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  • All right, I want to see a show of hands:

  • how many of you have unfriended someone on Facebook

  • because they said something offensive about politics or religion,

  • childcare, food?

  • (Laughter)

  • And how many of you know at least one person that you avoid

  • because you just don't want to talk to them?

  • (Laughter)

  • You know, it used to be that in order 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-vaxxing, those subjects --

  • (Laughter)

  • are not safe either.

  • So this world that we live in,

  • this world in which every conversation

  • has the potential to devolve into an argument,

  • where our politicians can't speak to one another

  • and where even the most trivial of issues

  • have someone fighting both passionately for it and against it, it's not normal.

  • Pew Research did a study of 10,000 American adults,

  • and they found that at this moment, we are more polarized,

  • we are more divided,

  • than we ever have been in history.

  • We're less likely to compromise,

  • which means we're not listening to each other.

  • And we make decisions about where to live,

  • who to marry and even who our friends are going to be,

  • based on what we already believe.

  • Again, that means we're not listening to each other.

  • A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening,

  • and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.

  • Now, part of that is due to technology.

  • The smartphones that you all either have in your hands

  • or close enough that you could grab them really quickly.

  • According to Pew Research,

  • about a third of American teenagers send more than a hundred texts a day.

  • And many of them, almost most of them, are more likely to text their friends

  • than they are to talk to them face to face.

  • There's this great piece in The Atlantic.

  • It was written by a high school teacher named Paul Barnwell.

  • And he gave his kids a communication project.

  • He wanted to teach them how to speak on a specific subject without using notes.

  • And he said this: "I came to realize..."

  • (Laughter)

  • "I came to realize that conversational competence

  • might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.

  • Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens,

  • but rarely do they have an opportunity

  • to hone their interpersonal communications skills.

  • It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves:

  • Is there any 21st-century skill

  • more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?"

  • Now, I make my living talking to people:

  • Nobel Prize winners, truck drivers,

  • billionaires, kindergarten teachers,

  • heads of state, plumbers.

  • I talk to people that I like. I talk to people that I don't like.

  • I talk to some people that I disagree with deeply on a personal level.

  • But I still have a great conversation with them.

  • So I'd like to spend the next 10 minutes or so teaching you how to talk

  • and how to listen.

  • Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this,

  • things like look the person in the eye,

  • think of interesting topics to discuss in advance,

  • look, nod and smile to show that you're paying attention,

  • repeat back what you just heard or summarize it.

  • So I want you to forget all of that.

  • It is crap.

  • (Laughter)

  • There is no reason to learn how to show you're paying attention

  • if you are in fact paying attention.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Now, I actually use the exact same skills as a professional interviewer

  • that I do in regular life.

  • So, I'm going to teach you how to interview people,

  • and that's actually going to help you learn how to be better conversationalists.

  • Learn to have a conversation

  • without wasting your time, without getting bored,

  • and, please God, without offending anybody.

  • We've all had really great conversations.

  • We've had them before. We know what it's like.

  • The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired,

  • or where you feel like you've made a real connection

  • or you've been perfectly understood.

  • There is no reason

  • why most of your interactions can't be like that.

  • So I have 10 basic rules. I'm going to walk you through all of them,

  • but honestly, if you just choose one of them and master it,

  • you'll already enjoy better conversations.

  • Number one: 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.

  • 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.

  • Number two: Don't pontificate.

  • If you want to state your opinion

  • without any opportunity for response or argument or pushback or growth,

  • write a blog.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, there's a really good reason why I don't allow pundits on my show:

  • Because they're really boring.

  • If they're conservative, they're going to hate Obama and food stamps and abortion.

  • If they're liberal, they're going to hate

  • big banks and oil corporations and Dick Cheney.

  • Totally predictable.

  • And you don't want to be like that.

  • You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn.

  • The famed therapist M. Scott Peck said

  • that true listening requires a setting aside of oneself.

  • And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion.

  • He said that sensing this acceptance,

  • the speaker will become less and less vulnerable

  • and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses

  • of his or her mind to the listener.

  • Again, assume that you have something to learn.

  • Bill Nye: "Everyone you will ever meet knows something that you don't."

  • I put it this way:

  • Everybody is an expert in something.

  • Number three: 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.

  • Number four: 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.

  • (Laughter)

  • And we stop listening.

  • Stories and ideas are going to come to you.

  • You need to let them come and let them go.

  • Number five: 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.

  • Talk should not be cheap.

  • Number six: 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.

  • Somebody asked Stephen Hawking once what his IQ was, and he said,

  • "I have no idea. People who brag about their IQs are losers."

  • (Laughter)

  • Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.

  • Number seven:

  • 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.

  • Number eight: 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.

  • Number nine:

  • 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."

  • (Laughter)

  • Why do we not listen to each other?

  • Number one, we'd rather talk.

  • When I'm talking, I'm in control.

  • I don't have to hear anything I'm not interested in.

  • I'm the center of attention.

  • I can bolster my own identity.

  • But there's another reason:

  • We get distracted.

  • The average person talks at about 225 word per minute,

  • but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute.

  • So our minds are filling in those other 275 words.

  • And look, I know, it takes effort and energy

  • to actually pay attention to someone,

  • but if you can't do that, you're not in a conversation.

  • You're just two people shouting out barely related sentences

  • in the same place.

  • (Laughter)

  • You have to listen to one another.

  • Stephen Covey said it very beautifully.

  • He said, "Most of us don't listen with the intent to understand.

  • We listen with the intent to reply."

  • One more rule, number 10, and it's this one: Be brief.

  • [A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest,

  • but long enough to cover the subject. -- My Sister]

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • All of this boils down to the same basic concept, and it is this one:

  • Be interested in other people.

  • You know, I grew up with a very famous grandfather,

  • and there was kind of a ritual in my home.

  • People would come over to talk to my grandparents,

  • and after they would leave, my mother would come over to us,

  • and she'd say, "Do you know who that was?

  • She was the runner-up to Miss America.

  • He was the mayor of Sacramento.

  • She won a Pulitzer Prize. He's a Russian ballet dancer."

  • And I kind of grew up assuming

  • everyone has some hidden, amazing thing about them.

  • And honestly, I think it's what makes me a better host.

  • I keep my mouth shut as often as I possibly can,

  • I keep my mind open,

  • and I'm always prepared to be amazed,

  • and I'm never disappointed.

  • You do the same thing.