had ten pointers; Jesus had eight Beatitudes. Just for fun, let’s connect the two and see what happens.
1. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Headlee said, “Get comfortable saying, ‘I don’t know.’”
Connect the two. Possessing the humility to say “I don’t know,” is always a good thing in conversation and in relationships.
2. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Headlee said, “Don’t equate your experience with theirs. No matter the similarities, it’s not the same.”
Connect the two. Heartbreak and tragedy are universal but we still long to be acknowledged as unique individuals and comforted as such. Our conversations should reflect that.
3. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Headlee said, “Don’t pontificate; that’s what blogs are for. Enter every conversation like you have something to learn. Be prepared to be amazed.”
Connect the two. This conversation is not your verbal resume. Every person has something incredible to reveal; we just need to pay attention.
4. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Headlee said, “Ask open ended questions. Let people describe events and emotions on their own.”
Connect the two. Surely a part of righteousness is to hunger to understand the people around us. Completely independent from agreement, there is nothing more validating that to be in context, understood, and loved.
5. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Headlee said, “Be brief and stay out of the weeds. Nobody cares what year it was, what you were wearing, or all those other details that are stalling your conversation. They care about you.”
Connect the two. Have mercy on us, skip the unimportant, and tell the story in a way that reveals who you are.
6. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
Headlee said, “Be present in the conversation. Focus on the person in front of you.”
Connect the two. Look for how this person reflects a part of Christ, God’s creation, and you won’t have any trouble being present.
7. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Headlee said, “Listen and go with the flow. There is no need to purposely nod, paraphrase, or lean forward if you are, indeed, listening instead of planning what to say next.”
Connect the two. Sincerely listening is the best peacemaking methodology of all time.
8. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Headlee said, “Don’t repeat yourself. Many of our conversations are a series of loosely related sentences in which we just keep rephrasing the same point.”
Connect the two. Stop it. Repeating yourself because you are not getting the response you want is just persecution for the listener, because you want to be right, not enduring persecution for the sake of righteousness.
I’m a firm believer that our conversations reveal what kind of relationship we desire, as well as reveal our perception of the relationship Christ wants with us. I’m confident we all desire to be more Christlike. My prayer is that our conversations effectively communicate that deep and worthy desire.