1. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Listening vs Talking

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by bluebell80, Jul 6, 2009.

    I've been mulling this topic over in my mind for the past few weeks. Whenever I have a conversation with a friend or relative I notice a distinct pattern. I sit there listening, while they go on and on about themselves, interjecting very little to the conversation, though sometimes a sentence or two. I ask open ended questions that the other person always has a long winded story for.

    But I noticed that other people don't tend to ask questions about me. I really don't think many people know much about me, but they are willing to just open up and share all this information about themselves.

    I often wonder if it is my writer's mind that causes this phenomenon or if people really don't care about gaining information about others and are really that self-absorbed to not care anything about anyone else.

    I do ask questions that cause longer stories...and my overall demeanor tends to be very open and inviting for people to share their stories with. I also tend to look at everything from an non-emotional, problem-solving, psychology way...which tends to make people even more willing to share things and look for my advice (which I promptly avoid giving them, because that bites me in the butt all the time.)

    So my question for the board...

    Do you find yourself talking more or listening more in your general conversations with people in your lives?
     
  2. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    Wow, that is exactly, 100% the way I find my own conversations going a lot of the time. I am dead serious, you hit the nail on the head. I do talk a fair amount in conversations, but sometimes people just don't ask questions. I think part of it is just what you said, that our writers' minds are just more...active, generally seeking more things to fuel our creativity, et cetera.

    But then again, maybe it is just selfishness and shallowness on their parts. Who knows?
     
  3. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    My first instinct is that perhaps you are simply introverted and thus more inclined to listen - which you give off with your body language and people learn to expect you to simply listen.

    Just like most people trust me with their secrets - friends, bosses, coworkers. They realize by my actions that I am trustworthy.

    You simply "radiate" I'm a listener.
     
  4. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    I'm a listener, with a good shoulder. Simple as.
     
  5. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I do both, though when I go on a ramble, it's not because someone asked a question, I just like to here myself talk. lol I used to work in a hair salon, and I'd just offer up stories out of nowhere, and it entertained everyone. But I feel what your saying, rarely am I asked a question about myself.
     
  6. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    They're that self-absorbed. People just like to hear themselves talk.
     
  7. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    It does sometimes feel like people are more concerned with themselves than with others, and maybe they are, and maybe that's not so different for writers. I have a feeling what does distinguish writers from others is the belief (hope, dream, imagination, delusion;)) they can write in order to connect in some more meaningful way with someone else--more meaningful, maybe, than by chattering on about themselves, as we sometimes feel others do. Moreover, as writers, we probably are at least somewhat curious about what makes others tick; while others may be less inclined to ask us the kind of open-ended questions you mention, which (as writers) we may feel perfectly free to ask. I dunno. I find "general conversations" with people to be "generally" polite, superficial, and uninteresting in terms of empathy or any real human connection. It seems to me it's less typical to communicate in meaningful specifics, although that's a lot more revealing, I think, when it happens. Maybe that happens less frequently because it's also more risky (like your choice to avoid giving the advice others apparently think you could offer).
     
  8. FrankB
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    FrankB Member

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    I believe an essential trait for any good writer is curiosity. We need to know the why and how of things and people. If we don't listen well, we'll not discern those little nuances of speech, reasoning, attitude etc. that can transform a ho-hum character into a believable, three-dimensional being.

    We get our share of "talking" in when we sit down to the keyboard. Until then, I much prefer to listen.
     
  9. UnknownBearing
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    UnknownBearing Contributing Member

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    i think it's a little more selfish for me. the more i prod into their long-winded problems, the faster i can point out the thing they're overlooking, which is less amount of time i have to listen to them.

    so... listening. but i dont really enjoy it unless im actually interested. it always takes the same amount of time to give quality advice, whether i like the person or not just decides my approach, patience, and overall attitude. rarely do i get rants from people i actually care about.
     
  10. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Wow, a lot more responses than I thought I was going to get.

    Seta: The funny thing is I'm not introverted. I wish I was sometimes then I'd have an excuse. But sadly I am extroverted, but I think that works against me here in this type of situation.

    I think it is interesting that we all classify ourselves a little more towards the listening side of conversations. That does seem to be more of a writer thing, not that to be a listener you are a writer, but that in general writers tend to be listeners.

    I do think it is part of gathering "the story." Because I know that conversations with time hogs does tend to generate ideas in me.

    My in-laws tend to be conversation time hogs. As is my mother. My neighbors are all kind of...umm...colorful I guess the nice word would be. They all tend to be conversation hogs for the sake of whining about their dismal lives. They are rather self-absorbed characters, but they do come up with some wizbang stories that I don't think I could have thought of on my own.

