Are You Conversationally Competent?

How many conversations do you have in one day? Who do you have these conversations with (at work or in your personal life)? Have you ever had an exceptionally good or very bad conversation with someone? If so, how did you define whether it was good or bad? 
According to Celeste Headlee, award-winning journalist, author and accomplished speaker, there are 10 ways or “rules” for having a great conversation:
1. Don’t multi-task.
Be in the moment (put your cell phone away!) and don’t think of other things. Either be fully engaged or get out of the conversation altogether.
2. Don’t pontificate.
If you want to state your opinion, write a blog (like I’m doing now). Setting your opinion aside will help the speaker be more willing to open up to you and better express themselves.
3. Use open-ended questions.
Start questions with who, what, where, when, why or how. By doing this, the person you’re conversing with will have to think about their reply and how to provide a response.
4. Go with the flow.
Thoughts will come into your mind. You need to let them go for you to be able to hear (and listen to) the speaker’s ideas and thoughts.
5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
This provides a sense of honesty and genuineness. Err on the side of caution so the conversation is not cheapened.
6. Don’t equate your experiences with theirs.
Even though you may feel this is a clever way to relate to someone, realize that it’s not about you. All experiences are different. Conversations should not be a promotional opportunity.
7. Try not to repeat yourself.
This can come across as condescending and dulls the conversation.
8. Forget the details.
People don’t care about all the details, so stay out of the weeds. What they care about is you, what you’re like and what you have in common.
9. Listen well.
Most experts say that this is one of the most important conversation skills to possess. If your mouth is open, you’re not listening (or learning).
10. Be brief.
Keep your mind open and don’t let yourself ramble. It will make you a better host and you will learn so much more.
So, do you see yourself breaking one (or more) of the rules? If so, perhaps you need to improve your conversational “competence.” The above list is a great tool to help guide you in your personal and work life – assisting you to become a better leader, coworker, friend, spouse, parent, etc. I encourage you to print out these rules (like I have) to improve upon your conversations with others. See Celeste’s complete talk here.
The Center’s experts have created detailed training services to help companies develop their team’s communication skills. Contact The Center today to get started. You can also invest in training by registering for an upcoming course that focuses on engagement and communication here.
MEET OUR EXPERT: Steve Vamplew, Quality Program Manager
vamplew_s2-web.jpgSteve is a Quality Program Manager at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. In his role, Steve manages and delivers consulting, training and implementation assistance for Quality and Environmental Management Systems to small and medium-sized manufacturers. Steve has extensive quality, manufacturing and management experience working in the automotive industry at OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. He leverages this experience to assist manufacturers with the implementation of management systems and the enhancement of soft skills including communication, teamwork and more.   


Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at


Categories: Leadership/Culture, workforce