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Book Review: We Need to Talk by Celeste Headlee

I can’t say how many times I’ve been in a conversation where either I don’t feel like I’m being heard or I realize that I didn’t hear a single thing the person talking just said. I hate admitting that, but it’s kind of a fact of life. Sometimes, I sit there, and someone is talking, and my mind just has wandered down the road a bit and is thinking about other things. I think it happens to all of us, no matter how vigilant we try to be to guard against it. Sometimes, I’ve poured my heart out or spoken about some great idea I’ve had – only to realize that the person may have been sitting there, but my words weren’t heard at all. It’s frustrating, but it’s also human. Celeste Headlee noticed these trends, and wanted to combat them head-on in her book, We Need to Talk. 

This book outlines how we can be better conversationalists – rather than being just communicators. Headlee wants us to really be present for the conversations we’re having with others, and she wants us to have meaningful connections with those around us. She notes that multitasking while conversing is undermining our relationships, and cites research that even the mere presence of a cell phone undermines our relationships:

“The researchers concluded that the presence of a cell phone hurt the quality of the conversation and the strength of the connection between the people talking. With a cell phone just sitting in the room! Think of all the times you’ve sat down to have lunch with a friend or colleague and set your phone on the table. You might have felt virtuous because you didn’t pick it up to check your e-mail, but your ignored messages were still undermining your connection with the person sitting across from you.” (27)

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have more meaningful conversations with those I care about. I’d like to really be present for those I’m around as we all are on borrowed time and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. We Need to Talk is an excellent resource guiding us in making our interactions with others much more meaningful. 

About We Need to Talk

• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (September 19, 2017)


In this urgent and insightful book, public radio journalist Celeste Headlee shows us how to bridge what divides us–by having real conversations


“We Need to Talk is an important read for a conversationally-challenged, disconnected age. Headlee is a talented, honest storyteller, and her advice has helped me become a better spouse, friend, and mother.” (Jessica Lahey, author of New York Times bestseller The Gift of Failure)

Today most of us communicate from behind electronic screens, and studies show that Americans feel less connected and more divided than ever before. The blame for some of this disconnect can be attributed to our political landscape, but the erosion of our conversational skills as a society lies with us as individuals.

And the only way forward, says Headlee, is to start talking to each other. In We Need to Talk, she outlines the strategies that have made her a better conversationalist—and offers simple tools that can improve anyone’s communication. For example:

  • BE THERE OR GO ELSEWHERE. Human beings are incapable of multitasking, and this is especially true of tasks that involve language. Think you can type up a few emails while on a business call, or hold a conversation with your child while texting your spouse? Think again.
  • CHECK YOUR BIAS. The belief that your intelligence protects you from erroneous assumptions can end up making you more vulnerable to them. We all have blind spots that affect the way we view others. Check your bias before you judge someone else.
  • HIDE YOUR PHONE. Don’t just put down your phone, put it away. New research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone can negatively impact the quality of a conversation.

Whether you’re struggling to communicate with your kid’s teacher at school, an employee at work, or the people you love the most—Headlee offers smart strategies that can help us all have conversations that matter.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee is the host of the daily news show On Second Thought on Georgia Public Broadcasting. She has spent more than a decade with National Public Radio and has been a host for Public Radio International since 2008. Celeste has appeared on CNN, the BBC, PBS, and MSNBC. She’s also a classically trained soprano who doesn’t get enough time to sing anymore. She has one son and one rescue dog, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Find out more about Celeste at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


  1. I struggle with being actively present in many conversations. It is a flaw I’m aware of but that I have difficulty overcoming. I’m looking forward to learning from this book.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

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