Mastering Conversations: The Difference Between Waiting to Speak & Active Listening

We all know that there are two parts to a conversation: talking and listening. It’s a simple concept that has been drilled into our heads since we were kids. But have you ever taken a moment to truly understand what happens in your mind when someone else is talking?

“Really? There are two parts to a conversation? She’s got to be kidding, right?”

Nope, not kidding. Allow me to elaborate.

Picture this: you’re in the middle of a conversation, and the person you’re talking to is telling you something that you find interesting. Your brain starts to race, your thoughts start to bubble, and the words begin to form in your head. Your mind is so engaged in this process that you barely notice that you’ve started leaning forward and nodding, waiting for that elusive pause where you’ll have the chance to speak. In this moment, you’re not really listening to what the other person is saying. Instead, you’re waiting for your turn to speak and show the world how smart you are.

But is this really listening?

Not quite. What you’re doing is biding your time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to jump in and say your piece. And while it’s great to have something to contribute to the conversation, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be giving the other person your full attention.

I owe this bit of wisdom to Kimberly Wiefling, who taught me about it in a leadership course a while ago. The idea is simple but powerful: Truly listening to what someone else is saying means shutting off the constant chatter in your brain and giving them your undivided attention. We could call this the art of active listening. It means paying attention not just to their words, but also to their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. It means allowing yourself to be fully present in the conversation, and not just waiting for your chance to speak.

So, how do you become an active listener?

Be present

The first step in becoming a better listener is to be fully present in the conversation. Put away your phone, stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, and focus on what the other person is saying.

Let go of the need to be right

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own ideas and opinions that we forget to listen to what the other person has to say. Instead of always trying to prove your point, try to listen with an open mind and be willing to consider other perspectives.

Ask questions

Asking questions is a great way to show that you’re listening and that you’re interested in what the other person has to say. It also helps you to understand their perspective better and to keep the conversation flowing.


Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their feelings and point of view. This can help you to connect with them on a deeper level and create a more meaningful conversation.

Give feedback

After the other person has finished speaking, take a moment to reflect on what they’ve said and give them some feedback. This shows that you’ve been listening and that you value their input.

Next time you’re in a conversation, try to listen more actively. Pay attention to what the other person is saying, ask questions, and give feedback. You might be surprised by how much more you can learn and how much richer your conversations can become. And, as a bonus, you’ll probably find that people will enjoy talking to you more because they’ll feel heard and valued.

So go ahead, lean in, nod, and truly listen.

Photo by Misha Walker on Unsplash

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