When the Listening/Talking Ratio is Out of Whack

Do you feel like you're always the sounding board, never the sound?

Posted Sep 05, 2014

We've talked before about the perils of being a good listener. Listening well is an art, but it also can be a liability, especially when you're prone to being cornered by strangers at parties and such.

And though a talent for listening is particularly valuable in friendship, it can even be a problem there at times.

Do you find yourself perpetually in the position of sounding board for your friends? Do you feel like you do all the listening and never get your chance to speak? Does it seem like most of the people in your life are all mouth and no ears?

A woman wrote to me with this problem. She felt that she did all the listening and that when she tried to talk, friends gave her a couple of minutes before spinning off into their own stories again. She wondered how to find friends who listen.

This struck a chord with me; I've found myself in that situation as well. I have a quite a few talkative friends. Sometimes I find this entertaining, other times it's exhausting. But either way, it appears I surround myself with people who have a lot to say, and that can't be an accident. There must be a reason, a reward.

What might the reward be?

  • Perhaps it makes me feel useful.
  • It certainly takes the pressure off of me to be interesting or entertaining.
  • Maybe I think it's what makes me valuable as a friend.
  • Or it saves me the effort of seeking out and connecting with other quiet people.
  • I might just enjoy other people's drama.

Or maybe it's not rewards I'm seeking; perhaps I'm avoiding something.

  • Maybe I don't want to risk exposing myself to others.
  • Or boring them.
  • Maybe I fear being judged.
  • Or mocked.
  • Maybe other people's dramas distract me from my own.

I admit, too, that I'm not particularly good at initiating conversations about myself. It's not fair for me to expect people to draw me out, but that's often what I need.

On the other hand, I have at times said to good friends, "I don’t feel like I'm getting equal time." It's not a pleasant conversation, but sometimes life is awkward. It's not necessarily a one-and-done conversation, the dynamic tends to be chronic, but it does provide a starting place for dealing with the problem each time it comes up.

Some other phrases we could get comfortable with to alleviate the problem day to day:

  • "Wait, let me finish."
  • "As I was saying..."
  • "Wanna hear about my day?"
  • "I need to bend your ear today."
  • "I've got stuff on my mind but don't know where to start."

I believe that people in our lives are there because we care about them and they care about us. And fixing existing friendships, as long as they aren't genuinely toxic, is vastly preferable to finding new ones.

So if the balance of talking vs listening gets out of whack, it needn't be the death knell for the relationship. A conversation is a dynamic, and one way or another, we're contributing to the imbalance. So figure it out your part in it and then, speak up. Even if you have to interrupt. 

Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After; The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie near you.

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