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We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter

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In this urgent and insightful book, public radio journalist Celeste Headlee shows us how to bridge what divides us--by having real conversations

NPR's Best Books of 2017

Winner of the 2017 Silver Nautilus Award in Relationships & Communication

“We Need to Talk is an important read for a conversationally-challenged, disconnected age. Headlee is a talented, honest storyteller, and her advice has helped me become a better spouse, friend, and mother.”  (Jessica Lahey, author of New York Times bestseller The Gift of Failure)

Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.

And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication. For example: 

BE THERE OR GO ELSEWHERE. Human beings are incapable of multitasking, and this is especially true of tasks that involve language. Think you can type up a few emails while on a business call, or hold a conversation with your child while texting your spouse? Think again.
CHECK YOUR BIAS. The belief that your intelligence protects you from erroneous assumptions can end up making you more vulnerable to them. We all have blind spots that affect the way we view others. Check your bias before you judge someone else.
HIDE YOUR PHONE. Don’t just put down your phone, put it away. New research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone can negatively impact the quality of a conversation.
Whether you’re struggling to communicate with your kid’s teacher at school, an employee at work, or the people you love the most—Headlee offers smart strategies that can help us all have conversations that matter.


272 pages, ebook

First published September 19, 2017

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Celeste Headlee

6 books233 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 496 reviews
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,101 reviews44 followers
September 21, 2018
Lots of nuggets of wisdom regarding good communication skills, and in particular conversation skills, in this book. After all, "Good conversation doesn't happen naturally, though most of us assume the opposite." (p. 35) Honest and to the point, Headlee's strategies will help you improve your conversation skills, as well as know and understand others better.
Profile Image for Liza Fireman.
839 reviews141 followers
May 3, 2018
This book can be summarized in a few short sentences, maybe one for the most part. We need to listen, and actually talk less. This is an important lesson, since we tend to talk and not listen much, and we tend to talk about ourselves.

As recited in the book: Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious.

But it's quite amusing, that in a book that talks about "conversational narcissism" the author writes 90% of the book about... themselves. "I" is mentioned there about 70 million times, and what the author said, thought, heard or bought in a store. Like many of us in conversations, I wasn't super happy or interested in that.
Here is some of that:
* After that meeting, I started to take notice of how often I repeated negative feedback. I did it a lot, and it was affecting staff morale. The thing is, it would have never occurred to me that repetition alone could be heard as criticism had this producer not spoken up.
* But more important, the truth is that most of the time we aren’t really listening at all. I was at the grocery store recently and told the cashier, “My reusable bags are buried in my cart. Give me a minute to get them out.” She looked directly at me and said, “Okay, sure. I hear you,” while she was bagging my groceries in plastic bags. I had to repeat myself twice more before she really heard me.
* I had relegated the melodies to the background of my mind, not even paying close attention on those occasions when I was seated in a concert hall with the lights down. I simply allowed the music to play while I thought about other things. When I finally listened, really listened, the music moved me in a powerful way. It was almost a spiritual experience, and that’s not far from the experience I have sometimes when I truly listen to other people.

