How to have good conversations

I have seen a couple of tweets lately along the lines of “hey, we are bad listeners, and here’s how to get better”.

The premise is that we generally have two intentions by the time we speak:

  1. Venting / just want to get things out of our chests
  2. Looking for advice

And the argument is that there are two common communication problems:

  1. listeners don’t know which mode to switch to (understanding vs fixing)
  2. listeners don’t know how to do each mode properly

We would give advice when the other person wants to just vent, and we don’t know how to listen effectively.

First problem

The general sentiment / consensus is to put the responsibility on the listener.

When you’re not sure which, just ask: Do you need advice or just want to vent?

Like a fighting video game, let’s keep it interesting and attack this from all possible angles. Let’s also solve this problem from the other end.

As a speaker, we also have responsibility. We can get better at asking and setting the expectations before we speak.


  1. As a speaker: Make your intention clear (first to yourself and then to others) and then ask. _I just need to vent vs I need some suggestions._
  2. As a listener: Ask which mode do you need me to be in? _Do you need advice or just want to vent?_

Just ask. No one is mindreader. You can’t even read your own mind most of the time.

Mindful communication is a shared responsibility.

Get better listeners by being a better speaker. Listen better by asking.

Slightly related, this is another good communication hack:

Ask ask ask.

Second problem

I have a couple of go-to thoughts to hold by the time I’m listening:

  • Absorb, don’t evaluate
  • How can I help?
  • What does this person need?
  • Why is he/she telling me this?
  • There’s something there, let’s ask them (help them share deeper and wider)

A couple of my favorite pieces about art of listening, conversations, and asking questions:

This is pretty solid checklist as well:

Also published on Medium.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *