I recently realised that I don’t like Good Listeners. You know, the kind who, after they die, their friends and colleagues say “he made you feel like you were the only person in the room”?
I absolutely do not enjoy feeling that intensity of attention and expectation. Most of what I say does not matter that much. It’s just what’s on my mind. When someone does that intense, focused listening thing at you, suddenly you feel like you better say something worth the amount of attention they’re devoting to it. It’s a lot of pressure, and it makes me self-conscious and awkward.
You finish a sentence, and instead of bounding in with their own thoughts, they wait, to see if you have more to say. I ALSO HATE THIS. I feel like I have to keep talking and talking, like nothing I say is enough for them. The Good Listener’s pause is an unspoken “Mm, and...?”
I always want to say “Do you… have any response to that? To what I just said?” which of course you can’t because it’s toxic.
Of course I do actually like to be listened to. I like people to respond in ways that are relevant to what I actually said. Ideally I like them to cut off the last word or two of what I’m saying, because they’re interested and excited about it and have thoughts (I am so used to this that I often just don’t say the last couple of words of sentences, because they seem so obvious and predictable as to be unnecessary. This habit is really jarring with Good Listeners, because they don’t cut off the last couple of words, and I have to desperately search for them.)
The exception is if I’ve begun the conversation with “I need to tell you about something” or “Can we talk?” Of course then you want some undivided solemn attention.
But Good Listeners give all your conversations the weight of a We Need To Talk talk! That is TOO MUCH WEIGHT for “I just found out that squids have a donut-shaped brain”!
I haven’t put this in the Unsolicited Advice section because I don’t think it’s universal. I think it’s more of a “there’s two kinds of people” thing. But usually, you’re one of the kinds of people, and you have no idea there’s another kind, and finding out clarifies some of your past interactions. In this case, Good Listening of the quiet, expectant, eye-contact sort is given as the best way to listen, the How To Win Friends and Influence People way, so it’s useful to know it really only works for a subset of people, and it makes the other subset uncomfortable and a bit stressed.
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #14 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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