in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: March 16, 2022

Podcast #709: The Art of Conversation — A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure

How do you form a meaningful connection with another person? Well, it starts with simply opening your mouth. From there, my guest says, you want to progress through a conversation, or perhaps a series of conversations, in a particular sequence of stages that will form an effective on-ramp towards a stronger relationship.

Her name is Judy Apps, she’s a speaking and voice coach and the author of several books on communication, including The Art of Conversation. Today Judy and I discuss that art, beginning with why it’s so important to learn. We then get into the different levels a conversation should progress through in order to build intimacy and smoothly segue into discussing the things that matter most. Judy explains how to bring the kind of energy to a conversation that creates connection, and two exercises you can use to overcome the self-consciousness that can thwart that energy. Along the way, we discuss how conversation is both a game that you can have fun practicing, and a dance that can flow into some of life’s most magical moments.

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Show Highlights

  • Where do most people falter when it comes to conversation?
  • How is conversation like a dance?
  • How should you approach conversation with someone new?
  • Why you need to embrace small talk 
  • Thinking vs feeling in conversation 
  • Progressing through levels of conversation to get deeper and more intimate 
  • Conversational experiments to try out 
  • What should you do when you get anxious before or during a conversation?
  • The benefits of thinking of conversation as a game 
  • How much tone and body language matters when conversing with people 

Resources/Articles/People Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Judy

Judy’s website

Judy on Twitter

How Your Voice Touches Others (Judy’s TED talk)

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Read the Transcript

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. So how do you form a meaningful connection with another person? Well, it starts with simply opening your mouth. From there, my guest says, you want to progress through a conversation or perhaps a series of conversations in a particular sequence of stages that will form an effective on-ramp for a stronger relationship. Her name is Judy Apps. She’s a speaking and voice coach and the author of several books on communication, including The Art of Conversation. Today, Judy and I discussed that art, beginning with why it’s so important to learn, we then get into the different levels of conversations you should progress through in order to build intimacy and smoothly segue to discussing the things that matter most. Judy explains how to bring the kind of energy to conversation that creates connection and two exercises you can use to overcome the self-consciousness that can thwart that energy. Along the way, we discussed how a conversation is both a game that you can have fun practicing and a dance that can flow into some of life’s most magical moments. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

Alright, Judy Apps, welcome to the show.

Judy Apps: Happy to be here.

Brett McKay: So you were the author of a book called The Art of Conversation, and I thought it’d be good to have you on the podcast now, because at least here in the United States, things are starting to open up a little bit, we’re getting back to normal, to what it was like before COVID. And I feel like for over a year, we haven’t really had in-person conversations, a lot of our communication’s been over Zoom. And at least me I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit rusty with my conversational skills. But generally speaking, when you work with people on improving their conversation, where do you feel like people fall short of in their conversational skills?

Judy Apps: Well, I think I feel very similar to you. I’ve been at home for many months. I think nearly always, people come from the same point of view, which is they feel that conversation is about their talking, well, that’s what they’re worried about. And often they go to extremes, either they feel, “I’ve got nothing to say, I don’t know how to start it, I don’t know how to continue it, I don’t know what to say.” Or else that they know that they’re people who witter, is that an American term? They can’t stop talking. So once they start going, they’re so nervous that they just carry on and carry on and carry on. Both those two come from not listening, and it’s partly because people don’t necessarily think that’s a big part of it, because they are more worried about what they can do themselves. I think that’s the number one thing.

There’s also, I think, the fact that people also think of searching for subjects, finding something to talk about. It’s a funny thing, after my dad died, I discovered in his dress coat pocket a little list of how to do the steps in dancing, ballroom dancing. And I think he was so worried about not using the steps right that he carried in his breast pocket notes to tell him how to dance. Now, how he was ever gonna look at those, I don’t know. But I think people are like that with conversation, they feel they’ve got to prepare topics ready to talk about, but the content of your conversation is only part of it, it’s not even the biggest part of it. The content can vary, when you meet somebody, it can go to all sorts of places. But the other part of it is that your connection to the other person is even more important than actually what you’re going to talk about.

