Are You REALLY Listening, or Just Waiting to Talk?

How many people do you know that approach a conversation as if it were a competition, going something like this: When I pause, you jump in with your thoughts; when you pause, I jump back in so I can top your story or hijack the conversation back to my side.

It’s a fight for control.

Your conversations will be smoother and more successful if you remember that every sentence in a conversation has a history, and you have to practice deliberate listening skills to understand that history better so you can understand the person behind it better.

There’s another way to look at it. The human brain can process somewhere between 350 and 550 words a minute, while most people usually only speak around 120 words a minute. In virtually every exchange of communication, each participating brain has room for 230-375 extra words’ worth of thought to float around. That gives our minds plenty of chance to drift and wander, whether we’re the one speaking or listening.

It’s so easy to slide into the basic communication pitfall of drifting away from the person speaking, often thinking about what we’re going to say next rather than being focused on what we’re communicating or what’s being said to us.

It’s time to challenge your brain to stay in the moment, to be fully present in listening to a conversation, not just preparing how you’re going to respond.

It’s called active listening.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Good Talk by Daniel Stillman

Leadership is the art of designing transformative conversations.

Real change is needed, now, more than ever. This change can’t happen through force, edict or persuasion. The future will be built through conversation – and Good Talk will show you how.

Good Talk is a step-by-step framework to effect change in your personal and professional conversations. With dozens of tools and interactive components, Good Talk is a handbook to navigate the conversations that matter.

What’s Inside:

  • How to see the structure of conversations. Life is built one messy, slippery conversation at a time. While conversations feel hard to hold onto, ebbing and flowing, back and forth and into eventual silence, they each have a structure. The first step to changing your conversations is seeing what’s going on between the silence.
  • What is your Conversation Operating System? Who gets invited to the conversation? Who speaks first? Where does the conversation take place? What happens if someone messes up? In every conversation, there are elements that guide the exchange. The nine elements of the Conversation OS Canvas can help you to shift the direction of your conversations.
  • What is your conversational range? Conversations are more than dialogue. From the conversations in your head to the complex conversation that is your organization, you need to design conversations that matter across a huge range of sizes. Learn to master conversations from the boardroom and beyond.
  • How to design conversations that matter. The world needs fresh, creative conversations that are alive, and that work for all the people involved. How can you design conversations that matter? Leadership means designing the conditions for these conversations to happen. Learn the patterns and principles to make change possible.


According to author Daniel Stillman, when two people are in a conversation, we take turns listening and speaking. 

What do we do with our turns?

Do you listen, or do you just wait to talk? 

Or do you take the role of listener seriously and enjoy your turn as the listener?

In conversation, we “see” speaking, whereas listening looks like “doing nothing.”

How often in conversations have you interrupted (intentionally or accidentally) the conversation, derailing the other person’s train of thought?

In your eagerness to move the conversation forward, to take your turn, you’ve stopped their turn too soon.

When two people are in a conversation, we take turns speaking and listening. Understanding your “turn-taking” patterns can dramatically shift your conversations for the better.

Daniel Stillman

Conversations can look like a sloshing sea of opinions and arguments, but there’s a pattern underlaying the seeming chaos. There are only a few distinct “moves” we can make inside a conversation, diagrammed below.

Are you someone tho prefers to take a turn? Or do you tend to wait and see which way the wind blows? The former is an “initiator” (at the base of the diamond); the latter is someone who “holds” space at waits (at the center).

Once someone has opened their mouth and opened the floor, what happens next? Some of us tend to immediately react, either positively or negatively (at the apex of the diagram). In both reactions, that move is fairly habitual. I’m sure you know someone who always has something nice to say about everything, or maybe you hang out with people who always focus on the negative.

The default reaction of listening deeply before expressing an opinion is a “reflective” response, seen on the right side of the diagram. This individual peels back layers of meaning before adding their own.

The fifth option could be to reframe the conversation. Reframing can look like “glass half full” thinking, or shifting problems into opportunities. Reframing can powerfully shift a conversation, or feel like an unwelcome erasure of a real issue on the table.

Each of these five “moves” steers the ship of the conversation.

Daniel Stillman, Good Talk


Use the following “active listening script” from author Daniel Stillman to frame how you can deepen your connection with people.

  1. Paraphrase what you just heard the person say in neutral terms. Start with the phrase, “I’m hearing you say…” You can also use the phrase, “Okay, wait…” to give yourself a second to get centered.
  2. Confirm your summary, asking, “Is that right?” Or “Did I get that?”
  3. If they say yes; ask, “Is there anything I missed?” Go deeper.
  4. Wait. Count to three. If they confirm that there’s more, they’ll say more. If they indicate that you got it wrong, they will correct you if you give them time.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat. Try step 1 again, or continue with normal turn-taking if you feel comfortable doing so.

Part of a regular series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “My Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.


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