A much better book that touches this area is Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone. There are some awesome insights that I took with me from there.
And I want to add The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage by Brené Brown. This one highlights empathy, listening and sharing, topics that are dealt also in We Need to Talk: A Practical Guide to the Lost Art of Conversation.
We need to listen, sometimes especially to advice that we give to others. 2 stars.
Profile Image for sAmAnE.
459 reviews76 followers
January 31, 2022
در گفت و گو، همانند زندگی، نمی‌توانید کارها حرف‌های دیگران را کنترل کنید و تنها توانایی کنترل خودتان را دارید. اما گاهی همین اندازه هم کافی است.
روان درمانگر مشهور ام اسکات پک نوشته است که گوش دادن حقیقی نیازمند کنار گذاشتن خویشتن است. گوش دادن و صحبت کردن یک رابطه‌ی دو سویه است در واقع این‌گونه به موضوع نگاه کنیم که هرکسی چیزی برای یاد دادن به ما دارد و این باعث می شود که هرگز سرخورده نشویم.
کتاب در دو بخش به بررسی این پرداخت که چگونه گفت‌وگو و مکالمه‌ای مفید و مؤثر داشته باشیم؟ کتاب دو بخش دارد که بخش اول فلسفه‌ی مکالمه را توضیح می‌دهد و در بخش دوم مهارت‌های کاربردی و پیشنهاداتی ارائه می‌شود از جمله فواید سکوت، چگونگی پرسش و ...
کتاب خیلی واقع گرایانه به مسئله پرداخته و به این موضوع هم اشاره کرده که هر تغییر و بهبود در روابط نیازمند زمان است.
جداً مکالمه‌ی خوب داشتن، گوش دادن و خوب حرف زدن مهارت‌هایی هستند یاد گرفتنی و نیازمند تمرین...
من مقایسه‌ای با متن اصلی کتاب نداشتم اما ترجمه خوب و روان بود.
کتاب پر از مثال‌هایی قابل درک و ملموس از اتفاقات روزمره‌ی نویسنده بود و به این نکته اشاره شده که قبل از سخن گفتن از افکار و احساسات خودمان آگاه باشیم و بر این تمرکز کنیم که چگونه می‌توانیم بهتر گفت و گو کنیم؛ یکی از از نکات جالب توجه نیاز به داشتن حس همدلی بین افراد بود که گاهی این‌ها در حد حرف و نظر باقی می‌مانند!
همدلی یعنی اینکه بگویید همراه با تو آن حس را تجربه می‌کنم ولی همدردی یعنی این‌که بتوانید بگویید حس تو را می‌فهمم همدردی می‌تواند به سطح ترحم تنزل پیدا کند ولی همدلی مجبورتان می‌کند تا با طرف مقابل احساس پیوند داشته باشید و به این تشخیص برسید که همه‌ی ما انسانیم، همه در تکاپوییم و همه با هم مرتبطین.
قانون طلایی این است که با دیگران چنان کن که خواهی با تو چنان کنند.
۵ راهکار برای کمک به تسهیل گفتگوی سازنده این‌ها هستند: ۱_کنجکاو باشید. ۲_سوگیری‌های خودتان را بررسی کنید. ۳_احترام بگذارید. ۴_پیگیر باشید. ۵_خوب تمامش کنید.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,390 reviews2,276 followers
July 3, 2019
I first encountered the author when I randomly watched her Ted Talk on how to improve your conversations. I felt that her Ted Talk was engaging and offered really practical tips on how you can be a better conversationalist. I saw this book and I felt it would be great to refresh and improve my conversation skills. Before I continue, if you watched her Ted Talk, honestly you can skip the book because majority of what was said in the Ted Talk was just expounded on in this book.

I found out while reading this book that I am a conversational narcissist … yes I know, I am a horrible person. Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency to insert oneself into a conversation as “conversational narcissism.” It’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. It is often subtle and unconscious.
Derber writes that conversational narcissism “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America. It occurs in informal conversations among friends, family, and coworkers.

So you get why I need to read a book like this and improve? I did enjoy reading this book and I do feel like I will get a physical copy so I can flip to when I feel like my conversations are waning. Here are some advice that Celeste Headless suggests and some things I found interesting.

The business psychiatrist Mark Goulston says we only have about forty seconds to speak during a conversation before we run the risk of dominating the exchange. He describes the first twenty seconds as the green light, when the other person likes you and is enjoying what you have to say. The next twenty seconds are the yellow light, when “the other person is beginning to lose interest or think you’re long-winded.” At forty seconds, Goulston says, the light turns red and it’s time to stop talking.

A great reminder for everyone.

Profile Image for Andrea.
874 reviews70 followers
July 29, 2017
Headlee is a news show host on NPR whose primary business is interviewing people and learning from what they tell her. In this book, she uses her own observations backed up with current research to present several ways we can improve the quality of our conversations. Headlee argues that with Americans more divided than at any time in recent history, we are losing the ability to have civil, engaged conversations. The strategies she presents are not necessarily new or groundbreaking, but help us to recover the lost skill of difficult and involved conversation. She covers the idea of active listening, overcoming our bias in conversations, and mindfulness.

I found this a useful discussion. The only disappointments for me were Headlee's apparent disregard for small talk or banter and her insistence that timing is crucial to good conversation, even to the point that she recommends simply walking away from conversations when we may be too tired or distracted to fully engage. While I understand that she is trying to present culturally specific advice for Americans, I think there are many times when important conversations must happen on someone else's timetable, not our own. I also think that preserve our verbal interactions for "quality" conversations disregards the social cohesion that small talk builds. Growing up in a large family and marrying into a culture that highly values both small talk and deep conversation, I think social interaction is a learned skill but I also think quantity can have a value even when the "quality" of the interaction is limited.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I plan to use excerpts for discussions with my college students about conversation styles and also active listening and audience awareness.
Profile Image for Denver Public Library.
592 reviews271 followers
November 5, 2020
Colorado's 2020 read for Conflict Resolution month is engaging as it is instructive. As a show host on public radio in Georgia, Michigan and NPR, Headlee learned how to use curiosity to hold meaningful conversations with people she didn't like nor agree. Curiosity helped her stay vested in the conversations, learning as much about herself as those she was interviewing.
Profile Image for Leigh Kramer.
Author 1 book1,163 followers
November 8, 2017
Celeste Headlee believes conversation can change the world and after reading her book We Need To Talk, I agree.

