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I used to be terrible at making conversation.

How about you?

It’s a fairly common problem in the US. We try so hard to be good at conversation, and in doing so, we often focus so much on what we’re going to say that we miss what we’re being told.

Case in point: Way back in the 90s, I played Perchik in a high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. During rehearsal one day, the actor who played Tevye forgot a few of his lines, and decided to go off book with a bit of humorous improvisation. In the scene, he was supposed to grant his daughter, Tzeitel, permission to marry her sweetheart. Instead, the improvisation lead to a flat out refusal of the marriage.

And there I was, ready with my line, and so preoccupied with saying the right thing that I completely missed the turn in the conversation. Right after she gets denied the marriage, the actress playing Tzeitel turns to me and…

I congratulate her on the marriage. You know, the one she was just denied.


I was so focused on what I was waiting to say, that it just came out.  Never mind that it no longer made any sense in the context of the improvised scene.

The same thing happened off-stage, all the time, until I learned a few simple techniques and started practicing a more mindful mode of conversation.

Want to try it out? All you need to remember is one simple word:


Ok, put away your fluffy shirt, you’re not actually going to have to talk like a pirate.

YARR stands for Yield, Acknowledge, Reflect, and Respond. For some people, this comes naturally. For a lot more people, including me, it does not.

Here’s how it works: When you are having a conversation with someone, follow the steps below, in order. After you do each step, take a moment to be mindful of the other person and the conversation as a whole. You may notice that you have to repeat a step a few times. The conversation may end before you get through all four. That’s perfectly ok! It means you’re doing something right. (Either that or it’s so wrong that the other person can’t stand talking to you anymore. But I promise, it won’t be that bad.)

Step 1: Yield –yield

Give the other person the right of way. Let go of thinking about what to say next. Let go of evaluating what the other person is saying. Just listen. Let them speak without interruption, until they are clearly finished. This takes some patience. Most of us are trained to jump in as soon as we get a chance. Hold back. The other person may begin talking again. That’s OK. Let them.

In the very, very rare circumstance that someone asks you why you aren’t responding, just explain that you’re practicing listening without trying to interject. And then, take that as a signal that in future conversation, you might want to include a few non-verbal cues that indicate that you are actually listening. (E.g. nod, make appropriate facial expressions, etc. Don’t stare through them!)

Step 2: Acknowledge –

Let the other person know that you’ve heard them. This is a verbal extension of the nonverbal cues that you give while the other person is talking. Say “I hear you.” or “Oh, wow, that sounds exciting/terrible/etc.” or even “Huh? Weird!” The idea is to respond, verbally, to the emotion that the other person is expressing. Be careful not to overdo it. If they’re very excited about something, respond with energy. And if it’s a more subdued conversation, be more subtle.

At this point, they may continue speaking, or they may simply acknowledge back and yield to you.

Step 3: Reflect –

This part is simple in concept, but can take some practice to do well. All you have to do is reflect back to them what you just heard them tell you, in your own words. By doing this, you help them feel understood, and significantly reduce misunderstandings. It’s often best to start off with “So what I hear you saying is…” or “let me make sure I heard you right, ….”

The key for reflection, like acknowledgement, is to say it with the right energy and tone. Practice!

This step frequently requires some repetition, because most people will want to clarify a few things. Many people, once they feel heard and understood in this way, will end the conversation here. If not, though–if, and only if, you’re sure the conversation isn’t over–move on to…

Step 4: Respond –

So, now it’s fully your turn to talk. What do you say? Here are a few suggestions:

Reassure the other person, if they are emotionally wrapped up in what they’re talking about. (This is often enough, particularly for conversations in relationships. If you’ve ever been told “I don’t need you to fix it, I just need you to hear me!” then this needs to become your go-to response technique!)
Make a general “tell me more” statement.
Ask a hypothetical: “What would happen if you…”
Make an “I” statement: “I feel _______ when you _________, because _______.”

Whatever you do: Don’t tell them what you think they should do unless they ask you, and don’t shift the conversation onto yourself. It’s up to them to shift it to you when they are ready. You know that guy who’s always ready to shoe-horn into the conversation with a story about himself and something awesome/scary/important/sympathetic or otherwise vaguely tangential to the discussion at hand? Nobody likes that guy. Don’t be that guy.

Now, go out and practice!

Get good at YARR, and you’ll find that you’re talking less, but people listen better. And that’s the hallmark of a fantastic conversationalist.


The above is an excerpt from the “Mindfulness” section of the Wild Potential 30-Day Foundation Builder.

Learn more at

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