Good speaking is listening. Good listening is speaking.
Updated: Jun 13
Most of us have an inaccurate mechanical view of speaking in which bits (words and ideas) go one way from speaker to listener. In a presentation, person A speaks and everyone else listens. The bits go just one way. In a conversation, person A speaks to B and then the flow of bits switches direction as B speaks to A.
This one-way-at-a-time flow model IS accurate when it comes to writing. For instance, while you read this blog post that I wrote, all the bits are going one way from me to you. If, though, I were speaking to you in person, the model is NOT accurate. At least it shouldn't be.
The continuous looping exchange of sound and light
Speaking to another person in person or via video conference creates the potential for bits to go both ways at the same time. This is what truly separates speaking from sharing a piece of writing.
Listen with your eyes as you speak
In the mainstream presentation paradigm, we're told to make eye-contact. For online meetings we're told to look at our laptop camera. In other words, we are told to point our eyes at a face or camera so that we appear to be engaged with our listeners when speaking.
We should actually be engaged with our listeners. That requires that we use our eyes not as pointing devices but as light receptors. We should actually look at our listeners and listen to them with our eyes, even as words are coming out of our mouths. We should want to know what our listeners are thinking so that we can empathize with them, making a real-time connection. We should want to let our listeners' subtle responses affect and guide us.
Speak with your face and body as you listen
We are also told to be active listeners, but most of us interpret that to mean we should simply pay attention and ask questions. Good listening is not just active but expressive. It requires that we, as listeners, speak to our speaker with face and body language. We should guide our speaker with subtle nods, facial expressions, leaning in, etc.
So, when done well, speaking and listening are essentially the same thing. They are equal parts in a continuous looping exchange of sound and light – of words, ideas, responses and reactions. When that truth sinks into you, listening with your eyes and speaking with your face and body simply make sense. And that changes everything.