We Need to Talk Book Summary - We Need to Talk Book explained in key points
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We Need to Talk summary

Celeste Headlee

How to Have Conversations That Matter

4.4 (213 ratings)
21 mins
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    We Need to Talk
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    Good communication is fundamental to being human, but modern life has set us up with some bad habits.

    If you were to stand a human next to, say, a snow leopard or a Komodo dragon, you might wonder how we became the dominant species. There are all kinds of animals out there that are faster, bigger, and stronger than we are. Even some whose teeth are filled with poison! Yet somehow, humans have risen to the top.

    One reason is our ability to communicate. What we lack in physical prowess, we make up for in being able to talk to each other in minute detail – and to listen, too. That has all manner of evolutionary advantages.

    It’s strange, then, that we don’t try a bit harder when it comes to communicating. In fact, these days, we’re getting worse and worse at it.

    The key message here is: Good communication is fundamental to being human, but modern life has set us up with some bad habits.

    People have been talking to each other since the dawn of time, but here’s a very modern example that shows why learning to do it well is worth it – poor communication costs money. For large businesses in the US and UK the impact could be as much as $37 billion a year, according to a report from 2008. 

    It’s not just financial, and it’s not just businesses that are affected either. Another study found that college students in 2010 were 40 percent less empathetic than students from 30 years earlier. A big contributor to this is undoubtedly the rise of technology and social media, which encourages fleeting superficial connection, not empathy. 

    In another study, researchers put multiple pairs of strangers in a room together and asked them to chat – in half of the rooms they also put a cell phone on the table. And even though the phone was just sitting there, it had a negative impact on the couples’ communication. The pairs in the rooms with no cell phone reported developing better relationships, and feeling more trust and empathy. 

    What can you do about this? Putting your phone away is just the beginning. More important than that is for you to start taking the art of conversation seriously.

    If you have a bad conversation, it’s common to impulsively blame the other person for not being interesting enough. Definitely stop doing that! Instead, if you can take the responsibility for shaping an interesting conversation yourself, you’ll be amazed at the results.

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    What is We Need to Talk about?

    We Need to Talk (2017) walks you through the art of good conversation – a vital but often undervalued skill. It shows how effective conversation leads to more meaningful relationships and a greater understanding of other people. The book also offers advice on how to improve your own conversation skills.

    Who should read We Need to Talk?

    • People frustrated by superficial conversations
    • Keen talkers who want to become better listeners
    • Conversationalists eager to improve their skills

    About the Author

    Celeste Headlee is a journalist and broadcaster who hosts the daily news show On Second Thought on Georgia Public Broadcasting. She’s spent more than ten years with NPR, and is also a classically trained singer. Her second book, Do Nothing, is about how to enjoy your leisure time.

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