City Leaders Uncover Steps to a Better Conversation

August 15, 2018

By Nia Williams

Convention Keynote Speaker Celeste Headlee

This article appeared in the August 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
“I want to talk to you about the ‘kindness’ and ‘inclusion’ that is hard,” said GMA Convention Keynote Speaker Celeste Headlee as she opened her “how to” presentation on creating conversa­tion that matters during the 2018 GMA Annual Convention. The journalist, professional speaker and author, went on to equip city officials and opening session attendees with 10 tips to creat­ing meaningful conversation.
Headlee jumped right into her presentation and established herself as an esteemed public speaker with more than 16.5 million views on one of her thought-provoking TED talks. She high­lighted the importance of being present in a con­versation even if the person on the other side of the conversation disagrees with the one’s views. She urged convention-goers to not shut these people out, but to find healthy ways to exchange ideas.
The gist of several tips Headlee shared with officials was to “unplug” from devices and them­selves, and open their eyes and ears to having meaningful and genuine conversations. She stressed how attendees and the majority of peo­ple miss the important parts of conversations, because they are so focused on formulating a follow-up thought or turning the conversation to focus on themselves.
The result? “Well, we walk away thinking it was an amazing conversation, when in reality it wasn’t,” Headlee said.
She also introduced the science behind one’s dependence on talking about themselves. “This activates the exact same pleasure in the center of your brain as sex and heroin, “she said.
Headlee went on to address the evolution of small talk and face-to-face communication.
“The average American spends 30 minutes tex­ting and only six minutes actually talking to each other,” she said as she stressed that no form of digital communication can actually replace face-to-face conversation.
As she moved her presentation into tips that city officials can apply to their daily interactions, she added that, “Communicating and collaborat­ing is what we as a human species do best. In order for the conversation to work we need em­pathy — it’s what hold us together as a human species.”
Headlee continued with her notable “10 Steps to a Better Conversation.” These steps included eliminating multi-tasking, as she pointed out that one’s performance will decrease at least 25 per­cent when they try.
She encouraged Georgia city officials to not re­peat themselves, because that practice trains oth­ers not to listen the first time because they know the repeater will say it again.
Headlee closed her list by stressing the impor­tance of “going with the flow” of the conversation and not getting distracted by the 10,000 other thoughts, ideas and stories that one may want to share in a conversation.
As convention attendees left the opening ses­sion and continued through the many network­ing and training sessions, they talked about the impact and application of Headlee’s speech, keeping in mind her last call to action, “Next time you pick up your phone, use it to talk [not text].”

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