The staring contest lasted 14 seconds before Amanda de Cadenet, best known for interviewing bold women with boldfaced names, broke the silence with “I can’t take it anymore!” She was delivering instruction in an interview technique: It is sometimes important to keep quiet, and even to stare down one’s interview subject, in the hope that the stare-ee will try to fill the silence with her truth.
It can be uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of that silence, as Ms. de Cadenet herself knows. She was exposed to scrutiny at an early age. As she chronicles in her new book, “It’s Messy,” she was a teenage runaway who got into drugs and was pregnant at 19, with her daughter Atlanta Noo de Cadenet Taylor, by her first husband, John Taylor of Duran Duran.
In her televised series, “The Conversation,” Ms. de Cadenet, 45, has interviewed women such as Hillary Clinton, Ivanka Trump, Issa Rae and Lady Gaga. “One of the big adjustments was to learn to listen,” she said of becoming an effective interviewer.
In our talking-head, Twitter-finger culture, learning to listen, engage and observe are valuable skills, whether you are a journalist, employer or friend.
Here are some tips and tricks that Ms. de Cadenet said she has gleaned along the way.
How to tell if someone is lying
Two words: body language. Ms. de Cadenet said she learned how to read body language as a means of survival as a 15-year-old when she was in a juvenile detention center. ”You can sense whether someone is retreating from you: They look away, they cross their arms, they’ll shift their focus, they will turn their body away,” she said. Also, pay attention to their eyes. “When I was interviewing Hillary Clinton, I knew when I’d ask her something that she wasn’t going to give me the complete truth because she would break eye contact with me.”
How to have a hard conversation
Call out the pink elephant in the room. In Ms. de Cadenet’s book, she outlines a conversation she had with a friend who confessed to her that she was sleeping with a married man. To have a difficult talk, Ms. de Cadenet starts by acknowledging the awkwardness. “Just say, ‘This really uncomfortable for both of us. This is not a conversation I want to have. And I know you don’t. But I think we have to talk about this,’” she said.
How to create that safe space
Be trustworthy. “You have to be someone that when your friends tell you something, they don’t hear it back from other people.” Also, be willing to share your own feelings. “I’ve been privileged to be able to be a part of some of my girlfriends’ lives at their breaking points,” said Ms. de Cadenet, who was friends with Gwyneth Paltrow when she “uncoupled” from Chris Martin, as well as with Amber Heard when she accused Johnny Depp of domestic violence. “And they will be in the trenches with you at some point. Over time, that creates safety.”
How do you know how much to share about yourself?
Consider the impact. Ms. de Cadenet has had her life blasted on the British tabloids since she was a teenager, and she does not advocate oversharing, especially on social media. “I think we are in major T.M.I. culture right now,” she said. “I share personal things about myself in the context of my interviews and in ‘It’s Messy’ — but that’s 20 percent of my life. There is another 80 percent that hasn’t been talked about, or it’s not all the information. It’s enough that I needed to illustrate that story.”
How to know when to have a conversation
Research and know the facts. For some parents, talking about pornography with their children at a young age seems inappropriate. But Ms. de Cadenet knows that young people come across, and search for, pornography at extremely young ages. She has spoken to her 10-year-old children about pornography, she said. “Other parents would be like, ‘Oh, that is way too young,’ but what I know from my research is: It isn’t too young.”
How to deal with small talk
Just take a hard pass. “Just get rid of it immediately,” she said. “Do not sit down with that person again. I hate small talk! I can’t do it.”
How to reach out to someone in a crisis
Keep putting your hand out, and need nothing back. “I had one girlfriend recently who had a monumental loss in her life, and I just sent her texts every day every day that just said, ‘I love you,’ or I sent her a heart emoji,” she said. “And I don’t expect a response.”
How do you get people to share their most vulnerable self?
“What would you tell your 14-year-old self?” is the question that Ms. de Cadenet has found connects people to their most vulnerable and genuine self. She said the age of 14 is a transitional age between girlhood and womanhood, a time that often evokes tears and emotions.
How do you empower women in a professional setting?
Be willing to not be liked. “It’s not about being liked. It’s about your idea being heard,” said Ms. de Cadenet, who was recently in a scenario in which a group full of men kept talking over and she had to ask them to stop. “That didn’t go down very well. Do they like me? No. Do I care? No. Was I heard? Yes.”