Oprah Winfrey
Photo: Fabrizio Ferri
Since the day I started co-anchoring the local news in Baltimore nearly 30 years ago, I've been talking and listening for a living. After conversing with everyone from homemakers and schoolteachers to corporate leaders and politicians, I know one thing for sure: Great communication begins with connection. What makes us different from one another is so much less important than what makes us alike—we all long for acceptance and significance. When we recognize those needs in ourselves, we can better understand them in others, and that's when we can set aside our judgments and just hear.

A few years back, my production team and I were interviewing a candidate for our staff. Once we got beyond the first few conversations, we began negotiating a salary—and each time we offered an amount, he countered with an even higher one. That seemed reasonable until, after about the fifth round, he asked for an exorbitant wage that far exceeded the market rate. That was my cue to stop the negotiation and ask, "What do you really want?" This is what he told me: "I want you to want me at your company as much as I want to be there." I did—and once I assured him of that, it freed us to go back to negotiating a fair salary. I realized he was saying the same thing we're all saying to the people in our lives: "I want to know that you value me."

Communication is like a dance. One person takes a step forward, the other takes one back. Even one misstep can land both on the floor in a tangle of confusion. That's the perfect moment to rise to your feet and get clear about the next move—to gently say to the other dancer, "What do you really want here?" At first, you might notice a little squirming, a lot of throat clearing, maybe some silence. But if you stay quiet long enough to get the real answer, I guarantee it will be some variation of the need that job candidate expressed to me that day: "I want to know that you value me." Extend a hand of connection and understanding to help your partner to his or her feet. Then once you're face-to-face, offer three of the most important words any of us can ever receive: "I hear you."

What Oprah Knows for Sure