    I also find that I like to study people. With my knowledge of psychology, I tend to look at people, even people close to me, as case studies into the human experience. So I guess I am being a bit selfish in the act of listening. It is like prying into someone's mind who is too open to realize why information is being gathered.

    I always find being the one who doesn't reveal everything in the first five minutes of a conversation, is the one who has the control in the relationship.

    Before I get off on that tangent, there is a second part to this question.

    Do you find that you control conversations, for the sake of seeing reactions, to gather ideas for characters in stories?

    This could be anything from an interaction with a grocery store cashier, to your spouse or parents. Do you ever bring up random things to get a reaction, or start talking to a stranger like they were your long lost friend? Do you do things out of the ordinary just to see what would happen?

    As I was saying about control. It is an interesting thing to watch how the balance of power shifts in a conversation and relationship based on how much information we share with each other.

    I like to examine that in things I write. A conversation with two characters, one having an ulterior motive, and the other all too willing to give their power away.

    Information is power. The more information I share with someone the more power they have in the relationship. I notice I purposely give less power to certain people. It normally is because of our differences, and the level of the relationship.

    I find this an interesting part of character development. The level of the relationships that the character's have in comparison to their level of information sharing.

    There are some examples of conversation hogs who do it as a way of trying to control the situation. My father in law is one of those kinds of people. A total control freak. And by dominating the conversation he is able to avoid the awkwardness of reacting to something unexpected being said. Because he lacks self control, he attempts to maintain self control by trying to control the world around him. Then when he can't he blames everyone else for his frustrated state of being. It's a total immature cycle, but that explains his need for conversation control. It isn't being done as a way of really sharing intimate details of his personality, or sharing the relationship, it is superficial, sometimes made up stories, for his own benefit not the listeners.

    Then there are other loose-lipped kinds of people who tend to over share with everyone! They are like walking open books. The kind of people who discuss BDSM escapades in the freezer isle of the local supermarket. Especially when you don't know this person THAT well.

    I do find it fascinating to watch people while they are talking. It's nice when my husband just feels like being quiet. It's taken me years to finally appreciate this quality of his.
     
  11. Bernard Hartigan
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    Bernard Hartigan New Member

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    I wonder though bluebell, is it more of a case that these people go on about themselves because you don’t actually initiate any topic of discussion yourself? Maybe they don’t want to sit in awkward silence? I personally find that asking specifically about how someone is or what have they been up too in particular seems a bit forced, unnatural and intruding.

    If I asked my mates over to watch the game or go for a quick pint then all off a sudden ask them “so, how’s things with you?” they would probably just look at me puzzled for a moment then simply answer “yeah, fine…”.

    I’d go on the impression if something in particular of interest had happened to them, they would just say without me having to ask an abrupt question.

    I only say this because I know exactly what your talking about, it happens to me when ever I’m around my family and it’s due mainly to the fact I’m a boring bastard and am socially retarded.

    But I do see your point, I find this level of extraction from interaction towards friends and family helps my writing. It helps me step out, listen and let my mind wonder with various consequences of how to use this sort of numbness towards people within my stories.

    Plus it does exacerbate my unhealthy contempt for all. (Not saying that's a good thing).

    *I just read this back and it does sound like I’m having a go some what. I’m not.
     
  12. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I tend to talk a lot whenever I have someone who'll listen to me, but the type of person I enjoy talking with the most is the type who will talk just as much back. I find it very uncomfortable to speak to a person who shows no signs of caring and I need feedback to keep the discussion going.

    I have this theory that we humans are born with an instinct to distribute the information we acquire to other people, but as we grow older this instinct is suppressed. (Really, just look at small children who will with great enthusiasm point out even very obvious things, nude emperors and what have you.) Perhaps it's only when we find someone willing to really listen we get an outlet for that need?
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Bernard, I understand what you are saying.

    Have you ever really thought about our polite way of greeting people?

    "Hi. How are you?"

    How many people really want the honest answer to that question?

    Most times we expect to get a "Oh great. Fine. Pretty good and you?" We don't expect someone to come out with their life story and make us stand there while they go on for twenty minutes. It is that type of superficial behavior that has become overwhelming in the American culture. People don't give a rats behind about anyone else...they are only worried about themselves.

    The sooner someone can talk about themselves the better they feel about the situation. It's also a way of finding a connection with someone by sharing our situations.

    While, yes I do share things about myself, I don't do it with everyone, but not for lack of desire to, but for a couple of reason.