Good conversations increase our empathy and they help us consider other points of view, whether it's a political issue or how to handle a tricky situation at work or even a helpful tip related to a household chore. We walk away understanding ourselves and the other person better than we did before.

This, of course, takes work. More importantly, it takes self-awareness. Most of us believe we're better conversationalists than we actually are.

And there's the rub. When I started reading, I thought I had a pretty good handle on my conversation skills. There are, of course, areas I can work on but overall, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I'm a great listener and naturally empathetic. I used to be a social worker, for pete's sake. It was tempting to think about how much other people really needed to read this book.

But Headlee called me out. Well, she called us all out. We've all made mistakes when it comes to conversation. We've said things we wish we hadn't, we've spaced out, our words have hurt the people we love and strangers alike. At a time when we're growing more divided and disconnected, we can't afford not to think about how to converse better. 

The book is divided into two parts. The first section focuses on the philosophy of conversation. How do we define a good or bad conversation? What can conversation teach us? What does the research say? I found chapter 3 about the hallmarks of good and bad conversation to be especially pertinent. Chapters 4 and 5 made me think a lot about my expectations of conversation and how I can fine tune my approach for difficult conversations. I may or may not have needed this reminder while discussing a hot political topic the other night.

The second half of the book offers practical suggestions, such as how to ask questions, the benefits of silence, and why repetition doesn't actually help us communicate. It also discusses when we shouldn't converse- because there are times when this is the correct response. I was underlining and asterisking so many parts. It's made me view conversation in a whole different light and I'm already trying to put her suggestions into practice.

We Need To Talk offers practical, insightful advice on how to improve our conversations. It's well-written and easy to read. In fact, it mimics Headlee's advice on how to have better conversations. It's focused and to the point. It's engaging. It asks good questions. It invites us to learn about ourselves and the world around us.

The truth is we all need to heed Headlee's wisdom. I have a feeling I'll be referring back to this book for years to come. It's not enough for me to read it; I need to apply its truths to my life. Hold me to it.

Disclosure: I received an ARC from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Katy.
18 reviews
June 24, 2020
Listen. Cut to the chase. Stop formulating your responses while people are still talking to you. This was a really interesting read!
Profile Image for Paria shn.
114 reviews20 followers
December 30, 2021
من ترجمه این کتاب رو خوندم از نشر مون،«باید باهم حرف بزنیم»
متاسفانه اینجا ویداش نکردم ولی خیلی پیشنهاد میکنم بخونید این کتاب رو.
حرف زدن و گوش کردن یه هنر هست و یادگیریش مثل هر مهارت دیگه ای به زمان و تمرین نیاز داره.
از طرفی مهارتی هست که فکر کنم بیشتر از هرچیزی توی زندگیمون نیاز داریم.
این کتاب مفاهیم و موضوعات جالبی رو در مورد حرف زدن و درست و به موقع حرف زدن و حتی حرف نزدن میگه.
Profile Image for Deanna.
309 reviews22 followers
April 19, 2018
“The attempt to change somebody’s mind is the death of good conversation.”

The ability to hold good conversations has become important to me; the skill for both listening and speaking is one that I would like to sharpen.

I came across We Need To Talk via a podcast where I heard the author speak of her work. She made a positive impression. I became curious about her book. The book did not disappoint.

Within the pages I found many good and practical pointers to improve conversation for both speaking and listening. The author’s writing style appealed, and her voice throughout made the information presented very accesible. I came away from the book with many quotes and ideas to apply to my daily life. This does not mean my conversation skills improved overnight as that’s a constant work in progress. Rather, I now have a clearer idea on what to keep in mind, where I can improve, and which steps to take over time. This is a book to return to periodically. There is a lot of good stuff to take in.

