Are you a Talker or a Listener? Expert Says Ideal Conversation Should be Split Equally

In the category of things that make you go hmmm, the notion of talking versus listening certainly gave us reason to pause.

Here’s why: A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal posed a challenge. The next time you’re having a lengthy conversation, figure out what percentage of it was spent talking. And then think about the percentage spent listening. And then realize you completely underestimated the talking piece; up it by 20 percent.

According to the piece, Dr. Lynn Koegel, clinical director of Koegel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, indicated the ideal conversation entails each person talking precisely half of the time.

Rob LaZebnik, writer for The Simpsons, pointed out in the piece, “But, you say, what if your talking partner is just quiet and loves to listen? Stop it. She doesn’t. Listening is like reading a corporate report. Talking is like eating a cinnamon bun.”

Even if you prefer a cinnamon bun, it’s time to read that corporate report. One way to achieve the 50/50 balance is to ask questions. Get specific and find openings, as mentioned in the piece.

For instance: Your friend says, “I think that Henry the intern is probably a psychopath.”

Now if you’re inclined to say, “So’s my mother! Yesterday, at the museum, she…” don’t. You’re talking too much. Instead, try, “Why do you think Henry’s a psychopath, and if he’s cute, would he be good for my niece?”

LaZebnik recommended going one step further. If you really have to tell the anecdote about your mom or someone the other person does not know, do not exceed one minute unless it’s an absolutely fantastic tale. He wrote, “And to qualify as such, at least five people need to have said to you in the past, ‘Wow, that’s a fantastic story.’ Not ‘a great story’ but ‘a fantastic story.'”

As per the piece, your job is quite simple: Entertain, inform and do both pretty quickly. Then ask good questions. While you’re at it, The Simpsons writer suggested letting “your chattering breathe a little.”

And of course, monitor your audience. “Is the guy you’re talking to glancing at his cellphone, spinning his Dorito like a paper football or making his tie into a noose? If so, pull the ripcord and ask him if Heineken is his favorite beer, since you’ve just seen him drain five of them. Watch how relieved he is to have a turn to talk! Talking is a Miguel Cabrera home run. Listening is getting hit in the head by it.”