I have been observing how often people feel compelled to
respond to what you say with "add-ons." I suppose they
are feeling a need to reciprocate in kind, so that if I tell
them a travel story, they should tell me one.
In talking with a former colleague a few days ago, I brought
up the current work of a mutual friend who has created a
program for gaining insights into one's life by "taking stock"
of various turning points.
I was able to speak only a few sentences before she said, "Yes, I know a fellow that does
that kind of thing and . . ." I didn't get to finish my brief description before she took over the conversation.
The question is: Are there sensible guidelines for when to
comment while you're listening? (and when not to add comments?)
I believe so. Please read on.
When conversing, you provide great value if you behave
in a way that makes people who talk to you feel safe.
However, if you regularly offer "add-ons," you are probably creating a less safe space for conversing.
Unhelpful add-ons that compete
1. Judgments (comments of disapproval or disagreement):
"That's a pretty dumb idea." "Huckabee doesn't stand a chance."
2. Take-aways ("Me, too" comments):
"You went to Acapulco? We went to Cancun. But Betty gotsick and . . ."
3. Fix-its (problem-solvers):
"Having troubles with your boss? Have you tried to get
on his good side by staying overtime? Worked for me."
2. Furthermores (some people always add a comment):
"That's an interesting story about Lincoln, but did you also
know that he played cards with his generals to relax?"
Helpful responses that keep focus on the speaker
"Uh-huh" or silent head-nodding that suggest you received another's message. These non-verbals are critically important as conversational traffic signals.
2. Acknowledgements that they said a certain thing
("I see. I get that your point is that the company was under-funded.") When you acknowledge, you accept what was said. Acknowledging implies acceptance, not agreement.
"Can you say more? Could you give me an example?"
As Dr. Terry Paulson says, "A clarifying question
is a compliment; it is telling the sender that you care enough about what is being said that you are willing to work until
you have received it."
Key ideas to contemplate
To deepen conversation, you'll find it helpful to be able to maintain a purely receiving mode of acceptance and responsiveness so that others don't have to compete with
you for the focus of attention.
It is rarely necessary to be actively "adding on" your
own comments whenever another person speaks.
Let the others finish their stories; Your turn will come.
When you reward others with your attention, they'll often
share more deeply.
Suggested behavior: Practice giving your attention with
a lively and golden silence.