good talks & questions

I came across David Brooks from a few videos on YouTube

I watched his conversation with Jonathan Capehart today and he talked about a few tips for better conversations.

I read chapter six: Good Talks & chapter seven: The Right Questions from his book, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen

Here are his non-obvious ways to become better conversationalists.

  1. attention is an on/off switch; not a dimmer
    • treat attention as all or nothing, if you're in the conversation, stop doing anything else and just pay attention
    • SLANT method: sit up, lean forward, ask questions, nod your head, track the speaker.
    • Listen with your eyes. that's paying attention 100%
  2. be a loud listener
    • listen so actively that you're burning calories (ex: Oprah Winfrey has highly reactive responses that relates to the emotions the speaker is describing)
    • metaphor of hospitality
      • listener: you're the host of a dinner party. you set the scene. you exude warmth towards your guests, showing how happy you are with them, drawing them closer to where they want to go
      • speaker: you're the guest at a dinner party. you bring gifts.
  3. favor familiarity
    • "novelty penalty": people have trouble getting excited about the unfamiliar, but love to talk about what they know
    • talk about the movies they've seen or the game they watched
    • find the thing the other person is most attached to (a t-shirt of a kid's sports team, or someone with a nice motorcycle)
  4. make them authors, not witnesses
    • people are not specific when they tell stories, they leave out concrete details. ask specific questions
    • don't just ask about what happened, ask how they experienced what happened
    • ask about experiences now vs experiences then (retrospecting), draw lessons people have learned and how they've changed
  5. don't fear the pause
    • control your impatience and listen to learn, rather to respond.
    • pause to reflect consider how to respond to what's been said
    • Japanese culture encourages people to pause and reflect before replying. Japanese businesspeople are comfortable with 8-second pauses (2x Americans generally tolerate)
  6. do the looping
    • looping = repeat what someone said to make sure you accurately received what they're trying to project
    • forces you to listen more carefully
    • keeps people focused on their core point, rather than drifting away on some tangent.
    • often times we are interpreting people incorrectly.
    • ex: if somebody says "My mother can be a real piece of work", say "So you're really pissed at your Mom?", and pause to see if they agree.
  7. the midwife model
    • many good conversations are reciprocal (50/50 talk time), but some good conversations are by necessity lopsided.
    • ex: person A going through a hard time or facing a big life decision, and person B is there to accompany them in the process of deliberation
    • these conversations are an opportunity to listen to ourselves "sometimes we can't understand personal truths until we hear ourselves say them"
  8. keep the gem statement at the center
    • gem statement = truth underneath the disagreement, something you both agree on
    • during conflicts, return to the gem statement to keep relationships between people strong.
  9. find the disagreement under the disagreement
    • instead of trying to make other people see issues the way we do, ask why there's a disagreement in the first place,
      • what is the values disagreement underneath the practical disagreement?
    • look for moral, philosophical roots for why you each believe what you do -> mutual exploration -> pull stories out of each other
    • "Being curious about your friend's experience is more important than being right" – Lisa Feldman Barrett
  10. don't be a topper
    • don't try to relate with your own experience, you're just shifting attention back to yourself
    • to build shared connection, sit with their experience

The experience of being listened to all the way on something—until your meaning is completely clear to another human being—is extremely rare in life.

– Mónica Guzmán

Some notes on C7: The Right questions.

  • three questions for big picture
    • ultimate goals (What do you want to offer the world?)
    • your skills (What are you doing when you feel most alive?)
    • your schedule (How exactly do you fill your days?)
  • an average child asks 40,000 questions between ages 2-5
  • some point during late childhood or adolescence, we begin to withdraw from intimacy. society sends teh message we shouldn't show emotions, shouldn't get personal
  • simple questions are best. David, as a journalist just asks the same question over and over again: "And then what happened?"
  • broad, dumb questions > smart questions (meant to display how well-informed you are)
  • questioning as a moral practice
    • asking a good question requires adopting a posture of humility
    • you're confessing you don't know and want to learn
    • you're also honoring a person, you admit you don't know what's going on in their mind
  • the worst questions
    • questions that don't surrender power (which college, what neighborhood, what do you do?) -> implies "I'm about to judge you"
    • closed questions (instead of "were you close?" which limits to close/distant frame, ask "How is your mother?" so they can go as deep or as shallow when answering)
    • vague questions ("How's it going?", "What's up?") they're another way of saying "I'm greeting you, but I don't actually want you to answer."
  • humble questions are open-ended
    • they encourage the other person to take control and take the conversation where they want it to go
    • they begin with "How did you...," "What's it like..." "Tell me about..." and "In what ways..."
  • Good questions
    • "Where did you grow up?"
    • "That's a lovely name. How did your parents choose it?"
    • "What's the best way to grow old?"

Favorite questions to help people see life from a distance

  • "What crossroads are you at?" At any moment, most of us are in the middle of some transition. The question helps people focus on theirs.
  • "What would you do if you weren’t afraid?" Most people know that fear plays some role in their life, but they haven’t clearly defined how fear is holding them back.
  • "If you died tonight, what would you regret not doing?"
  • "If we meet a year from now, what will we be celebrating?"
  • "If the next five years is a chapter in your life, what is that chapter about?"
  • "Can you be yourself where you are and still fit in?"

Questions about the positive sides of life

  • "Tell me about a time you adapted to change."
  • "What's working really well in your life?"
  • "What are you most self-confident about?"
  • "Which of your five senses is strongest?"
  • "Have you ever been solitary without feeling lonely?"
  • "What has become clearer to you as you have aged?"

Each person is a mystery. And when you are surrounded by mysteries, as the saying goes, it’s best to live life in the form of a question.