Mastering Your Reality: Celeste Headlee

In every moment, you choose who you want to be and how you want to live your life. It’s your ultimate power, and your inescapable responsibility. You’re the master of your reality.

Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist and the host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s daily talk show “On Second Thought.” She formerly anchored shows including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. In her new book, We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist and offers simple tools to improve communication. Her TED Talk on the subject, 10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation, has been viewed more than 12 million times.

In this episode of Mastering Your Reality, Celeste and I discussed:


  • “I know just how you feel.” This response is human nature when someone is sharing their problems, frustrations or challenges. We want to share our stories, to relate to others, and/or to teach by our examples and experiences. However, this is not an effective response of empathy.
  • “I know how you feel” or “that’s just like when” or “if you think that’s bad”—these responses shift attention back to you, away from the person sharing. But most fundamentally, a person sharing something with you wants to be heard. They want your attention.
  • As a factual matter, you almost certainly don’t know how someone else is feeling. Each of us has a unique perspective of the world—unique experiences, thoughts, relationships, etc. Even when they face very similar circumstances, two people can have very different experiences.
  • Moreover, over time your traumatic experiences generally fade in recollection. They’re not as “raw” or intense. The brain has a coping mechanism that produces this effect, helping us to recover. How you remember feeling about something and how you actually felt are very different things.
  • When it comes to empathy, less is often far more. A simple and sincere “I’m sorry” might be all you need to say. You can also try “how can I help?” Don’t give advice or try to relate unless you’re asked to do so. Again, people usually just want to be heard.
  • Simply listening to someone is powerful. It’s the core of empathy. It’s how we build bonds.
  • Empathy is at an all-time low these days, in both the social and political spheres. But the amazing success of Celeste’s TED Talk on how to listen suggests that people desire improvement.
  • Isaac’s experience going blind helped him appreciate the power of listening. For example, relying on non-verbal communication during leadership meetings was not an option, so his team was forced to speak up. Having to verbalize thoughts and ideas led to more, and more effective, communication.
  • Human speech has an incredible capacity to convey information. There’s a lot of meaning in how we speak—beyond the words we say. The “how” we say it versus the “what” we say. Modern text-based communication strips out this information. This is one big reason we’re losing the skill of effective listening.
  • This might also be a reason that the power of objectivity is dwindling—why people seem increasingly unwilling to acknowledge factual truths. We suffer from “confirmation bias,” the tendency to process information to be consistent with our existing beliefs. (We’re the only species that does this.) However, the effect of confirmation bias is mitigated when we’re forced to explain our views and beliefs. If we spoke more, and listened more effectively, perhaps we’d do a better job overcoming the inertia of our prejudgments.


Want to learn more?

Click here to learn about Celeste’s book, We Need To Talk, or click here to watch her awesome TED Talk, 10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation. You can also click here to view more episodes of Mastering Your Reality.

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-Isaac Lidsky


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