I’ve been in conversations within a group sometimes after a course, and somebody tells a story, perhaps it’s a sporting story, and then somebody else tells their sporting story, and then somebody else has their opinion about some sporting thing. And they carry on saying that it’s one opinion after another, but nobody connects with anybody else. But the exciting things in conversation happen when you connect, when you actually begin to understand the other person, you feel a bit closer to them, you begin to trust them, all those things. All those things come when you connect.

Brett McKay: And we’ll talk about in this conversation, what we can do to build more connection in our conversations. And I think another issue that holds people back with conversation is, they don’t think of it as a skill that they can get better at. They think, “Well, I’ve been talking since I was one and a half, I don’t need to think about how to be a better conversationalist.” But you make this case that and there’s, we… You can go back in Western history, recent Western history, where conversation was seen as an art that you try to get better at. So what do you think are the benefits if someone cultivates this ability to have conversations that connect. What have you seen in the people you’ve worked with? Like, how does that enrich their lives?

Judy Apps: Well, first, I do think it’s amazingly important. And it’s quite surprising that we underestimate that. And just as you said, we are all very used to the fact that we’ve been talking since we were a couple of years or less old, so we have been doing it forever. But how do we learn? We learned completely haphazardly from the models we happened to have at the time, which was our parents or carers, whatever. So for example, if I had a very bossy mother, who did nothing but just make statements, when I grow up thinking that talking is about making pronouncements, or if I had somebody who has always had a very angry sort of voice, I might learn that that’s how I talk and I sort of throw this voice at everybody. So we didn’t learn, and I think that hits people.

Very often, sometimes at school, but usually when they start work, and anybody who has sort of risen in the world of work, knows how incredibly important it is to be articulate to be able to say what you mean to make connections with people, all that stuff. So at work, it’s hugely, hugely important. I mean, it starts from the very beginning, it doesn’t hit… I work quite often with people who are going for interviews or reviews. So there’s that first meeting with the company. And you’re expected to be able to speak, now articulate what you’ve done, and what you’re pleased about, and all the rest of it. And then when you’re at work, there are meetings, again, a huge, huge difficulty for a lot of people. Many people say, Well, I’m alright, just talking one to one. But in a meeting, I’d never get in. I never get attached to the point of having people hear me say anything. So there’s all that, then there’s the whole business of working with clients, of networking, of reaching out to people who aren’t in your company, and then the whole business of actually getting noticed in your company. I’ve had people say very, very often, that actually they started to raise their profile to be noticed when they began to improve their speaking skills. So hugely, hugely important. And it’s not just work, because the other thing that prompts people is relationships, it’s often at school people have perfectly good relationships, and then they’re out in the big world.

And they find it tougher, particularly with the… When they want to make an intimate relationship with somebody. People often say, how did you meet? And they might say, Well, we’ve met here, or we met there. So how did you get together? And often the man will say, Well, I chatted her up, that’s a conversation. And how’d you do that sort of conversation where the subject matter doesn’t matter that much, you just want to get closer to somebody? Well, talking is all about that, too. It’s all about that. And the pleasure, of course, the pleasure of having fun with people to chat and to laugh, to learn stuff from other people. The best learning is, through conversations, I think a lot of teachers would say that, in conversing with a class, people pick things up, they pick things up. And I think the last thing and the most important to me is that when you’re conversing with somebody, you can have just really magical moments, where you realize that you both get each other. And therefore you can talk about anything, and you will feel understood, and you will feel stimulated, and you come off that sort of conversation on a real high. Because life’s worth living because I can connect with somebody and be understood.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about how we can improve our conversational skills and refine the art of conversation. So going back to that story you told about your father, the dance steps in his breast pocket, you make this case that conversation is like a dance. And it’s good to think of it like a dance. Or how is conversation like a dance?

Judy Apps: I think it’s exactly like a dance. If you look at people in… You’re in a cafe or a restaurant or something, and you look across at couple’s tables, you can see who’s getting on even without hearing them, because there’s a feeling of flow between them. Maybe they’re both sitting in a similar sort of comfortable way. And then one leans forward a little and then the other one leans forward as well. So it is a visible dance, even from a distance. And then if you got closer to them, you would hear the tone of voice also is a dance. If somebody says, I hate that artist, if they’re getting on, well, the other one might say, Oh, that’s ridiculous, I love her. So they’re using a similar sort of voice when they’re getting on. And then somebody perhaps goes into a more airborne feeling movement and says something about something that matters to them. And the other person too comes down into that space, that space that feels something more to do with emotion, perhaps. So you will hear that to and fro. There aren’t that many shocks that come in that, it actually flows in terms of actually what you’re saying and how you get on with talking to people. It is certainly a game of two parts. It has two players.

