How to have a better conversation.


My inspiration and information for this week’s article comes from a very interesting Ted talk by Celeste Headlee.

  • 10 Ways to have a better conversation by Celeste Headlee.
  • Celeste’s 10 recommendations with language notes (definitions for the more difficult English words)
  • Recommended reading Practice: Listening to people, Harvard Business Review, 1957.
  • Last week’s Valentine’s Vocabulary Quiz Answer Key.


10 Ways to have a better conversation

Tedtalks Celeste Headlee, recommended watching,, the blog to improve and practice your English.

This Tedtalk is by Celeste Headlee and is clear, entertaining and gives great tips for native speakers and also for learners of English. If you prefer to watch it with subtitles there are English and lots of different language subtitles. Also the transcript (*the exact words she says) are available below the video on Tedtalks.



Click here to watch the talk on the Tedtalks web page.


The ten tips from Celeste with vocabulary notes.


1) Don’t multitask*. And I don’t mean just set down your cell phone or your tablet or your car keys or whatever is in your hand. I mean, be present*. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner.

  • *to multitask = to do more than one thing at the same time.  
  • *Be present = pay attention to what is happening in that precise moment.


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.

  • *Pontificate = express your opinion believing you are the only correct person in the world and in a boring way.
  • *Pushback = accepting that others will argue with you or try to persuade you to change your opinion.


3) Use open-ended questions*. In this case, take a cue* from journalists. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple answer out. If I ask you, “Were you terrified?” you’re going to respond to the most powerful word in that sentence, which is “terrified,” and the answer is “Yes, I was” or “No, I wasn’t.” “Were you angry?” “Yes, I was very angry.” Let them describe it. They’re the ones that know. Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response*.

  • *open-ended question = a question which won’t be answered with a yes or no.
  • *Take a cue from… = follow this person’s method.
  • *Response = Answer.


4) Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We’ve heard interviews often in which a guest is talking for several minutes and then the host* comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere*, or it’s already been answered. That means the host probably stopped listening two minutes ago because he thought of this really clever question, and he was just bound* and determined to say that. And we do the exact same thing. We’re sitting there having a conversation with someone, and then we remember that time that we met Hugh Jackman in a coffee shop.

  • *host = person in leading the interview, or in control of an event.
  • *Like it comes out of nowhere = something is said which has no relationship to the current topic.
  • *Bound to = is extremely likely to.


5) If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Now, people on the radio, especially 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*.

  • *They are going on the record = it is recorded and can be used as proof that they said that legally.
  • *To claim something = to say something is true.
  • *To err on the side of caution = to be very careful of what you do or say.


6) Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about having lost a family member*, don’t start talking about the time you lost a family member. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don’t need to take that moment to prove* how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered.

  • *to lose a family member = someone in your family has died.
  • *To prove something = to show, give evidence or demonstrate something.


7) Try not to repeat yourself. It’s condescending*, and it’s really boring, and we tend to 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.

  • *condescending = talking to someone in a way that shows we think they are less intelligent or less educated.
  • *To tend to do something = have a habit of doing something.
  • *To rephrase something = to say the same thing again but using other words and phrases.


8) Stay out of the weeds*.  Frankly*, 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. So forget the details. Leave them out.

  • *Stay out of the weeds = Don’t spend time on the little points that no one cares about.
  • *Frankly = Honestly.
  • *To struggle = to have trouble, to use a lot of effort.
  • *To come up with = to remember or invent.


9) This is not the last one, but it is the most important one. 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. Buddha said, and I’m paraphrasing*, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” And Calvin Coolidge said, “No man ever listened his way out of a job.”

  • *to paraphrase = to say it in my own words or in different words but to still have the same basic meaning.


10) Be brief*.

  • *To be brief = keep it short and concise/clear.


Recommended Reading

Listening to People, Harvard Business Review 1957.

Have a look at this interesting article called ” Listening to people.” From the Harvard Business Review, in 1959.  Read and check if you agree with their opinions and suggestions.

Click here to see the article.


Last week’s Valentine’s Vocabulary quiz, Answer key 🔑


10 Ways to say I love you and more. Learn English with the  for ESL learners of English. Romantic expressions, idioms, quotesTo visit my Valentine’s blog with the information to be able to do the quiz and the quiz click here!



Answer key. For Valentine's Vocabulary Quiz 11.02.18. The blog to learn and practice your English.


Now, tell me in the comments- what aspect of having a better conversation do you think you need to work on?


I definitely need to work on rephrasing and repeating myself too much and a few more.

Have a great week with good conversations in English.

See you next week, hugs,










About Kim Griffiths

Hello, I'm Kim. I'm a qualified English ESL teacher with a CELTA A qualification and I have over 25 years of experience teaching English to non-native speakers. I love teaching! I also write about English, sing jazz, paint and make things.

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