The Art of Conversation with Celeste Headlee, Author and Acclaimed Journalist

Celeste’s voice popped through the airwaves. “Hello?” she said. Celeste Headlee, a conversation expert, author, and acclaimed journalist, started her conversation on the Voice of Value podcast just as anyone else might: with a simple hello. But what follows that greeting, as Celeste has found in her research, is not as simple. In fact, Celeste’s Ted Talk and its 11 million views suggests that how to have meaningful conversations is a challenge we all face. As leaders in commercial sales and marketing, we were fascinated by Celeste’s area of expertise. After all, strong customer relationships require one foundational skill—the ability to have conversations that matter. In the following audio clip, Celeste shares a story that illustrates the life and death consequences of conversation.

Conversations That Matter

It’s been snowing, icy, and cold. The plane is loaded full of passengers who have been waiting much longer than expected for take-off. Everyone is exhausted, angry, and impatient. In the midst of this, the pilot and copilot have to make a decision. Will they de-ice the plane’s engine one more time, or takeoff into the sky to keep their passengers from getting any more upset? They chose the latter option: takeoff. Almost immediately after they went airborne, the plane began to go down. Listen to the story to find out what happens, and how the story influenced Celeste’s work on conversations: Audio Player  

Key Aspects of Listening

In We Need to Talk, Celeste discusses the art of conversation and offers tools to improve in this area. A few key points from her book include:
  • “Be there or go elsewhere.” Celeste shares how scientifically, our brains do not allow us to multitask. Instead, we are switching quickly back and forth between activities, rather than conducting two or more simultaneously. She says that conversation is no different. When engaging others, we should be solely focused on the conversation at hand rather than texting and emailing at the same time, for instance.
  • “Check your bias.” When we enter conversation, we need to be aware that we all hold biases. By recognizing that they exist, we can more adequately address them than if we ignore them completely or believe that they don’t exist.
  • “Hide your phone.” Celeste outlines research that suggests the mere presence of a phone—even if it is not actively interrupting the conversation–decreases the quality of the engagement.

Listening to Customers in Sales and Marketing

We’ve all heard that in sales, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason: we need to be listening way more than we’re talking.  Most of us earnestly believe we are good listeners—but are we? After an introductory meeting with a prospect, would you be able to recap the meeting with the items listed below in such a way that the prospect would read and answer, “that’s right.”   To do this well, we must listen carefully. Below is an example of a Promise-to-Proceed letter. Key components of the letter are:
  • Defining the buyer’s role
  • Defining the buyer’s goal
  • Defining the buyer’s reason for their goal, highlighting their existing challenges or current initiatives
  • Defining what the buyer’s life would look like with the solution
  • Defining the buyer’s perceived value of the solution
In order to capture the points above, it’s critical to actively listen to customers. If you’d like to see examples of Promise to Proceed letter that the team at Ecosystems has developed, please email We will send you generic examples. To learn more about Celeste’s research and her latest book, click here.

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