The Art of Conversation

As I have observed more than once, when you read a conclusion/assertion in a number of different books (i.e., a lot more than just one book), there’s a pretty good chance it is worth paying a lot of attention to. So, here is one of those:

Leadership requires great listening skills.

So, let’s take a look at one of the traits of a good listener.  It is this:

A good listener shuts up and listens.

That’s it. A good listener lets the other person talk until he/she finishes the point. And, the leader does not respond until certain the speaker’s message is fully delivered, and clarified, and understood.

At the heart of this skill is the simple trait called “turn-taking”.  To be a good listener, a person has to “take turns”.  Now, it is your turn to speak, and my turn to listen.  Then, it will be my turn to speak, and your turn to listen.

When you speak over someone, when you are “figuring out what to say” instead of listening, then you are not listening! You are doing something else other than listening.  So, shut up, clear your mind, and pay attention.  This is what listening is.

In my speech classes, and my communication training, I give a definition of a conversation that I first heard years ago from a speaker (I’m not even really sure who I first heard it from – sorry about that).  Here it is:

What is a conversation?
The first person speaks, while the second person listens.
Then the second person speaks, while the first person listens.
This is called turn-taking.

Turn taking is the key.

All of these thoughts came back to me as I read the intriguing op-ed piece by Linguistics/Communication expert Deborah Tannen this week in The New York Times: Would You Please Let Me Finish… Her article is about the way that the two presidential candidates interrupted each other in the second Presidential candidate debate. It is filled with good counsel on when and how to interrupt anyone in conversations. But it was this line that jumped out at me:

Conversation is an exchange of turns, and having a turn means having a right to hold the floor until you have finished what you want to say.

So, if you are a leader, and you are in the midst of a listening moment, let the person speaking hold the flooruntil the one speaking has finished what he/she has to say.  Wait, listen, hold your tongue, focus, pay attention, shut up!  Then, and only then, is it your turn to speak.

Randy Mayeux


Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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