4 TED talks on the power of a great conversation

- Communication

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by Jennifer Riggins

“How do I deal with an employee that is constantly late?”

This question was posed at this month’s Management 3.0 Meetup in London. Jurgen, who was our guest speaker, said “Who cares?” because he shares the belief that people should be able to come in when they want. Of course, this became more complicated since it is a customer support role and, well, if you’re advertising times they can call in, you better have someone answering the phone. Another Management 3.0 facilitator and Meetup co-organizer Ryan advised that a Feedback Wrap would be a good way to let the employee know how you feel.

I went a different, simpler route — why not just ask him why he’s always late? It may be that the teammate doesn’t know the British’s cultural love of punctuality or maybe something bigger is up, like he is rushing to get a kid to school or caring for an elderly parent. Or maybe he’s completely demotivated by his work and dreads coming to the office. It just seemed to me that the easiest way to solve such a small problem would be to talk to the person directly.

So now we are focusing on inspiring TED talks about the power of a great conversation.

Just what is the conversation meaning anyway?

Before we dive right in, let’s clarify what the conversation meaning is (and is not) from the four foremost dictionaries:

  • Dictionary.com says a conversation (noun) is an informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.
    association or social intercourse; intimate acquaintance.
    the ability to talk socially with others.
  • Meriam-Webster calls a conversation (noun) is an informal talk involving two people or a small group of people : the act of talking in an informal way.
    oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas
    an informal discussion of an issue by representatives of governments, institutions, or groups.
  • Oxford Dictionaries dubs a conversation (noun) as a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged
    The origin is in Middle English, in the sense ‘living among, familiarity, intimacy’
  • Google puts it as a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.

From these it seems clear that a conversation is really a conversation exchange of questions, ideas, opinions and information. It involves both talking and listening. But what’s involved in a great conversation? These TED talks tell us now!

John O’Leary: The importance of good conversation – and how to have it

It is truly no exaggeration to say that World War III was averted because President Kennedy had learned how to create better conversation among his staff.

John O’Leary

“Would the O-rings hold up in the cold temperature tomorrow or not?” That was a three-hour conversation the night before the ill-fated Challenger launch. We know now that they didn’t. “This was a failure of human communication,” says John at the start of his talk.

From a technical side, he’s realized “how often that a conversation before execution makes the difference between success and failure.” John’s talk highlights the importance of a good conversation through examples from John F. Kennedy’s presidency, with lessons learned for better conversations that maybe saved the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

John then explains how the quality of our conversations dictates the quality of our decisions, which then of course affect the quality of our outcomes.

Celeste Headlee: 10 ways to have a better conversation

It used to be that if we wanted to have a polite conversation, we just had to follow the advice of Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: Stick to the weather and your health. But, these days, with climate change and anti-vaccinating, I think that those subjects are not safe either.

Celeste Headlee

How many people have you befriended on Facebook because they said something you didn’t like? How many of you avoid someone because you just don’t want to talk to them? Celeste starts her talk with some questions that have us hesitating before we almost all certainly raise our hands. We live in a world where more and more the supposed great orators of politicians aren’t even speaking to each other.

We are less likely to compromise and are more divided than any time in human history. Celeste points out how we’re doing the talking part, but not the listening much. For this talk, she talks offers ways to hone our interpersonal communication skills — and she doesn’t talk about nodding, repeating back and other crap!

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

The human voice: It’s the instrument we all play. It’s the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It’s the only one that can start a war or say ‘I love you’.

Julian Treasure

What a powerful way to kick off the talk. Why aren’t people listening to us? Most of this conversation of conversations is about the listening side of the conversation, but maybe we’re not saying anything worth listening to? Julian starts off by offering his 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking:

  • gossip
  • judging
  • negativity
  •  complaining
  • excuses
  • lying
  • dogmatism

And then he offers the four ways to cure these sins through his HAIL: Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity, and Love. His tricks are fantastic tips for how to have a conversation that’s meaningful.

Clint Smith: The danger of silence

I don’t have the words to describe this talk and there aren’t enough words on this page to quote it without quoting each line, which would then fall flat compared with this TED talk. When things like this are happening now and words are used for such pain, Clint’s fantastic talk is the talk to remind us to not only say things of value, but to never hold them back when we see other people being held back. Talk about good conversation starters!

When’s the last time you’ve had a great conversation? Read this piece on TED about “9 Talks to Inspire Smart Conversation” today to get your next convo ready today!

Photo: Juri Gianfrancesco (Unsplash)

One thought on "4 TED talks on the power of a great conversation"

  • Sam Mednick says:

    Love Celeste Headlee and I use her talk with so many of my coaching clients! Great pick.

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