A few quotes:

“Through my experience and research, I’ve identified five key strategies that help facilitate a productive dialogue. They are: be curious, check your bias, show respect, stay the course, and end well.” p63

“The most basic of all human needs,” said Dr. Ralph Nichols, who pioneered the study of listening, “is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” I can say without exaggeration that listening is the most important skill I’ve acquired in my life.” p221

“To experience empathy, we must establish a connection between our idea of ourselves and of another person. We have to ask questions like, “Would I like it if that happened to me?” “How would I feel if someone ran over my mailbox?” p23
Profile Image for Ryan.
423 reviews14 followers
September 26, 2018
This is a topic that's become deeply important to me over the last few years - both as someone who publishes conversations as podcasts, and in my daily life. We could all listen more - all make a deeper effort to engage.

A lot of what Headlee brings up hit bullseyes for me...so here's hoping it will help me be a better listener and a better conversationalist.
Profile Image for Meghan Lyons.
63 reviews
March 27, 2022
This book was a great, fast read - and so relevant to today. I am currently working on “listen more, talk less”, and this book gave me all kinds of insight about how to actually improve the quality of my conversations. I’m excited to start focusing on some of the author’s recommendations- she gave specific, simple things to work on.

Only post-read thought: most of this book was based on the premise that conversations are 1-on-1, but many of my conversations are in larger groups. Not entirely sure how the ideas translate to these group situations.
Profile Image for Ashlyn.
23 reviews1 follower
August 3, 2019
An excellent book. Practical and written from an experts perspective but with humility and humour. Highly recommend!!!
Profile Image for BOOKLOVER EB.
676 reviews
October 9, 2017
Journalist and radio host Celeste Headlee, in her well-organized and nicely researched work of non-fiction, "We Need to Talk," suggests that too many of us do not listen attentively or communicate effectively. In an age of instant messaging, surfing the Web, Facebook, and email, how often do we have more than a cursory chat with our relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues? Although superficial exchanges are the stuff of everyday life, there are instances when hearing what someone else has to say and conveying what you think and feel can be significant. The words you speak and how you express yourself matter when, for example, you meet with your employer about an important work-related issue, discuss a health problem with your medical practitioner, or try to comfort someone who is bereaved. In her introduction, the author relates the tragic story of a plane that crashed, partly because a first officer was too timid to convince his captain that they should delay takeoff because of dangerous icing conditions. Seventy-eight people perished.

Furthermore, Headlee believes that "our world has become so fractured by politics and distracted by technology that having a meaningful conversation can become a challenge." Too often we become irritated when others express contrary opinions. Civility, respect, and tact may go out the window when people get on their soapboxes. In "We Need to Talk," the author offers excellent strategies for improving the quality of our verbal interactions. She touches on such techniques as avoiding distractions; empathizing; acknowledging that we all have biases; disagreeing without becoming disagreeable; getting to the point rather than going off on long-winded tangents; staying in the moment; postponing a conversation gracefully when you are exhausted or out of sorts; admitting that you are wrong and that you don't know all the answers; and listening with an open mind.

This book, based on a well-received TED talk, is breezy, intimate, honest (the author admits her mistakes and tells us what she learned from them), and includes relevant and lively anecdotes that nicely illustrate Headlee's points. Alas, nothing will bring back the lost art of letter-writing--and what a shame that is--but perhaps this well-written and entertaining book will help restore civil dialogue which, these days, appears to be on the brink of extinction. Let's put away our electronic devices and, as Headlee advises, "go talk to someone. Better yet, go listen to someone. People will surprise you."
Profile Image for Basma.
662 reviews2 followers
January 9, 2019
One of those books that you may already heard of it's content multiple times before but you still need to read it to refresh your mind and to give a bit more effort to understand and think about what the author is saying to fully grasp the meaning behind it all and it's implications.

I really enjoyed reading about this and it has made me think about many of the conversations I had, the ones I try to avoid, the ones I listen to half-heartedly, the ones where I can't wait for the person to shut up and leave me alone and the ones where I have hoped I have seen the person's face expression before talking and vise versa.

This book shows you that even if you don't think of yourself as a narcissist, it's still something that's in you that will come up every now and then especially in conversations. It shows how much we enjoy the bubble we create and the opinions that we wrap ourselves in without wanting to have a look outside and how that makes us prone to continuously claim we are right and everyone else is wrong without giving them a chance or the benefit of the doubt. I am without a doubt guilty of that as well in most cases. It's not an easy thing to step outside especially when it was quite a journey getting yourself to where you are now whether it's in beliefs or comfort/confidence or the types of conversations you have.