And when conversation is flowing beautifully, it tends in normal conversation just to flow from one and then back to the other and then to one and the other. Of course, it’s not always like that, because sometimes people make a contract that, Okay, I’m gonna talk for an hour, and you’re gonna listen to me for an hour, in a counseling session or something. But in normal conversation, you tend to share the time. I have had, what I might call a conversation with people occasionally, where I’ve met a friend, and they’ve talked solidly for an hour. And then afterwards, they’ve said, Oh I so enjoyed our conversation. It was great, wasn’t it? Finding out more about each other? And I would think, Well, I’m not sure I said in such a word. So that is where conversation hasn’t been a flow. It’s just been one person sort of taking the lead in it. When you first meet somebody, this idea of to and fro, is what gets it started. Shall I talk about meeting people for the first time? Would you like to hear about that?

Brett McKay: Yeah, let’s talk about it. Yeah, let’s go ahead and talk about that.

Judy Apps: So for example… Say, I would like to chat. I feel it quite strongly at the moment because I do a lot of my work at home, so if I walk down into town, it’s really lovely sometimes to actually hear a few words from someone else. Distanced as we are, it’s still lovely to get into a conversation with somebody. So a really good way to do that is to say something. I mean, it’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? But somebody has to start a conversation. But if you want to start it with something you don’t know so well, you don’t wanna make it threatening. So first of all, you don’t make it clever, you don’t make it super witty, you don’t make it really personal. You don’t turn to somebody and say, “So who are you really?” Or a question like that that is, you know… You say something just really, really simple. Over here, we always talk about the weather. It’s always a good conversation. But it is. It’s a wonderful thing to talk about because the weather varies a lot here, and there’s always something to say about it, and it is completely un-threatening.

Or else, you talk about the environment, the stuff around you, or whether you’ve been waiting in the queue long, or… Just stuff. And then the other person has the opportunity to say something too. And if they do, then you know, okay, they’re probably up for a bit of a chat. So then you will say something back. And the way that the ping-pong from side to side works is, it’s really good if at the end of the little bit, you say… You pose a question. So let’s say you were talking to somebody about holidays, and they say, Where have you been on holiday? And you say, Oh, we went to Brighton. Now that might stop the conversation. They might not think of the same thing to say. But if you can just pop a little question at the end, if you reply, I’ve just been to Brighton. Where do you like to go on your holidays? So you’ve popped it back into their court. And I mentioned it in the book as a game of tennis, ’cause it is really like popping something over the net and then the other word person popping it back again. And if you do that for three, four, five sentences, you usually light on something that actually interests you both and that you are actually really curious to ask more about.

Brett McKay: So I think this is a good point. So you’re basically talking about making small talk to get a bigger conversation going. And like you said, a lot of people, sometimes when they want, and they think of conversation, they think you gotta get deep right away. But that’s not how people work. You have to kind of feel them out and make what I call friendly noises, just really like friendly runs to see if they’re interested. And if they are, then you can pick it up possibly.

Judy Apps: Yes, I… Friendly noises is great. Actually, that’s exactly it. You make friendly noises on very safe subjects: On transport, the place, and things like that. In my book, I call that thing talk, because you never make it personal to the other person. You might not even at the very beginning to say something like, So what do you think about… That’s an opinion, and that’s fine, but actually safer, even than that, is just talking about general things: About the environment, or what car you drive, or how you arrived at the place where you are, and so on. And then… And then step by step, you can get closer to the person. And it usually gets closer by then asking them something about what they do in that environment. So, Do you go on holiday? Where do you like to go? And then, What do you like to do? As soon as you’re asking people what they like to do, you’re getting a little bit personal, but not in any sort of intrusive way. They’re just telling you about stuff they might do or they might not do.

