scorecard3 tips that will turn you into a 'supercommunicator' who's a master of all conversation types — practical, emotional, and social
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3 tips that will turn you into a 'supercommunicator' who's a master of all conversation types — practical, emotional, and social

Julia Pugachevsky   

3 tips that will turn you into a 'supercommunicator' who's a master of all conversation types — practical, emotional, and social
LifeScience3 min read
MirageC/Getty Images
  • Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit," says all conversations call into one of 3 types.
  • Knowing if you're in a practical, emotional, or social conversation helps you connect.

Effective communication is a core part of all healthy relationships, but it's not always easy and intuitive.

Sometimes "people spend the entire time trying to figure out how to communicate with each other," Charles Duhigg, the author of the bestselling book "The Power of Habit," told Business Insider. You might feel confused by a friend's communication style or struggle to talk to a coworker you really dislike.

But, even if it feels like you're speaking different languages, don't give up. Take a different approach.

In Duhigg's new book "Supercommunicators," published this month, he argues that all conversations boil down to three types:

  • What is this really about? (A practical conversation)
  • How do we feel? (An emotional conversation)
  • Who are we? (A social conversation)

The key to really connecting with someone is identifying what kind of conversation they're trying to have, whether it's a stranger or your spouse of 20 years.

In some situations, it takes more work than usual to find your conversational lane. "There's this myth that we should all be wonderful communicators all the time. All I need to do is open my mouth and you'll perfectly understand what I'm trying to tell you and vice versa," Duhigg said. That's not the case.

Here's your roadmap to navigate any conversation with anyone:

Identify what someone wants from your conversation

Duhigg said a common source of misunderstanding is not knowing if someone wants to be "helped, hugged, or heard" when they mention a problem. Knowing the conversation type can help with that.

For example, if a friend says they had a terrible day at work, there are different directions the conversation can go.

They may want you to empathize with them (emotional), troubleshoot solutions (practical), or discuss how their work friends would take it if they quit (social).

Noticing what a coworker, partner, friend, or stranger wants out of the conversation can help you provide exactly what they need, whether it's validation, advice, or just a listening ear.

Be prepared for the conversation type to shift in one sitting

Very often, a conversation can cycle through different types as you keep talking, according to Duhigg.

"We might start by discussing something emotional, but then we'll move to something practical together," he said. "But if you're not having the same kind of conversation at the same time, you're not really connecting with each other."

One personal example he gave was when he used to come home after a tough day at work and tell his wife that his boss wasn't listening to him. She'd suggest he take his boss out for lunch to get to know each other better.

It was a smart idea, but it wasn't what Duhigg wanted to hear. He wasn't in the mood for solutions; he wanted her to be outraged on his behalf. "It's because I was having an emotional conversation and she was having a practical conversation," he said.

Even if both of those conversations are legitimate, there was a disconnect because they weren't aligned on when they were having them. If Duhigg felt he was listened to when he needed the emotional conversation, he could eventually move on to looking for solutions, shifting to a practical conversation where his wife's advice would really shine.

Ask deeper questions to find the conversation type

When in doubt about the conversation type, just ask.

For example, Duhigg said that if a friend tell you they were broken up with, ask them to tell you more before jumping into ways to help them move on. Otherwise, you'd be initiating a practical conversation when they might be seeking an emotional one.

Even in seemingly straightforward conversations, like a performance review, Duhigg said soft skills like asking the right questions can take you far. Practical questions, like what you can do to move up or earn a raise, can help align you with your boss's perspective.

In interacting with new people (where the conversation type might be harder to spot), Duhigg recommended asking deeper questions than "How are you?" or "What do you do for work?" that can make small talk feel like job interviews.

If you meet a doctor, you can ask them how they decided to become one or what their favorite part of their job is. They might go into an emotional story about how they chose their profession or issues they have with the healthcare system.

"When they start talking about who they really are, they'll tell you what kind of conversation they're seeking, but also the goal why they're here," Duhigg said. "Because oftentimes we have conversations and we don't know what our goal is. It's a process that's quite a negotiation of figuring out together what we want to talk about."