The harsh truth is this: the person you’re talking to is not as interested in what you have to say as they are in what is currently occupying their mind. That is, a person would much rather speak at you than listen to you.
Say you have a thrilling topic that you love to talk about to people that you like or want to get to know; most people will have particular stories, hilarious anecdotes or ‘ice-breakers’ that they fall back on when trying to maintain a good conversation with someone. I would bet that you could leave a person thinking that you are a better conversationalist without saying a word than you could if you were to tell all the best stories or describe the most thrilling topics in the world. This idea hinges on the fact that people would rather talk about their own life and experiences than listen to yours, no matter how exhilarating.
‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ – Stephen R. Covey
Of course, that is not to say we should be unresponsive in conversation. The idea I am getting at here is that if you show that you are listening intently and engaging enthusiastically with a person while they are talking, they are much likely to perceive you as a friend than if you are to simply talk at them.
Recall some of the most boring interactions you have participated in; I am almost certain that in these instances, the person with whom you are talking with has droned on and on about their own life, without making an effort to listen to what you have to say. Isn’t it arduous when you try to interact with someone in a conversation, but with everything you say, they interrupt you and spin the conversation back onto them and their experiences without engaging with your dialogue? I believe the answer is yes, so why would we want to make this same impression on other people?
As it is true for others, it is true for you; everyone loves to speak about themselves. This is innate in humans. But, for the sake of making good impressions and genuine connections, stand out from the average person, push aside the egocentric nature within you, and listen to what others have to say instead of droning on about your own life. Is this to say we should never talk about ourselves with others? No, of course not, but the key is to find a balance in which the person with whom you engage feels as though you are absorbing what they tell you and relating to them with your own anecdotal interjections.
Listening is not simply the act of not talking. Listening is done with your ears, your eyes, your expression, your verbal feedback, and any other mannerisms which indicate that you are not just hearing the person talk but listening to the contents of their speech and providing enthusiastic responses.
So, the next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone that you wish to make a good impression on, resist the basic human urge of spilling self-centred dialogue; instead, become an avid listener for what the person has to say.
Not convinced of this harsh truth? Ask yourself, what would I (naturally) rather do in conversation; talk about myself or listen to someone drag on about their own life? I’m sure I don’t need to state the answer to that. If this is the case for you, why be so naive as to assume that this isn’t also the case for those that we speak to? When we think of it like this, it seems blatantly unsurprising.
Old, obvious, and eternal. Stand out from the average person: listen.