And then little by little, you go in stages, until you get to stuff that actually matters to them. And then when you’re talking about stuff that matters, well, then, yes, you’re getting into a real conversation about values and about what’s important to people. So then you’ve got somewhere real, where you’re both being real with each other.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about that process, so that we have an example. So, okay, you start off with thing talks. You’re gonna talk about the weather, you’re gonna talk about the line at the shop, or the queue, as you would say, and where you’re at. And then you might feel them out and like, Oh, we can probably start talking about what you do. So you’ll be like, Oh, so where did you go on holiday? Or you could even say, Well, I went to holiday this place. The weather was great there. And that can lead the conversation to about what you do. Where would you go after that? What would be the next level up after talking about what someone does?

Judy Apps: Okay, so after that, you would probably start teasing out what people think about stuff, so it’s getting on to opinions: Do you prefer this, or do you prefer that? You might even then start asking the, Oh, so why do you prefer sailing to… I go out with my motorboat. So you love sailing. So what is it about sailing that you love? Now, what is it about something? Is asking for somebody for a personal opinion on something they do themselves. So that’s getting a little bit closer to who they are. We’re aiming to get to who the person is, actually. So if I ask their opinion about, Do you prefer this car to that car? That’s already personal ’cause it’s an opinion, but it’s not an opinion that says too much about them. But if I ask them about activities they do and how they really love doing one and love not the other, they’re starting to tell you about what sort of person they are.

Then, if they perhaps are talking about sailing… I don’t know why I’ve chosen this subject, because I don’t sail. But let’s go on with it. So if they’re talking about sailing, I can ask, So what is it about sailing? And they say, Well, actually, we go in for races, so I find that exciting. And I say, You know… So when you’re racing, isn’t that quite dangerous, or something like that? And then the person might say, Oh yes, the more dangerous, the better. I just adore it when we’re almost flat on our side, and I’m lying back almost in the ocean. I just adore that. It’s that I get a kick out of it. Well, you’re already starting to find out a lot about the kind of person they are. And because the conversation has got gently into that, they are on a roll, because they feel that you’re understanding where they’re at. So that was all to do with things that people do. When you get on to what they feel about…

Life in general, living life, being a human being, but that’s where you get really close to somebody and that starts happening. When you ask them how they feel about stuff. Up to now, it’s all been thinking, now feeling doesn’t get a super good press, it’s improving these days, but it always used to be thought that thinking is the thing, feeling is a bit of wishy washy and not to be trusted, and it’s like 18th century women who used to have the vapors and faint from nerves and things like that, but feeling is where people really are at, what they feel about stuff, how they feel about the situation in the world, they always say that when you’re… When you are giving a talk, when you’re presenting, people will forget half of what you tell them, but they, won’t forget how you made them feel. So I might go back to the sailing and say, So what does that feel like, you know when you’re in the race and you feel that you might even come in first, and then somebody will tell you about it in a voice that changes really… It might be a voice that’s super enthusiastic, which is one kind of feeling but they might even go into something that is closer to their heart. You might even say something like, It’s the time I feel most alive. It’s the time I feel most me it’s the time when I am out there on the ocean, and it’s just me and the boat.

And as I can hear my voice changing as I think of this scenario, so feelings is the next thing, people will often avoid feelings, I used to ask a group once, who all had children, and I said, You know, so what is it like when you see your baby in bed just sleep, and a lot of people obviously felt really emotional about that time, but they would reply in a bright voice, oh, it’s just amazing. I really love it, I love that time. But if you got really close, they wouldn’t use that bright voice they would use a voice that was more it is just amazing. I cannot believe that I have got children. It is the most beautiful time of the day for me, and they go into a place where they are actually feeling that feeling they have watching their children as they speak to you, and then you know you’ve got quite close indeed, because these feelings aren’t things we share with everybody. So then you get to there, and then you are really, really starting to… Well, talk on the same wave length. You literally are… Your breathing starts to vibrate at the same time as each other, you have got each other at that point you understand each other.

