How to Talk to People, According to Terry Gross

The NPR host offers 8 spicy tips for having better conversations.

By Jolie Kerr            Nov. 17, 2018                           The New York Times

It’s fair to say Terry Gross knows some things about talking to people. The host and co-executive producer of NPR’s “Fresh Air” has interviewed thousands of personalities over the course of her four-decade career.

It all started in the early 1970s, when, floundering a bit in her post-college life, she landed a gig at WBFO, a radio station in Buffalo. There she would call subjects and interview them for the program she hosted, “This Is Radio.” She moved to Philadelphia in 1975 to host “Fresh Air,” the brainchild of a colleague from WBFO.

Ms. Gross brings a combination of empathy and rigorous preparation to the job. “I read, watch or listen to as much of the person’s work as possible, so I have an understanding of what makes them, or their story, important,” she said. “I try to clarify in my own mind why this person matters, and why it’s worthy of our listeners’ time.”

One thing she does not allow of her interview subjects, however, is input on the edit. “When the interview is over, you don’t have a chance to call back and say, ‘Well I like my answer to this, I don’t like my answer to that, can you edit that out,” she said. (As someone who has been interviewed by Ms. Gross, I would like to say that I wish I hadn’t insisted that her cats hate her. That said, I never asked for my comment to be removed from that particular episode of “Fresh Air.”)

In a subsequent chat, our roles reversed, Ms. Gross offered her thoughts on how to have a good conversation.

 “Tell me about yourself,” 
a.k.a the only icebreaker 
you’ll ever need

Those are the only four words you need to navigate a potentially awkward conversation, whether on a blind date or at a cocktail party. Ms. Gross avoids asking more pointed questions (for example, “What do you do for work?”) that presume information to be true.

The beauty in opening with “tell me about yourself” is that it allows you to start a conversation without the fear that you’re going to inadvertently make someone uncomfortable or self-conscious. Posing a broad question lets people lead you to who they are. As an interviewer, Ms. Gross’s goal is to find out how her subject became who they are; as a conversationalist, make that goal your own.

 The secret to being a good 

Interviewing a person and having a conversation with them are two different things, but a common thread that can help you to excel at both, according to Ms. Gross, is “being genuinely curious, and wanting to hear what the other person is telling you. I can respond to what somebody saying by expressing if I’m feeling sympathy or empathy, and explaining why.”

Be funny (if you can).

“A good conversationalist is somebody who is fun to talk to,” she said. Ms. Gross, it’s worth noting, is very funny. If you can’t be funny, being mentally organized, reasonably concise and energetic will go a long way in impressing people.

 Preparation is key.

Most of us will never find ourselves in the position of being interviewed by someone like Ms. Gross, but most of us will certainly find ourselves in the position of being interviewed by someone. Preparation, she says, is key. “It helps to organize your thoughts beforehand by thinking about the things you expect you’ll be asked and then reflecting on how you might answer,” she said.

A place where this can be especially helpful, particularly when meeting someone for the first time in a social setting, like a date, is considering how comfortable you are with opening up on certain topics. “It’s helpful to think through where your boundaries are, so that you’re not paralyzed agonizing over whether you’re willing to confide something or not.”

In a job interview, organizing your thoughts by thinking about the things you expect you’ll be asked and reflecting on how you might answer can help you navigate if things start to go badly.

 Take control 
by pivoting to something you want 
to talk about.

Ms. Gross offered help for how to handle a job interview that’s going badly. “If somebody is asking you questions and you don’t feel that you have a strong response for it, say, ‘let me share an experience.’” From there, you can share an experience that points to your talents and areas where you excel.

An interview is a two-way street, which can be hard to remember when you’re the applicant who desperately wants to land the gig, but Ms. Gross gently reminds us that as an interviewee, you’re there to do some sussing out of your own. What is the job really like? What would be expected of you? Being prepared, too, can help you avoid getting caught off guard, or help you to more easily pivot the conversation to a subject that you’ve prepared yourself to talk about in a way that plays to your strengths.

 Ms. Gross doesn’t want you 
to dodge questions. 
But if you’re going to, here’s how.

“Well, I don’t think it is in my self-interest to tutor people on how to dodge a question,” Ms. Gross said. But, when pressed — perhaps regretting the previous advice she gave to this interviewer about how to get people to answer questions they don’t want to answer (“keep asking”) — she suggests using honesty. Say, “I don’t want to answer that,” or, if that’s too blunt, hedge with a statement like, “I’m having a difficult time thinking of a specific answer to that.” Going the martyr route with something like, “I’m afraid by answering that I’m going to hurt somebody’s feelings and I don’t want to do that,” is another option.

 Terry pays attention to body language. 
Be like Terry.