This book doesn't only teach us about where we can go wrong in conversations, but the importance to listen to ourselves as well and knowing when to have a conversation and when not to. When it's important to put yourself first and have a break or how to decline someones conversation in a polite way instead of listening half-heartedly and having the other person get annoyed. The importance of actively listening to someone instead of thinking of a quick reply immediately after they finish their sentence.

The author isn't one of those people that blames everything on technology and social media. She acknowledges its impact on us not being able to actively listen and have better conversations and the overall repercussions of that (such as empathy and compassion) but she also acknowledges it's importance in ours lives nowadays and I guess it's one of those things that we need to work around it instead of eliminating it because it's not something a lot of people -myself included- will be into.

There's so much to unpack from this book and I really hope that my subconscious retains most of the information.
May 31, 2021
First off - the dedication: "I wanted to be a better person so I could be a better mom." Awwwww...

Along with some less familiar to me, Celeste's book has the usual conversation 'rules' that most of us know - but few practice! (alas - me included)

The usual: actually listening (and don't try to fake it), don't say 'I know how you feel' (cause evidently you don't), don't be planning what you will say next, ask open-ended questions, don't talk too much (oops!).

The novel:
If not available to converse - either physically or mentally - graciously excuse yourself and reschedule.
Don't avoid conversations just because you have differences/disagreements with someone. Everyone knows something you don't. Listen for understanding/learning instead and don't enter with predetermined opinions.
Steer clear of repetition. Steer clear of repetition. Seriously, steer clear of repetition. ;)
Don't converse to teach - goes along with the no-no of unsolicited advice.
Trying to remember details to convey is a waste of time and doesn't contribute positively to the conversation.
People LOVE to talk about themselves, evidenced exhibiting physical manifestations of pleasure in the brain.
Observe the 'metadata' (my word) of the conversation - body language, the Why, etc - to help stay engaged.
I think the suggested tool that most surprised me was to, when appropriate, state the reason/objective for the conversation up front - especially helpful in difficult conversations.

I must admit, the reading brought out some defensiveness on my part. I would appreciate a two-way conversation about some of the tools presented, and at times felt like 'why even talk'! ;) (especially the part about not conversing to teach - my fav thing to do!)

But hopefully it will be ultimately beneficial to have these weaknesses illuminated. My friends and family will be the beneficiaries!
Profile Image for Brian Sachetta.
Author 2 books63 followers
March 13, 2022
I picked this book up after finishing one of Headlee’s other titles (“Do Nothing”). I just loved her writing style and down-to-earth approach. I’m glad I opted for this one as well, as it provided me with another great reading experience and more of Headlee’s keen wisdom.

The message of this one is clear and impactful: we’ve lost our ability to effectively communicate with one another, and that loss is taking a serious toll on our relationships and overall well-being. As Headlee points out, few of us actually talk “with” one another anymore — we simply talk “at” each other, then wait for our next chance to respond.

Technology isn’t helping this trend either — with the rise of the internet, it seems our attention spans have only gotten shorter, which has contributed further to our already faltering ability to effectively communicate with one another.

As the book nears its end, Headlee reminds us of a few key conversation insights. Namely: listening takes work, we all crave to be understood, and a happy life is social rather than solitary. As we put more focus on our conversational skills as a result of this book, maybe we’ll take those lessons to heart and improve several categories of our lives at once.

It’s another really great read that fans of the author and newcomers alike will enjoy.

-Brian Sachetta
Author of "Get Out of Your Head"
Profile Image for Brittney.
308 reviews2 followers
November 12, 2018
A few chaffing points, but even before I finished reading the book I *immediately* became better at conversing with others, which is help that I really need and want. Highly recommend, especially as we approach Thanksgiving 😉
August 21, 2020
I found this book really good and I am applying it in my day to day life.

To be a good conversationalist, What we almost all think is to speak more but that not true what actually needed is to listen more & talk less to win the affection of other people.

Everyone loves to speak, If we can really listen to them we would be a better conversationalist & have a good relationship.
Profile Image for LeAnn.
17 reviews
May 31, 2019
Very good. I learned some things I need to improve on!
Profile Image for Mey.
104 reviews38 followers
September 28, 2021
حجم زیادی کامن‌سنس.
خوندنش برام لذت‌بخش نبود.
Profile Image for Christina.
245 reviews26 followers
August 7, 2022
Her TedTalk about how to have a better conversation is one of my all time favorites- so of course I had to check out the follow up book- which only added to what I learned in the TedTalk.