Brett McKay: I think an important point to make. So this example we’ve talked about is you are going from talking about things or really like small talk, this is for someone you don’t know, you just sort of… You’re out and about and you wanna strike up conversation, getting to feelings probably, most of the time is not gonna happen in that one… That initial contact, right? Sometimes all you’re gonna get… You’re just gonna talk about the weather. Talk about the line and that’s it, and that’s okay. That’s a fine conversation, and then maybe you see that person again the next day or a week later, and then you might go to what you do, so this could take… This conversation could take weeks or sometimes even months…

Judy Apps: Yes, that is absolutely right. And you will find with some people that you don’t go that far, and you never go that far when you ask a question, which is perhaps going to a closer level, it’s like an invitation, and the person either accepts the invitation or they don’t… Which is absolutely fine. So when I say something like, So, what does it feel like when you’re out on the ocean? It’s like, Oh, oh, great I have to always check that the… I can’t get the language now for sailing, I need to check the sails and make sure everything is all right, and they have obviously not accepted that invitation in the way you meant it, they’ve taken it back to something that feels feels more appropriate to them, to the kind of conversation they are having. And you will meet people who are very impolitely called widget, people who always prefer to talk about technical things rather than getting getting close to somebody, and it’s a dance in the sense that you are flexible as the conversationalist, you are flexible, and so you perhaps try something…

Just slip something out and then if it doesn’t work, that’s fine. You go back to what they are used to talking about, but with a lot of people, it’s not like that little by little, you do find you can get to a closer way, and I think that is for many people a skill to be learned, because I think there are plenty of people who perhaps get a bit frustrated with their conversations that we’re always talking about things we’re always talking about holidays, we are always talking about… Well, that’s all we ever talk about when they come to dinner, and it’s because nobody quite knows how one might go to something that is a little more connected.

Brett McKay: Yeah, and I think that process that you laid out, going from things to doing to how you feel about what you do can get you to those deeper conversations that a lot of us want.

Judy Apps: Certainly, you know, certainly in your close relationships… That’s the way to get closer to people. Is to go like that. And I think many people have just never done that actually. They’ve never had intimate conversations. I mean, often, people sometimes say, Oh, this is a girl boy thing, ’cause in the playground, the girls are always standing in groups, talking together, and the boys are playing football not talking. But I don’t think it’s just that, I think that we’re all different. And some of us find it, it harder than other people. And then that’s where the skills really help, because you can go out and try them. And the place to try is, in the bread queue or whatever that’s the place to give yourself little experiments. See, Okay, I’m gonna have a little conversation this morning, in my trip down to town, let’s see if it’s gonna happen. Not to give yourself a hard time. But just to play the game. Let me see if I can just sort of toss out this remark and see if I get a reply. And then you can try different things in different contexts. So then at work, you say to yourself, okay, I’m going to speak in a meeting today. And you work out how that’s gonna happen, how you’re going to be listened to, in a meeting, and so on.

Brett McKay: So we’re talking about this idea of conversation isn’t just about content, we’ve talked about the content, they’re giving people ideas of what they can talk about. Talk about things, talk about what you do and then maybe you get to opinions and feelings and things like that. But you said earlier, that conversation is all about connection. And a big part of the connection, someone feels in a conversation is like the energy that the people bring to it. So let’s say you’re trying to start off a conversation at the store, you just wanna make some small talk about just… You wanna connect with people, like you wanna feel like I’m socializing. What sort of emotional state encourages that people wanting to play the game of conversation and join in your ball toss that you’re giving them?

Judy Apps: I think it’s very important not to be stuck inside yourself. I think those of us, this is many of us, those of us who are a little bit shy, a little bit reticent, we get self conscious. And self consciousness is about well, it says here, doesn’t it? It is about being conscious of yourself. Now if you’re conscious of yourself, that’s taking up all your space, and you haven’t got any space for somebody else. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t be self conscious, because we all have those feelings. But we need ways to come out. From all the stuff that’s happening to us. So what is happening when you feel anxious about an encounter? Well, for a start, many people go a bit tense, I’m tensing up my shoulders now. As I tense up my shoulders, my voice gets a bit kind of funny. So when you’re tense, you don’t look at ease to the other person. So that happens. And then I have a voice inside my head, which I’m very used to. And it’s been saying stuff to me all my life. And it’s saying, Oh, you shouldn’t really talk to somebody, and oh, well, they won’t reply anyway. And, oh, you’re gonna make an idiot of yourself here. We have this inner talk, which a lot of us do really well.