Ms. Gross wishes that everyone would pay attention to other people’s body language. “Try to pick up on when you’ve kind of lost somebody’s attention,” she said. That way, you can avoid boring your fellow interlocutor to death or holding someone up from getting to wherever they may actually need to be. If the person engaging you in ceaseless chatter won’t take the hint, Ms. Gross again recommends honesty. “Well, there’s the truth, which is I’d love to talk some more, but I’m really late,” even, she says, if it feels rude to cut things off. “If a person is being insensitive to you, you don’t have a commitment to be beholden to their insensitivity.”

 When to push back, 
and when not to

Ms. Gross prefers to interview artists and creators over politicians, and she approaches those baskets of interviewees differently. Politicians, she believes, “owe us an answer,” and so she, in her own very Terry Gross way will “keep asking and re-asking and asking, and maybe I’ll ask it in separate ways, and maybe I’ll point out that they haven’t yet answered the question.” She prefers, however, to interview people who work in arts and culture, and offers those subjects more leeway to set parameters for the conversation. “I tell people that if I ask them anything too personal they should let me know and I’ll move on,” she said. “I want the liberty to ask anything with the understanding that if I’m pushing too far, my guest has the liberty — and they know they have the liberty — to tell me that I’m going too far. And once you told somebody that, you’ve committed to it, and you better fulfill the commitment.”

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 18, 2018, on Page ST4 of the New York edition with the headline: A Master Class in the Fine Art of Conversation.

The entire White House press corps should walk out and stop indulging this bully

By Jane Merrick

Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT) November 8, 2018            CNN

Editor’s Note : Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN) – With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, Donald Trump gained a glimpse of what it’s like to lose some — albeit only some — power.

And, when bullies think they’re losing control, they lash out in anger.

The President’s reaction to tough questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta about the Republican campaign and his immigration “invasion” rhetoric was classic bullying behavior: calling the chief White House correspondent a “rude, terrible person” shows how rattled Trump is about the results.

Just because the President’s outburst on Wednesday was in keeping with his portrayal of the media as “enemies of the people” does not mean it should be tolerated.

Trump’s decision to revoke Acosta’s pass to the White House grounds is an outrageous ramping up of his campaign against a questioning, robust. free media.

In response to a man who treats his Presidency as if it’s a series of a particularly bizarre reality-TV show, the entire White House press corps should walk out. Deny him coverage. Take him off the air. Cancel his series. Leave him to rage into Twitter’s echo chamber, which is all he deserves.

As Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, said on Twitter: “This is something I’ve never seen since I started covering the White House in 1996. Other presidents did not fear tough questioning.”

In Britain, too, Prime Ministers are asked tough, sometimes very hardline questions. I have covered UK politics during the terms of four Prime Ministers, and I have never seen a response like this.

Once, Tony Blair was asked if he had “blood on your hands” after the suicide of the Iraq weapons inspector Dr. David Kelly. This was a far more controversial question than anything Trump faced on Wednesday, yet the then-Prime Minister merely stood in stony silence. What’s more, the reporter who asked the question did not have his credentials revoked.

And now, not only has Acosta’s pass been withdrawn, but he now faces the false claim by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders that he “placed his hands” on the female intern who tried to remove the microphone as he tried to ask more questions.

This young woman should not be blamed for doing her job in what must be a tough environment. What is disgraceful is that Sanders should insinuate that Acosta has committed some sort of assault — when footage of the incident clearly shows the intern placing her hands on his arm, and not the other way around.

Sanders has even circulated what to my eyes appears to be a doctored film of the interaction with Acosta’s arm movement sped up, to make it look as though he has karate-chopped her forearm.

Senior White House officials disseminating lies and smears on social media — which are then lapped up by Trump supporters — in revenge against a journalist asking questions evokes George Orwell’s “1984”: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

This accusation of assault is outrageous on its own. It is an insult to real victims of harassment and assault. But from a White House whose President has in the past admitted “grabbing” women in a sexual manner, whose record on misogyny is so poor, and who only last month praised a Republican candidate for body-slamming a reporter, it is breathtakingly hypocritical.

This marks the lowest point in the Trump White House’s campaign against the press, and it should no longer be indulged.

Freed journalist Jumpei Yasuda expresses gratitude, apologizes over Syria ordeal

BY  MAGDALENA OSUMI                           The Japan Times  NOV 2, 2018

Journalist Jumpei Yasuda, who returned to Japan last month after being held by militants in Syria for more than three years, said Thursday that he did not hold any grudge toward the Japanese government over his ordeal.

“I believe the government officials did everything they could,” given their stance of not paying ransoms to terrorists and that gathering information on the situation in that region is difficult.

“I owe an apology to all those who did their utmost to secure my release, and I’d also like to say that I’m deeply grateful for all the efforts” that led to the release, he told a jam-packed news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“I’m really sorry for involving, and thus endangering, the government.”

Addressing a recent barrage of criticism, mostly online, which claimed that Yasuda should take personal responsibility for entering a war zone, the journalist said that he deserved it.

