Ted Talk of the Month: Making the Most of Your Conversations

TED Talks are a fantastic resource for younger professionals. With a litany of topics to choose from, one can find a talk to suit almost any need. Each month, a TED Talk relating to professional development, museums, education, art, or personal development will be posted on phillyemp.com along with a bit of commentary. As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions in the comment section below or through email at phillyemp[at]gmail.com. This month’s TED Talks and the accompanying article will take up 30-45 minutes of your time.

Small Talk, Big Ideas

tedFor our first monthly TED Talk, we have decided to go a little above and beyond with two talks and an article to compliment them. The headline, “How to turn small talk into smart conversation,” caught my eye as it seemed to have potential application to the professional environment. The article is an excerpt from a book penned by a comedian and a journalist. With some humor, the authors offer up suggestions on how you can alter your small talk to reap more benefits. The idea is basic: Ask leading questions, avoid yes or no answers, defy expectations, and avoid “mirroring.”

Introverts, Extroverts, and the Creative Process

Mirroring, or instinctively agreeing with whomever you are interacting with, also comes up in the first talk at the end of the article. In Susan Cain’s chat about the Power of Introverts, she points out some of the weaknesses of forced group work. For example, in a group dynamic it is common for the group to follow the direction of the most charismatic/dominant individual and mirror their opinions, regardless of the merit of that person’s ideas. Cain suggests that allowing staff to work on their own, and subsequently bring ideas into a well-managed group setting offers an interesting alternative to brainstorming sessions that often bear no fruit. Cain also heralds introverts as leaders, as an introverted leader is more likely to let their staff fully form their own ideas whereas an extroverted leader will tend to take over an idea and put their own stamp on it.

Cain sums up her chat with three calls to action. First, to “stop the madness” for constant group work. While the ability and opportunity to work in a group is important, it does not need to be forced upon students and professionals, it should spring up in a more organic fashion. Second, Cain pulls a page from Thoreau in suggesting that people go off into the woods, so to speak, to unplug and have your own revelations. Cain’s third call to action touches on a story she told at the beginning of her talk, essentially encouraging both introverts and extroverts to find the most effective way to share what drives them.

Closets and Conversations

The second talk accompanying the article is brief, around ten minutes as opposed to Cain’s near twenty minute chat. In the talk, Ash Beckham focuses on trying to encourage people to open up. Beckham refers to her experiences as a gay woman coming out of the closet and dealing with difficult interactions as a result. Beckham asserts that “coming out of the closet” can refer to any difficult conversation. While this talk was mostly personal in nature, there are several professional applications. For example, as a leader in your museum, you may have an employee who is not performing to your standards. Sitting down with that employee and guiding them to more productive behaviors is awkward and sometimes confrontational. Regardless of that, Beckham heralds the benefits of having the hard conversations you need to have to improve your life, or in this example, your workplace.

Much like Cain and her three calls to action, Beckham has three guidelines for having difficult discussions:

  1. Be authentic – Beckham suggests to “take your armor off” and show the person with whom you are speaking that you are being up front with them. Furthermore, you have to accept that your companion will respond authentically as well. Be prepared to have a civil discussion and not jump on the other person for their authenticity.
  2. Be direct – The classic band-aid analogy applies here. By being direct with your message, Beckham points out that it leaves no wiggle room for misinterpretation. If you are having a hard conversation, you will want to avoid mixing your message.
  3. Be unapologetic – Beckham clarifies that you should be unapologetic about your message, not necessarily your delivery. Obviously, if someone is put off by how you present your opinion, you can apologize and alter your approach.

Communicating Effectively

The article and two talks offer plenty of advice on how to improve the effectiveness of your everyday conversations. Are any of the writers’ or speakers’ tips practices you already use? Have these suggestions given you new ideas to work with? Is there anything talked or written about that you disagree with? Let us know what you think!


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