Timeless interview and conversation tips from Terry Gross

One of the great interviewers of our era shares foolproof ways to elicit more substantive responses, spark spicier discussions and establish better connections in the workplace.

Terry Gross conversation tips

Do you struggle with workplace conversations or employee communications? Does mundane, everyday chatter make you anxious or nervous?

You could do worse than heed some advice from Terry Gross, the iconic radio host famous for her “remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence.”

The New York Times recently published an interview with Ms. Gross, who’s hosted NPR’s “Fresh Air” since Gerald Ford was in office (1975, to be exact). She shared eight of her top tips for having better conversations, including these:

The best icebreaker is, “Tell me about yourself.” This disarming phrase immediately sets people at ease and puts the banter ball into their court. It’s also an artful way to dodge the dreaded “What do you do for work?” question.

In addition to some nice wine, perhaps, bring plenty of “Tell me about yourself” to that upcoming dinner party.

Be curious. As the piece states: “Interviewing a person and having a conversation with them are two different things,” but a common thread that can help you to excel at both, according to Ms. Gross, is “being genuinely curious, and wanting to hear what the other person is telling you.”

If you’re struggling to elicit substantive, thoughtful feedback from employees, for instance, try being a bit more “genuinely curious” with your questioning.

Be funny (but don’t force it). If humor’s not your thing, Gross advises: “If you can’t be funny, being mentally organized, reasonably concise and energetic will go a long way in impressing people.”

This goes for job interviews, meetings, presentations and conference mingling.

Humor can make you seem more attractive, intelligent and influential, but if your jokes are janky, prioritize passion and positive energy over ill-advised puns.

Steer the conversation toward your wheelhouse. If, for example, you sense a job interview is going askew, try to correct course toward your strengths. As Gross puts it: “If somebody is asking you questions, and you don’t feel that you have a strong response for it, say, ‘let me share an experience.’ From there, you can share an experience that points to your talents and areas where you excel.”

If you’re a communicator, conversations have a profound effect on your livelihood. Your career could suffer if you repeatedly fail to spark meaningful discussions with colleagues and/or execs, or if you’re too nervous to speak up.

If you struggle to spark thriving workplace conversations, a bit of Terry Gross-style empathetic listening and genuine curiosity could go a long way toward improvement. For more timeless communication guidance, read the rest of the Gray Lady’s interview with Ms. Gross.

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