“You enter conflict-stressed zones on your own responsibility, and you can blame yourself if something happens to you,” he said.

Yasuda, who after returning to Japan spent several days in a hospital, said he was still recovering from the traumatic events.

Yasuda was abducted soon after he entered Syria from Turkey via a mountainous route on June 22, 2015. He believes he may have been deceived by people who were meant to be helping him cross the border.

Yasuda said he did not know for certain the name of the group that held him.

However, based on conversations he was part of or heard while in captivity, he concluded that the group may be the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee.

The group was formed from a merger of the Nusra Front and other militant groups.

He said he could keep track of the events because he was allowed to keep records in a diary.

Yasuda said that in late July 2015, the militants informed him that they had demanded the Japanese government pay a ransom. The group was reported to have been seeking $10 million (¥1.1 billion).

Apparently the militants had high hopes that Tokyo would respond to their demand, and they allowed Yasuda to watch television and treated him to sweets and local delicacies while keeping him under surveillance during the first months of his ordeal.

Yasuda said the militants informed him that the government was willing to pay. But in the closing days of December that year, they told him that Tokyo had ceased negotiations.

“During that time, I clung to the idea that the government was trying to buy time,” he said.

Yasuda, who was transferred to various locations over the period of his 40-month detention, was held alongside other hostages. They included Pakistanis and an Italian man, who like Yasuda appeared in a video wearing orange jumpsuits begging for help.

Yasuda said that to scare him and prevent him from leaking information about his whereabouts or the militant group, he wasoften forced to listen to other hostages being tortured. He mentioned that Uighurs were among the militants keeping him under surveillance in the last months of his ordeal.

Militants suspected him of spying, and later played with his emotions by keeping him in a room where he wasn’t able to move, he added.

He said he was given script for most of the videos that militants released for negotiations, some of which were disclosed by media in Japan.

Before filming, he said, he was often required to eat chili peppers because the militants wanted him to appear tearful.

“They assured me they wouldn’t kill me,” he said. He also said his captors repeated promises of a prompt release numerous times, but in the last weeks he felt desperate and told the guards to “either let me go or kill me.”

Looking ahead, Yasuda said he had no idea whether he would return to Syria or neighboring countries to report.

“I go to such places when I want to get information, when I have questions,” he said.

He also stressed that “the role of journalists reporting from conflict-stressed zones is indispensable,” as they observe events impossible to cover and hard to comprehend from the outside.

For example, he said that in Syria he was hoping to obtain documents concerning members and the structure of the Islamic State group, which in 2015 wielded power in the nation and posed a significant threat to the world.

“At that time I wanted to see how the world of Islam works there, whether an outsider can grasp how it works and what problems exist in that society,” he said.

“I still want to learn more about Syria and convey the voices of people living there.”


Canadian held captive in Syria says Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda doesn’t deserve criticism

KYODO                                          The Japan Times  NOV 3, 2018

Journalist Jumpei Yasuda
, press conference, at Japan NationalPress Club, Uchi saiwai cho on Nov. 2, 2018. Hodo-bu Maguda reports, YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

NEW YORK – A Canadian also held captive in Syria has said that freed Japanese journalist Jumpei Yasuda should not be criticized for doing his job.

Yasuda, 44, who returned to Japan late last month after 40 months of captivity, has been criticized by some for putting himself in harm’s way by entering Syria alone. He was almost immediately taken hostage by a warring faction that then demanded a ransom for his release.

“I think it is very important for journalists and humanitarians to go to areas where a lot of people don’t or can’t get to,” Sean Moore said in a telephone interview Thursday. “The truth has to be told somehow, and that is a journalist’s job.”

“He (Yasuda) wasn’t carrying a handgun or an AK-47. He was there with a pen, and his punishment for carrying a pen was absolutely brutal and unnecessary,” Moore said.

“Anybody that criticizes him truly doesn’t understand the situation,” said Moore, 48, a resident of Ontario who was freed in February after being held captive for about a month.

Moore also faced criticism when he returned home.

“Many said, ‘Sean Moore deserved it and should have been left to rot in hell.’ I was told I took the risk and now I should pay the price,” he said. “It is difficult to read and hear these comments.”

Moore was taken hostage while trying to help a Canadian woman bring her two sons home from her ex-husband in Lebanon by taking them through Syria and to Turkey.

“He (Yasuda) has been through literal hell. It is easy to put blinders on and walk away,” Moore said.

Yasuda has said he and Moore were held at the same location, and Moore said Yasuda may have remembered his name because he said it every time guards threw food into his cell.

The captivity was “a living hell,” including beatings, Moore said. He was confined in a 90-cm by 1.5 meter cell which was sometimes flooded, and he was fed rotting food.

Moore said he did not see Yasuda at the facility since he was blindfolded and handcuffed any time his captors took him out of the cell.

He also said his captors told him on the day of his release that they were Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. That group formed through a merger of several groups including the Nusra Front.