And so everything’s inside. And then in terms of that sense of touch, we have that feeling inside us, which is really uncomfortable. That feeling of tension of maybe nerves and maybe tightening in the chest, and so on. So when we’re like that, we’re not available, we’re just not available to other people. I do have a little exercise I suggest for people. And that goes on the theory that you can use your five senses, externally and internally, but you can’t do both at the same time. So if I’m talking to myself in my head, I’m not listening outside. So I’m not hearing anything that’s outside. If I’m seeing sort of pictures of disaster in my head of the last time I tried this and how awful it was, I’m not actually seeing what’s in front of me. And when I’m feeling in my tummy, all that horrible, uncomfortable feeling or feeling tense, again, I’m not in touch with the outside world. So the little exercise before you even start your conversation, is make sure that you’re looking out of your own eyes and seeing what’s around you. You can even say it to yourself. Okay, gray pavement, window, glass, so that you’re outside. As far as listening goes, listen to the noises. Listen to the noise of the streets, listen to what’s outside you.

And while you’re doing that, you’re not listening to the voice inside your head. And then in terms of touch and feeling. Think about different parts your body so wriggle your toes in your shoes and feel yourself lovely and grounded on the pavement. So everything in you is externally focused. That’s a good start. Because it tends to stop that terrible inner talk for those few moments. And you only need a few moments to get yourself to do these things. The other thing that you can try that is… Really worked surprisingly well is you wanna be positive when you’re going to have a little chat with somebody, you want to be outgoing, positive, cheerful. So think of a time, think of a time in your life when you’ve been enjoying yourself for example. So before you go out on this expedition, think of a time when you were really having a wonderful time. And just remember how that was. I can remember for example, feeling of being on a beautiful, warm beach feeling the sun in my face, and thinking oh isn’t it amazing to be on holiday. Oh I’m really enjoying this. And as I think of it actually I just took a big breath because there was a feeling of opening myself to this huge lovely sunshine and sand…

And then the trick of this exercise is to remember that feeling. So just before I go out to town to perhaps have this little conversation with somebody, I remember that lovely breath I took on the beach and I filled my chest, and so I get a bit of that good feeling. So I take those two things out with me, I take external focus, seeing what actually is there in front of me, hearing what is actually there, and I take a few of those good feelings, which I can practice any time, which just changes my physiology a bit, it changes my breathing a bit, it changes the way my shoulders sit, the way my neck moves, just relaxes me a bit before I do it, so there’s a couple of things that you can do.

Brett McKay: You know I think that having that sort of open… That positive feeling, it opens you up and it makes you more flexible, so it allows you to respond to people better, so even if someone you throw the ball of conversation their way and they reject it, well, you’re able to pick that up a little bit more and you’re actually not… Doesn’t bother you as much and you can move on. But if you’re anxious, like that rejection is gonna make you feel even more anxious and more worse, and it just goes down to a death spiral, so be positive.

Judy Apps: I think your word flexibility, flexible. I think that’s a really, really good… Really good word. So that you go in for a conversation, not knowing what’s going to happen, and not minding that you don’t know… Conversation is improvisation, improv, what do you call it? It is, it’s improvisation. So it’s a game and it can go anywhere, it can go amazing places, or maybe it just Witters out, it doesn’t matter because you’re up for being flexible. And then when you’re flexible, as you say, you open yourself out, you take better breaths, as you take better breaths, the oxygen goes to your brain, you think better, so you’re more open to respond to what’s actually is happening, rather than what you feel should be happening or you ought to be doing. And it’s more fun, a lot more fun.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I like that you have this thinking conversation is a game, that sort of framework can make it less threatening and encourage you to actually try it more often. It’s just like, “Well it’s just a game, if it doesn’t work out, it’s no harm, no foul. I can try again, play again.”

Judy Apps: Yes. The other side of this is, if you can think of it as a game, you give yourself a pat on the back for doing it, alright? So whatever happens, I play a game of Monopoly, which I used to years ago, and I’d usually lose, but it was fun to play, and I didn’t cry at the end if I lost. So it’s about knowing that it doesn’t matter, I can give myself a pat on the back that I did it. My challenge was, “Okay, I have a quick little conversation today when I’m out shopping,” Or whatever, and I give myself the brownie point to having done that, I give myself a pat on the back for having done that whatever the outcome. It’s the doing of it, that is actually good to do, and people are worried about things being a game, they think it’s not serious, actually, the best stuff is a game.