    A. The people are acquaintances who I am not very close to and don't want them knowing every detail about my life. Those people are the ones who tend to over share their lives with me though.

    B. I want to keep the power in the relationship. I would have to say that is the situation with a particular relative, who I will refrain from speaking of on a forum.

    C. The person or people I am speaking too are not on the same level as I am and discussing my life would require way to much back story and education to discuss things with them. I don't have time to educate the masses, so I avoid getting too deep with the not so educated people.

    I do have about three people who I do share things deeply with...my husband is one of them, because we are very much alike, though he is a bit more of a jerk than I am (but I love him anyway.)

    Awkward silences can be telling of people's self esteem. If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is truly confident and not the least bit insecure, you will find that they are comfortable with silence in the conversation. They don't feel the need to fill up the space because they don't feel uncomfortable.

    Insecure people, people with lower self esteem, or a lack of confidence, tend to be the ones who must fill in the silences...thus tend to over share, due to their desperate need to not have discomfort. People with mental issues (which we know there are a lot of them out there, anxiety, depression, all that stuff) stems from insecurity, low self-esteem, a fear of rejection, and a lack of confidence in themselves. These people tend to go on and on about themselves, because they are so self-focused (or self-absorbed) that they really think that world revolves around them and everyone wants to hear about them, and is judging them.

    I find these people interesting to experiment on. Yes, I sound horrible for saying that, but how else does a scientist study their subject? Granted, I tend to not piss off my friends by playing therapist to them, you know, like the show In Treatment on HBO. He tends to piss off the patients to get them to a place they need to be, as a friend you can't do that. I also tend to not give an opinion too much on their situations, especially when they ask me my opinion on a life changing event.

    Like I had one female friend wanting to know if she should leave her husband and get an apartment. While my instinct was to say, "Yes you should leave him, he's horrible to you." I know that no matter what I say it will come back to bite me on the ass. So I said, "I can't make that decision for you, but I'll support you in whatever you decide to do." Of course then she probed for more, like all women who are indecisive do, "Yeah, but if you were in my shoes what would you do?" I simply answer this with an "I don't know." Then I asked her what she was basing her decision on, if she had made a list of pros and cons, and if she had thought out the consequences of both actions. Now that sounds like a therapist. lol

    My friends and even some acquaintances know I am a problem solver, so I do tend to get people latching on to me who are nothing but one continuous problem. This would also be why I don't share so much with people like that. I share little bits, connecting experiences, but I don't go into great detail.

    I also like to observe people who I don't know. Even on message forums conversations between people can be interesting. Seeing how our definitions differ, causing conflict. I always find that conflict is caused by one of two things, a difference in opinion, or a difference in definitions.

    I learned to make my husband define certain words that he is using, so that during a discussion we are on the same page. That is usually our issue when we have heated discussions. He defines something differently from me, thus we have conflict. I will go as far as looking up a word in the dictionary to get a definitive definition for both of us. Often we find we are saying the same thing just in a different way.

    I like using all of that in my fiction. Every interaction in a story is showing a little bit about the character's personality. Are they confident or insecure? Are they open or closed? Are they reactive or proactive? Are they hyper or relaxed? Are they self-absorbed or able to see the big picture?

    The scary thing is that this is all observable in real life if you know how to look at it. Originally I went into psychology in college to fix myself, as most psychology majors do. After I did finally fix myself, I was able to look at everyone else and see just how screwed up the world really is.

    It makes creating fictional conflict so much easier when I understood real life conflict. It makes creat ing realistic characters much easier.

    I find that there are a lot of writers who are out there unable to make a story because they are too caught up in their own conflicts. They try to fictionalize their lives, their situations, but without that internal understanding of what makes their conflict tick, they tend to lack in story telling ability. They tend to get stuck in their story, unable to move forward due to that lack of understanding.

    I find having the working knowledge of human psychology makes writing much easier, especially with drama. Most of us don't like having drama in our lives, but reading about it happening to someone else can often either make us feel a connection with that story, or can help us through that story as the conflicts are realistic and similar to our own. That's what I aim for in my writing. Using the realism to create a world that other people can learn from or associate with.

    This is why I look so analytically at conversations I have with people. I really take in their whole personality in just one conversation. Body language, eye contact, phrasing, and conversation topics tend to show a lot about a person, thus using those things based on real people in fiction creates believable characters.

    I know I am probably off on a tangent now. But, it's just something I've been thinking about while writing...and lack any other writers in my life to talk about it with. Because, really only other writers understand this kind of stuff.
     

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