Listen with a naked mind

“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”.

That’s one of many interesting sayings about conversation that Celeste Headlee, an US singer, reporter and radio host with 16 years of experiences shared in her TED talk . She makes a living out of talking to people and her guests vary from Nobel prize to plumbers, including people she both likes and doesn’t like, and still having amazing talks. As described in her bio, Celeste “knows the ingredients of a great conversation”.

She might not be the most well-known talker, yet the advice she gives are succinct and very worth listening, delivered in a very articulate and funny manner. Her 10 tips are:

1. Don’t multitask.

2. Don’t pontificate (or trying to fill up the conversation with your opinion)

3. Use open-ended questions.

4.  Go with the flow (stop the urge to interrupt)

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

6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.

7.  Try not to repeat yourself.

8.  Stay out of the weeds (don’t focus too much on trivial details)


10. Be brief.


If I can get something out of her talk, the only word that would stay is LISTEN. And all the other 9 tips eventually boils down to curiosity and attention, the thing we all crave from other human beings. Curiosity and attention leads to engaging conversations.

I am lucky enough to do a job that allows me to talk with different people from around the world in my comfort zone. With amazing chances to interact with interesting people coming from various places, so many times I let great conversations slip out of hand. So many times I listen with my head filled with assumptions or just stop talking altogether.

 I was in my little bubble, a comfort zone I know well and the others were, on the contrary, in their foreign zone.

Hence I talk with automated replies for their questions. I forget that each is interesting & individual with their own motivation & story.

I ask questions with assumptions in mind. The assumptions quickly fill the mind, leaving no room for exploration.


If you care and curious, you do these things automatically. But sometimes it works vice versa. It’s easy to have a great conversation with whom we like or agree with us, but so difficult to talk with someone whose different values or ideologies.

Most of the time we argue to win, not to understand. And as the saying goes “You can’t win an argument”. The argument will soon be taken personally, leading to personal attack.

With me, I am trying to figure out how to talk with family. Talking with family is hard for it is filled with assumptions: we think we know our family well. May not so. Without frequent input, the mutual understanding will go dry.

Exploring our dearest people requires a naked mind.

Maybe that’s reason why we feel more comfortable to open up with total strangers?


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