Can You just Shut Up and Listen? (really…can you?)

The past few days have been fun for my palate being a ‘let’s have lunch’ week – business and just for fun. Chit-chats, commiserating, and conferring. Two of these meetings stuck in my mind for more than their sparkling entertainment value.

The Sport of Listening


The first was lunch with a new-ish friend; we met up for spicy curry and juicy gossip. We had worked together and discovered some common interests – chatting was fun and easy-going. At first. We shared thoughts and stories … then ARGH! I realized I had yet to finish a sentence. At first, I put it down to his enthusiasm; the “I know! That’s happened to me TOO”. The conversation devolved into a diatribe – I simply became weary of having all of my sentences finished for me and I shut down. It was a quick meal.

The second notable lunch was Mango Thai salad with a popular radio personality. He was very gracious to meet with me to discuss a new website and to consider endorsing it. This is a man who talks – for a living. We got the business bit out of the way before lunch arrived and then just started shooting the breeze. As contemporaries, conversation was easy. When I was telling a story, he leaned in a little across the table, maintained eye contact, nodded occasionally (happy to say laughed occasionally), with quiet hands and relaxed shoulders. No anticipation of what I may say next – no impatience in his body language. This guy knows how to listen.

What an huge contrast! The first lunch left me irritated and jittery. I rushed through my sentences and cut short my thoughts in the vain attempt to get to a full stop. My companion’s shoulders were tense, hands frantic – his mind spinning at full tilt waiting with the next thing HE was going to say. The latter? Thoughtful, meaningful, delightful. It’s possible to be enthusiastic in conversation without being a jerk.

Conversation is an art. Listening is a skill; an active sport. When I’m listening to someone, I’m listening with all of my senses – my body is relaxed, breath quiet. My eyes watch their expressions change, my mind is quiet and open to completely digest, not just their words, but their thoughts. I take a beat to consider what they’ve said before responding – no panic to get my words in. And when someone responds in kind? That’s a great conversation.

Can you just shut up and listen? Do you ‘give good conversation’?

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4 Responses to Can You just Shut Up and Listen? (really…can you?)

  1. Bruce Sallan says:

    What was that? Boy, is this a wonderful reminder of the value of listening. So many of us are too eager and too attentive to what WE want to say that we really are not hearing the other person. I believe this can be even worse when parents dismiss what their kids are saying in their interest to “lecture” them or just get to their “more important” point.
    When parents REALLY listen to their kids, they might “hear” something of real value. Obviously, the same applies to adults friends and business interactions, as you so well described in this contrasting scenarios! Excellent post Tobey. Now, as I was saying…

    • tobeydeys says:

      You’re absolutely right, Bruce. Sometimes it is tough to quiet what’s going on in our own heads. If we seek first to understand – through really listening – communication becomes more profound.
      One of the greatest gifts you can bestow is to listen – especially when it comes to your kids! Listening engenders trust.
      Also, I was thinking about the attraction to social media (especially for us introverts); one is able to ‘talk’ thoughtfully, without interruption (with the sense that someone is out there ‘listening’).
      Thanks so much for your thoughts, Bruce!
      (uhm … what were you saying again? ;-))

  2. Tobey…how true.

    Effective listening is a skill that needs cultivation in the workplace, at home, and among friends. Conversation is a whole other story. My theory of leadership (at home or at work) is that what we say, what we do, and how we listen end up being the main topics at someone’s dinner conversation (or blog :-). Will it be great and filled with feelings of appreciation, validation, encouragement? Or will it be filled with “irritation and jittery” feelings? If we really think about it, listening well is much more powerful that speaking quickly. And helping people have great dinner conversations can transform our way of interacting. Thanks for sharing your insight and experience.

  3. tobeydeys says:

    Thank you for your comment, Helen, and I agree. Effective mutual listening must be a commitment made by both parties! Going into any conversation, with intimates, colleagues, and even strangers with the intent to listen actively and clearly certainly will maximize the value of that conversation.
    You mention validation – such an important element! Walking away from an exchange that allowed mutual validation and understanding beats the ‘irritable jitters’ hands down 🙂
    Thanks again for your thoughtfulness!

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