We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter

We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter

by Celeste Headlee


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We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee


Now in paperback, public radio journalist Celeste Headlee's insightful and urgent book on how to bridge what divides us--by having real conversations

NPR's Best Books of 2017

“We Need to Talk is an important read for a conversationally-challenged, disconnected age. Headlee is a talented, honest storyteller, and her advice has helped me become a better spouse, friend, and mother.”  (Jessica Lahey, author of New York Times bestseller The Gift of Failure)

Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.

And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication. For example: 

  • BE THERE OR GO ELSEWHERE. Human beings are incapable of multitasking, and this is especially true of tasks that involve language. Think you can type up a few emails while on a business call, or hold a conversation with your child while texting your spouse? Think again.
  • CHECK YOUR BIAS. The belief that your intelligence protects you from erroneous assumptions can end up making you more vulnerable to them. We all have blind spots that affect the way we view others. Check your bias before you judge someone else.
  • HIDE YOUR PHONE. Don’t just put down your phone, put it away. New research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone can negatively impact the quality of a conversation.

Whether you’re struggling to communicate with your kid’s teacher at school, an employee at work, or the people you love the most—Headlee offers smart strategies that can help us all have conversations that matter.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062669018
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 85,766
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Celeste Headlee is the host of the daily news show On Second Thought on Georgia Public Broadcasting. She has spent more than a decade with National Public Radio and has been a host for Public Radio International since 2008. Celeste has appeared on CNN, the BBC, PBS, and MSNBC. She’s also a classically trained soprano who doesn’t get enough time to sing anymore. She has one son and one rescue dog, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Part I

1 Conversation is a Survival Skill 3

2 Communication and Conversation are not the Same 19

3 You Can't Outsmart a Bad Conversation 31

4 Set the Stage 49

5 Some Conversations are Harder than Others 59

Part II

6 Be There or go Elsewhere 89

7 It's Not the Same! 103

8 Get Off the Soapbox 121

9 Keep It Short 139

10 No Repeats 149

11 That's a Great Question 161

12 You Can't Know Everything 169

13 Stay Out of the Weeds 179

14 Travel Together 191

15 Listen! 205

16 Sometimes we Shouldn't Talk 223

Conclusion 229

Acknowledgments 235

Notes 237

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We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This book was phemomenal-- should be required reading in highschool and college
LeighKramer More than 1 year ago
Celeste Headlee believes conversation can change the world and after reading her book We Need To Talk, I agree. Good conversations increase our empathy and they help us consider other points of view, whether it's a political issue or how to handle a tricky situation at work or even a helpful tip related to a household chore. We walk away understanding ourselves and the other person better than we did before. This, of course, takes work. More importantly, it takes self-awareness. Most of us believe we're better conversationalists than we actually are. And there's the rub. When I started reading, I thought I had a pretty good handle on my conversation skills. There are, of course, areas I can work on but overall, I thought I was in pretty good shape. I'm a great listener and naturally empathetic. I used to be a social worker, for pete's sake. It was tempting to think about how much other people really needed to read this book. But Headlee called me out. Well, she called us all out. We've all made mistakes when it comes to conversation. We've said things we wish we hadn't, we've spaced out, our words have hurt the people we love and strangers alike. At a time when we're growing more divided and disconnected, we can't afford not to think about how to converse better.  The book is divided into two parts. The first section focuses on the philosophy of conversation. How do we define a good or bad conversation? What can conversation teach us? What does the research say? I found chapter 3 about the hallmarks of good and bad conversation to be especially pertinent. Chapters 4 and 5 made me think a lot about my expectations of conversation and how I can fine tune my approach for difficult conversations. I may or may not have needed this reminder while discussing a hot political topic the other night. The second half of the book offers practical suggestions, such as how to ask questions, the benefits of silence, and why repetition doesn't actually help us communicate. It also discusses when we shouldn't converse- because there are times when this is the correct response. I was underlining and asterisking so many parts. It's made me view conversation in a whole different light and I'm already trying to put her suggestions into practice. We Need To Talk offers practical, insightful advice on how to improve our conversations. It's well-written and easy to read. In fact, it mimics Headlee's advice on how to have better conversations. It's focused and to the point. It's engaging. It asks good questions. It invites us to learn about ourselves and the world around us. The truth is we all need to heed Headlee's wisdom. I have a feeling I'll be referring back to this book for years to come. It's not enough for me to read it; I need to apply its truths to my life. Hold me to it. Disclosure: I received an ARC from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
John_themexiCAN More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for everyone. After watching the author's Ted talk I was thrilled to find that she was writing a followup book that went into greater detail. Anyone that seeks to grow in their life skills should be reading this. Wonderful points of information that instantly opened my eyes to ways I was not serving others well when it came to having conversations. If you separated the principles presented in this book from the topic of conversation I believe there is great value given that speaks even deeper into human behavior and how we treat each other that would serve us well in our day to day. If you are a leader, business owner, manager or a self described average Joe, this book needs to be on your reading list and in your personal library. I'm typically not one for self help books with mindless mantras and pointless platitudes and thankfully this is NOT one of those at all. Authentic language and clearly illustrated thoughts make this a wonderfully easy to read book while still delivering the ability to profoundly impact the way we have conversations. Kudos to Ms. Headlee. I would love to see more from her. If I had more stars available I would rate this book even higher.