First published on Oct 24, 2023
Next time you are in a conversation with somebody who is not a close friend or family member, try to discern if you are talking or speaking.
Talking is engaging in the art of conversation. Talking involves give-and-take. Whilst there is no requirement for the output to be split perfectly between participants, each party has ample opportunity to both speak and listen.
Speaking, on the other hand, is a one-sided affair. Your output is unaffected by their input. You have decided what you are going to say and the response received is not of concern.
Speaking, of course, has its place and is perfectly reasonable in many situations. Giving instructions, relaying information or quite literally giving a ‘speech’. The issue arises when you enter into conversations and end up speaking rather than talking.
Here is a simple test to try next time you’re in a conversation: observe if have you already decided what you are going to say next before the other person has finished talking. Are you waiting for your turn to speak rather than listening?
We all do it on occasion and more importantly, we are all painfully aware when somebody else is doing it. Trust me, everybody knows when you aren’t listening. Everybody knows when you just can’t wait to give your opinion above everybody else’s.
If you have decided to engage into a conversation you should listen with all of your being when somebody else is talking. Listen to their words, absorb what they are saying, read what their body language and non-verbal cues are telling you. Ensure you are engaging with natural backchannel behaviour, brief verbal or non-verbal signals that show a person is actively engaged and listening.
Do not be afraid to pause after somebody has finished speaking. A conversation does not need to always be a frantic tennis match of instantaneous responses. Compose your thoughts. Filler expressions (”mm, interesting”, “that’s a good question”, etc) are excellent to indicate your absorption of what was said and buy you time to unhurriedly construct your response.
Being heard and understood is a deep human need. So, listen well and listen carefully. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe you won’t. But just maybe you’ll let somebody feel heard.