Conversation and Active Listening:
“It seems like I do all the talking.”

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We think effective communication has to do with talking, although it has much more to do with listening. Yet, it is surprising how rare and difficult it is to actively listen.

We think we are listening when we are really just waiting for the other person to take a breath so we can interject our response, analogy, defense, or anticipate what’s going to be said by filling in the blanks. Planning our own responses and anticipating when to jump in is not active listening.

People assume that the person talking has all the power. But it is really the person who listens who gains power through understanding what is actually being said.

The power and enjoyment that come from good conversation and a meeting of the minds involve listening attentively, similar to how jazz musicians have to really listen to each other to play great music together.

Active Listening Do’s

1. Be mindful, that is, be present, aware, and engaged;
2. Manage your emotions by exercising patience rather than being reactive and anticipating what will be said;
3. Have an open attitude as opposed to having a set opinion and set expectations; and
4. Consider the context of the speaker’s words as influenced by his or her own background and experience, so you don’t quibble over the idiosyncratic use of words.

Active Listening Don’ts

1. Do not interrupt and debate the speaker.
2. Do not tell the speaker what he or she should be thinking or feeling. That is simply a way of imposing your judgment on others.
3. Do not use his or her story as a take-off point for your own story.
4. Do not give advice unless and only when you are asked for it.

Enhancing Relationships

You can see that active listening takes effort and your full attention. The payoff is worth it, however. The benefit is that you can simultaneously enhance relationships AND increase understanding or solve problems.

Active listening is a pre-condition for empathy and equality — keys to enhancing a relationship. It requires focusing on the other person instead of yourself. When someone sees that you are really paying attention, he or she tends to feel more alive and become more animated in the conversation.

Encouraging Openness

People feel more comfortable and open with a relaxed and attentive listener, rather than someone who is impatient, agitated, or highly controlled. Making positive encouraging eye contact without being distracted encourages the speaker to open up.

If appropriate you can repeat what you heard the speaker say and ask them whether you have understood them correctly. “It sounds like you’re discouraged about such and such. Is that right?”

Giving reflective feedback rather than advice can be very helpful because both parties become clearer about a situation, which is key in having a good conversation or a meeting of the minds.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Compassion in Relationships.”

Read “Giving Advice: ‘She never listens to me.’”

Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.

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9 thoughts on “Conversation and Active Listening:
“It seems like I do all the talking.”

  1. Laurel

    I find I am often the one who does most of the listening. I am more introverted, and am attracted to extrovert energy. The beautiful, warm, interesting stories at first are a delight, but quickly start to overwhelm me as the relationship develops. Often, when I feel ready to talk, I am not listened to with the same attention, or even worse, interrupted.

    I take it personally of course! I am currently dating, so I am trying to spend more time with quiet introverts, but I would also like to work on not taking it personally. I’d also like to learn how to ask for what I need, both in the moment when I am not feeling received, and also if a pattern has developed in the relationship and some resentment has started to build. I need to develop better coping skills for when I am feeling overwhelmed, overlooked, unimportant and invisible. In my last relationship, when she got distracted or didn’t actively listen, and my train of thought was interrupted, I had a hard time dealing with it. I would feel really angry and resentful, even as she tried to fix it. It didn’t help.

    Thanks, it was helpful to write that out!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Often when you are attracted to people who carry a quality that is opposite to your personality, it indicates a need for you to develop some of that trait–in your case, to become a bit more extroverted, and to be more comfortable putting yourself out there, talking, having outgoing energy, etc. You start with small steps–inviting people over, telling a story rather than only asking questions, and most importantly, finding some people to develop friendships with who are not as extremely extroverted.

      Extremely extroverted people are fun to have as friends, and they are easy and entertaining, and not terribly challenging, because they generally like talking and being the center of attention. So you don’t have to challenge yourself and gradually learn to expose who you are, which can often feel awkward. I know it’s exciting to be around very extroverted people, but the dynamic that you have described is bound to be repeated with the type of person who is used to being the center of attention. Very outgoing people are great to have as friends, but not so great as best friends, confidantes, or romantic partners, because they tend to be self-involved, and perhaps lack depth, because they don’t spend much time alone, or taking in what others think.

      More balanced people, on the other hand, may not be as delightful and interesting at first, but may have more depth, which can lead to more nuanced and subtle enjoyment and reciprocal interaction, where they are interested in you and a back and forth conversation. While people do have natural tendencies, ideally we develop an ability to be alone and an ability to interact with others in a mutually-reciprocal way.

      So, my advice is to do two things: 1. give people who are less extroverted or more balanced a chance, and 2. challenge yourself to tell stories and shine your own light more rather than simply radiate in the people’s light.

      I have two articles you might take a look at, one is about the extroversion/introversion dynamic and one is about personality traits.

      1. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2012/10/05/the-introvert-and-the-extravert-you-always-stay-home/
      2. https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2012/10/03/opposites-attract-cant-you-ever-stop-and-just-sit-down-with-me/

      Let me know what you think.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      I missed part of your question, which is about taking the extrovert’s lack of interest personally and getting anxious and resentful. As I said before, if you get involved with people who are more balanced from the beginning, you will be less resentful.

      Secondly, when you do feel ignored and want to be heard, set up the conversation up front. “Hey, I need to talk to you. Is this a good time?” or “You seem distracted. I was hoping for some input. When would be a better time?” or “Are you thinking about something else? We can talk later if now’s not good.” It’s key that your tone of voice is not complaining or weak or resentful or angry. Be matter of fact. But don’t continue the conversation if you’re being ignored.

      You might read this article on resentment: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/conflict/resentment/

      Good luck!

      Reply
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