“10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation”


“The average person talks at about 225 words per minute but we can listen at up to 500 words per minute, so our minds are filling in those other 275 words”

Coaching is a career that is largely dependent on the ability to speak with other human beings. However, conversations require a balance of talking and listening. Coaches need to connect with potential recruits and their families in order to land talented athletes. They need to build relationships and network with other coaches in order to open career opportunities. Coaches converse with their players to learn more about them in order to develop meaningful relationships and find ways to effectively motivate them. Coaches also speak with community members to engage with donors, supporters, and fans. Conversation skills are critical to developing relationships and to achieving overall success.

In this TED Talk, Celeste Headlee, a radio host with decades of experience, provides strategies for having more meaningful and overall better conversations. She quickly dismisses the long told advice of looking someone in the eye, thinking of topics in advance, smile and nod, repeat back what you’ve heard. She insists, “there’s no reason to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention!” Her basic rules include:

  1. Don’t multitask; this doesn’t mean just setting down your phone, but rather be present in the moment. Don’t be thinking about other things.
  2. Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn. True listening sometimes requires you to set aside your own opinion!
  3. Use open ended questions; let them describe their own experience.
  4. Go with the flow. Random questions will come to you, but you can’t get so fixated on that question that you stop listening to what they’re currently saying. Let ideas come and let them go, as an out of place question can stop the flow of conversation.
  5. If you don’t know something, just say you don’t know.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs; all experiences are individual.

    “Don’t take that moment to prove something about yourself…conversations are not a promotional opportunity.”

  7. Don’t be repetitive
  8. Stay out of the weeds: people don’t care about the small details such as names and dates that you’re struggling to find at the tip of your tongue. They care about you!
  9. LISTEN. We prefer to speak rather than listen because it puts us in control. Too often do we “listen with the intent to reply” rather than listen with the intent to learn and engage.
  10. Be brief.

“If your mouth is open you aren’t learning”

–┬áCeleste Headlee (Paraphrasing Buddhist thought)

Questions for Coaches to think about:

  1. As a coach, where do you fail in listening to your players? Why, and how can you improve?
  2. How do you as a coach intentionally and consistently have constructive conversations with each of your players (especially in-season)?
  3. How can you use this information to help your players and staff have real and constructive conversations with one another?

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