Nobody really teaches us to have professional conversations. Sure, we’ve all sat through some training on “better profiling” or “how to ask open-ended questions,” but if we really want to up our game, we should look to the masters of the interview. Celeste Headlee is one of those people. Consider how she explains the differences between good and bad conversations and good and bad interviews.
A good conversation is like a game of catch. Each player wants the other person to catch the ball without stress. Catch is easy and fun. A bad conversation is like a game of catch where your partner keeps throwing the ball over your head or far out of the way. If either party is being forced to do extra work to keep playing the game, it’s not a good conversation.
A good interview is like tee-ball. The interviewer is the coach who places the ball on the tee and steps back. The interviewee is the kid taking a swing and connecting. The coach serves an essential purpose, but this is all about the kid. In a good interview, the interviewee has to shine. A bad interview is like an adult pitching against a tee-baller. While their fastball may be impressive, the attention has been placed on the wrong person. If the attention is on the interviewer, it’s not a good interview.
Professional conversations have one more element: the teacher/consultant. A good teacher/consultant can carry on a good conversation and conduct a good interview, and then flip in and out of being the one who is interviewed when the time is right. A bad teacher/consultant struggles with the conversation or even conducting an interview at all, and lectures at the other person. As the old saying goes, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This last element is everything.
For a deeper look into how to have more consistently meaningful conversations and how to deliver strong interviews, check out Headlee’s book, We Need to Talk, or her appearance on The Knowledge Project podcast. We only get better at these skills when we spend time with the true masters and start to think about all of the ways we can improve.