Friday, November 30, 2018

Book Review: 'We Need to Talk' by Celeste Headlee

Journalist and radio host Celeste Headlee, in her well-organized and nicely researched work of non-fiction, "We Need to Talk," suggests that too many of us do not listen attentively or communicate effectively. In an age of instant messaging, surfing the Web, Facebook, and email, how often do we have more than a cursory chat with our relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues? Although superficial exchanges are the stuff of everyday life, there are instances when hearing what someone else has to say and conveying what you think and feel can be significant. The words you speak and how you express yourself matter when, for example, you meet with your employer about an important work-related issue, discuss a health problem with your medical practitioner, or try to comfort someone who is bereaved. In her introduction, the author relates the tragic story of a plane that crashed, partly because a first officer was too timid to convince his captain that they should delay takeoff because of dangerous icing conditions. Seventy-eight people perished.

Furthermore, Headlee believes that "our world has become so fractured by politics and distracted by technology that having a meaningful conversation can become a challenge." Too often we become irritated when others express contrary opinions. Civility, respect, and tact may go out the window when people get on their soapboxes. In "We Need to Talk," the author offers excellent strategies for improving the quality of our verbal interactions. She touches on such techniques as avoiding distractions; empathizing; acknowledging that we all have biases; disagreeing without becoming disagreeable; getting to the point rather than going off on long-winded tangents; staying in the moment; postponing a conversation gracefully when you are exhausted or out of sorts; admitting that you are wrong and that you don't know all the answers; and listening with an open mind.

This book, based on a well-received TED talk, is breezy, intimate, honest (the author admits her mistakes and tells us what she learned from them), and includes relevant and lively anecdotes that nicely illustrate Headlee's points. Alas, nothing will bring back the lost art of letter-writing--and what a shame that is--but perhaps this well-written and entertaining book will help restore civil dialogue which, these days, appears to be on the brink of extinction. Let's put away our electronic devices and, as Headlee advises, "go talk to someone. Better yet, go listen to someone. People will surprise you."

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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