If you're interested in having better conversations- I highly recommend this one.
Profile Image for Connor Sweeney.
37 reviews
September 1, 2022
very practical but was expecting more from the book. realized that I definitely someone who needs to get better at listening though
Profile Image for Bruce Ciotta.
31 reviews
July 21, 2020
Lots of helpful info on how to have meaningful conversations. Now all I have to do is implement. 🤨
1 review
July 9, 2022
Writing reviews isn't really my forte, but this book is so quintessentially wonderful and moving. Who would have thought that a book about conversations would be this moving and foundational to our understanding of both ourselves and others?

Deeply researched and brilliantly written. I would argue; one of the most important books of this decade. Loved every part of it, every chapter. Presents new ideas built on incredible social science research. Must be read more than once!
Profile Image for Allison.
254 reviews
May 11, 2018
"I believe with all my heart that we have a window of opportunity right now to make things better in our world and it starts with an act as simple as saying hello to your neighbor. So put away your smartphone for just a moment and go talk to someone. Better yet, go listen to someone. People will surprise you. They will delight you, enlighten you and sometimes anger you. But if you can get past the superficial chit-chat most of us mistake as conversation, people will never bore you."

This book was not quite what I expected after reading the title (I expected more of a play-by-play of how to have a difficult conversation) but it wasn't an unpleasant turn of content. This book actually reminded me quite a bit--and referenced quite a lot of the same sources--as the other book I just finished, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.

However, the application here is turned outward instead of inward. I had to swallow my pride a time or two when she describes the key of being a good conversationalist as being a good listener. I consider myself a good listener...but, when comfortable, I like to talk, too. I think I will take a tip from this highly successful journalist and broadcaster and keep my mouth shut a little more often, and ask the right questions a little more often, too. Hopefully, I'll also be able to say like she does, "I'm so sorry, but I really just don't have the mental capacity to listen to you right now. I would love to be more attentive to what you are saying, so let's have this conversation in 5 minutes when I'm not bathing the cat."

Okay, the cat line was mine, but it definitely applies.

I think her message is an important one because so many people in our society are moving away from empathy, moving toward an "if you voted this way, I have nothing to say to or learn from you" mentality.

She writes, "Listening to someone doesn't mean agreeing with them. The purpose of listening is to understand, not endorse. Often we decide very quickly whether or not we will agree with someone. We listen for certain words that might be clues to their politics, or faith, and we use them to categorize people into groups. Into one group, we gather all of the people who think like we do, and into the other group, go all of those who think differently. The problem is, these kinds of groupings are not very accurate."

I think we need more patience in our listening, less categorizing and more thought before we eagerly share our own experiences and promote our own interpretations of those. It's something I need to work on, and after reading this book, I feel excited to get to it.

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140 reviews10 followers
April 17, 2018
I initially thought the title "We Need to Talk" was a bit dramatic, but Headlee is passionate and convincing about the merits of meaningful conversation and the risks of our deteriorating ability to listen and communicate to ourselves and society; there were many times while reading this book that I found myself nodding along enthusiastically. Headlee frames these benefits and risks at the personal AND global scale, showing the stakes, especially in these divisive times, of being unable or unwilling to communicate with those--an uncle or a congressperson--who might hold wildly different viewpoints.

This is a fast read, and it doesn't introduce anything mind blowing (though it does have lots of great quotes!), but it is a good reminder of how much can be gained by slowing down, truly listening, and making an effort to speak with intention. As it happens, all of that is very hard to do. I'm a committed meditation practitioner and mindful speech is pretty much the most challenging frontier. It's difficult for the average human to listen with presence while actively trying not to pre-meditate a response, all while actively avoiding shifting the conversation to a more preferred subject...like the self.

After reading this book I am more aware of my own "conversational narcissism" and notice it more in others, too. I agree with Headlee: it would be valuable if we all practiced listening and speaking mindfully. We should learn this skill at home and in school, and it should be practiced and reinforced with intention. I'm not sure if reading this book will change my behaviors, but noticing is the first step to changing a habit, and I am happy to be reminded that I don't, in fact, want to be a conversational narcissist! Even if I'm only able to be mindful of my listening/speech habits for 2 mins a day, it's a start.

Headlee has a clear and crisp voice, and she uses herself as an example for conversation pitfalls in a way that's humanizing and relatable, which is definitely a good thing because she can get a little prescriptive at times ("don't do this...do do this"). This book covers a lot of ground without a ton of depth, highlighting bad habits and offering some advice (loving-kindness meditation and all kinds of other tips), but it's is a worthwhile read if only to highlight the opportunity we all have to slow down and bring greater care to how we talk to each other.
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