We have an actor in this country if you’ve properly heard of, which is Judi Dench, and she always… She was in the Bond Series for one. She always loved doing stuff that was not film but live, because she said, “Every time you go on stage, you do it differently.” And that’s a person who has actually learned the words of a play and knows that she’s gonna say the same words each evening, but each evening she would do it differently. And I think that’s the way that the best professional musicians practice, they practice, they do the same thing over and over again, but not by they do it like a fun game. “Let me try it this way,” “Oh, let me do this for a change,” And when you do that, actually you get some surprises, you find that there are things that you really think went well that you wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t just been playing.

Brett McKay: So yeah, again, you have to be flexible and you have to the practice this, you can’t just… You have to learn by doing basically. And I think it’s one thing people need to understand, you’re gonna have… You’re gonna stumble, there’s gonna be… You’re gonna do some things that are awkward, that’s okay, just learn from that mistake and then do better next time.

Judy Apps: Yes, it’s a fascinating thing in coaching, I do a lot of coaching. When you first learn to be a coach, people get very excited about powerful questions and asking the right questions. I’ve discovered and in the last few years, scientists working on the brain have corroborated this, when you actually connect really well with somebody, it doesn’t matter if you ask the wrong question, because they more or less tell you it’s the wrong question, or they answer the question they would like you to have asked. In other words, it doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t matter. Those stumbles don’t matter at all because you’ve got a connection going. And it’s the same with… Well, it’s the same with disagreement, people are often terrified of disagreement, but actually if you’re connected, disagreement can be even fun, it can be quite nice to have a robust conversation with somebody.

But what people tend to do when they disagree, is they feel awkward about it, so they do a load of extra stuff. They perhaps get a little tense, they perhaps turn their shoulder away, they perhaps… Their voice goes a bit funny and they speak, “Oh I don’t agree with that.” And that in itself sounds quite aggressive. But if you carry on talking in the same way as the other person and they say, you know, “Oh, I just… I’ve just paused for a moment because I’ve realized I’ve got politics on my brain in this country at the moment, and I just thought I didn’t want to talk too much about politics.”

But if they say something like, for example, “Oh, I just love that law that they’ve just passed, I think it’s brilliant.” If I use the same voice, I can disagree quite happily. I can say, “Do you know, I think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever done? Quite honestly, I do.” And because I didn’t fight them in terms of tone of voice and in terms of my body language, disagreement’s absolutely fine as well. So the connection is the absolute number one thing.

Brett McKay: Well, Judy, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Judy Apps: Okay. Well, I have a website, which is, so they can go there. I’ve given a TedX talk, so they can go and look up Judy Apps, and I gave a talk on communication and how some of these things work, how being authentic and real works for people. And then I’ve written five books all in all. The very latest one I wrote is called The Art of Communication, and that really goes a step beyond the conversation book, into looking at how you can make really deep conversations with people. It’s… The strap line is how to be authentic, lead others and create strong, strong connections, and it talks quite a lot about how our left and right brain work and how we can really go down to deep levels with people, even in ordinary conversations.

But there are four other books as well. One’s called, actually, Butterflies And Sweaty Palms which is about getting nervous, performance anxiety. So, if in conversation you’re finding that it’s your problem that, actually, you suffer from nervous about speaking, Butterflies And Sweaty Palms’ short, really good book about helping you with that. So, I think that’s it, that’s it. A couple of odd books on Voice as well, I do a lot of voice work with people, and of course, I coach one-to-one. There’s my spiel.

Brett McKay: Well, fantastic. Well, Judy Apps, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Judy Apps: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much, Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest there was Judy Apps. She’s the author of the book The Art of Conversation, it’s available on and book stores everywhere. Make sure to check out her show notes at, where you find links to our resources when you delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM podcast, check out our website at where you find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles written over the years, and if you’d like to enjoy ad free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium. Head over to, sign up, use code “MANLINESS” at check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android, iOS, and you can start enjoying ad free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already. I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot, and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or a family member who you think will get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.


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