Celeste Headlee, How to Have Conversations That Matter 

Start with an announcement… This will be the last episode of Inside Influence for 2019. We’ve been on air now for two years – and come rain, shine, tech malfunctions, childbirth or recording in cupboards during blizzards – we’ve loved delivering an episode every two weeks.

This year I’ve decided to do it a little differently – and we’ll be taking an extended break over Christmas. However fear not – normal programming – actually no scrap that – bigger and better programming – will resume on the 15th of January 2020.

As a quick word to the creators out there – you’ll know what I mean when I talk about that essential tension between consistency and creativity. The irony being that while they’re both 100% vital to doing anything worthwhile – they often make uneasy bedfellows. I don’t have a universal answer to that balance – and to be honest I’d be watchful of anyone that claims they do. However what I have learnt over the years is that taking an intentional break – or deliberate pause – is often the moment that things just naturally move to the next level. As someone much wiser than me once said – ‘this is your train set – so drive it.’ And that includes choosing when to take a pit stop.

So – while we peer under the bonnet, check the oil and figure out which parts of the show we want to supercharge next year. I’d love your feedback. What would you like to hear more of? Less of? How can we support you in having more of these conversations out there in the world? All ideas are good ideas so hit me and the team up on social, via the website or good old fashioned web mail at [email protected]

OK… public announcement over – let’s move on to today’s guest.

Here’s the question… is there any more important skill than being able to sustain a coherent, confident conversation? Can you think of any other super power that holds more possibility? Or more strength?

As a business owner, leader and parent – I can promise you that any time I have looked at the priorities of skills that I need to develop – for myself – and in those I’m here to support – it hits number one on the list every time.

Imagine if you could broach that subject that’s painful or uncomfortable for you – and deepen rather than fracture your connection with that person. Or ask for what you want OR stand up for something you truly believed in.

Fast forward a year – what would your life and relationships look like now? Which would still be there? And how fiercely open minded would you have become?

And probably more importantly in the world right now – where intolerance and our seeming inability to hold constructive dialogue with those that disagree with us – that hold different views and values. Online and Offline. What would our teams, communities and governments look like if we knew how to successfully tackle hard and yet vital topics – with curiosity, respect and an intention to move forward together – rather than score a point?

Someone asked me – ‘would you rather be right or would you rather be in relationship?’. For me the answer is always the latter. And let me tell you that’s hard. That’s a hard commitment to keep. Especially when what’s at stake is high. But there is a difference between mindlessly complying – and being open to other perspectives. You don’t have to agree in order to accept – and once someone feels truly accepted – that’s a place when bridges start to be built.

My next guest in this episode is what I would consider a certified master in having powerful conversations. An award-winning journalist and author – throughout her 20-year career in public radio she has anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition – some of America’s top rated radio programs. She is also the author of ‘We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter’. Synthesising everything she has learned about how to navigate respectful and important conversations.

As an NPR host and journalist, Celeste has interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life. From Nobel prize winners, truck drivers, plumbers to Heads of State. Sometimes on topics that fit with her personal viewpoints – and other times with people she disagrees with deeply.

And once again it’s in the latter – where the most surprising moments can be found.

In our conversation, Celeste and I danced – yes I’m going to say danced for this one – our way through some of the science, art and profound moments that are possible when you start committing to having conversations that matter. Including:

Staying open enough to be amazed by everyone you meet – and that means everyone. I know full well you’re picturing one person right now that you’ve already pegged as an exception.
How to actually begin difficult conversations. Often the hardest part right?
The toughest conversation she’s ever had – and what she would do differently if she could do it over again.
How by both focusing on and verbalising your intent in a difficult conversation – has the ability to change everything – and act as a rudder when things get off track
The power of the human voice on physiological level – this bit quite seriously blew my mind – in fact I think if you listen you can hear my brain scramble when we get to this point. Definitely a rabbit hole I’ll be jumping down over Christmas.
And the role of empathy, when to use it – how – and why it starts with a commitment to stop saying the phrase – ‘I know exactly how you feel.’

If I was going to end this podcast year on any note – it would be this one – we need to get better at having difficult conversations. Openly, frequently, respectfully and intentionally. Even when we don’t know what to say. And especially when we don’t agree.

So – let’s start here. Pour a cup of tea, chai frappe latte – or whatever floats your caffeine boat. Is that a thing? I have no idea. Either way, pick a conversation in your life that deserves either a second OR first attempt. And get ready to learn from one of thee best on the planet when it comes to navigating what should come next after the words…. ‘We need to talk’.

One of the fiercest, funniest people I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with – Celeste Headlee.

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