I was at an event yesterday where the participants were asked to do a listening exercise. We got into pairs and one person had to talk for two or three minutes while the other listened, and the listener was supposed to just hold eye contact, without any nodding or providing facial/verbal cues of any kind.

(A brief aside to state for the record how much I hate the partner up! request when it comes to group activities. I suppose there are some people who simply turn to the person next to them and tip their head, like SHALL WE DANCE? and everything’s great, but for me I find myself facing dead ahead while I desperately try and scan for a sense of receptiveness from whoever’s nearest and when I finally summon enough courage to orient myself in their direction I feel like everyone else has instantly made a new best friend for life and is in the midst of exchanging phone numbers and pricking their fingers to become blood bonded while my person and I are making that emoticon face with the perfectly flat mouth and saying things like “Uh…so.”)

Most people agreed that it was extremely difficult to listen without providing any sort of response. For me it felt not only robotic, but sort of creepy: I was highly aware of the eye contact, and as the seconds ticked by I felt more and more like I wasn’t just delivering a neutral gaze, I was boring holes into her skull with my unflinching eagle-stare. Then I kept losing focus on what she was saying because I was distracted by the effort of not nodding or smiling or crumpling my face sympathetically or any of the things I normally do when I’m talking to someone.

It wasn’t much easier to be the person doing the talking. Afterwards, the instructor said how she believed that talking to someone who’s not offering any distractions in the way of feedback allows someone to get deeper into what they’re saying, but I felt like it was the difference between engaging in a conversation and delivering a speech. Not even a speech, actually, because at least you might get a chuckle from the audience at some point — this was more like reciting the night’s specials to a couple who was masking their impatience (I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BAKED ORANGE ROUGHY) with blank facial expressions.

The whole point of the exercise, at least if I understand it correctly, was to highlight how we can be better listeners by not allowing our own biases and opinions and conversational tics to distract or influence the person we’re listening to. The general end goal makes sense, but if we were being asked to demonstrate best-practice social engagement, I want nothing to do with it. I mean, I find human interactions challenging enough without taking everything encouraging out of the picture. Without the nodding and smiling and face-wrinkling and eyebrow-shenanigan-ing, you know what you’ve got? A phone call, that’s what. A. PHONE. CALL.


19 Responses to “Feedback required”

  1. Katie on April 28th, 2017 9:18 am

    That. Sounds. Awful.

  2. AMY on April 28th, 2017 9:57 am

    That is stupid. Listening isn’t a stoic activity. By shutting down all reactions, you were unable to hear what the other person was saying. The exact opposite of what what supposed to be the result happened. There’s no connecting. There’s no communicating. It sounds really uncomfortable and squirmy and I would have hated every second of it.

  3. Roseann on April 28th, 2017 10:06 am

    Like Amy said above, the lack of natural reactions created such a strange connection, I’m surprised you heard even one word of what was said.
    I would have hated that exercise. I am constantly looking for some sort of reassurance that I am being heard, and robotic stoicism would probably make me scream at them in frustration, most likely invalidating the entire experiment.
    Also? the world would indeed end if I had to voluntarily make a phone call.

  4. Jen on April 28th, 2017 10:20 am

    That sounds so horrible. I woukd never want to communicate with anybody.

  5. Sara on April 28th, 2017 10:28 am

    Uh no. I would feel the exact opposite of what the instructor said. This would make me seriously uncomfortable on both sides and would preoccupy my thoughts with that rather than focusing on what the person was saying. Ugh.

  6. Kelly on April 28th, 2017 10:47 am

    What the hell?! As someone who got a degree in communications, I have to agree that is a completely crap way to communicate and far more likely to wind up with miscommunication and misinterpretation. We give active listening feedback for good reasons…connecting, but also confirming that we’re actually hearing and understanding what’s being said. I think if she wants to help folks get to a deeper level of what they’re saying, the same exercise, but just with the listener not outright REPLYING would get that across without losing the connection and making everything so awkward.

  7. Abby on April 28th, 2017 1:34 pm

    No. That person is fucking terrible and knows fuck all about human-human language interaction. I HAVE A DOCTORATE IN THAT. JFC, why do people like that get to earn money spouting that bullshit?

    Sorry for the swears. I get mad when I see mediocrity celebrated and paid.

  8. Alison on April 28th, 2017 5:50 pm

    “Partner up!” *shudder*

    God, everything about that exercise makes my little introvert heart quake.

    No phone calls. Nooooooooooo,

  9. Donna Brubach on April 30th, 2017 3:38 pm

    No fucking way. Did she at least say anything interesting? Creepy

  10. Andrea on April 30th, 2017 4:38 pm

    I <3 Abby's comment. Totally agree with everyone completely disagreeing about the interaction. It's not even about being an introvert (which I am). Interactions/communication depend on so much more than words. Inflection, body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. Even those little vocalizations others provide (hmmm, Ha, OH!) all help those things along. That would have thrown me into the 9th circle of hell.

  11. HKS on May 1st, 2017 10:26 am

    It is SO HARD to talk to someone who gives you no feedback at all, especially if you’re doing a presentation. I cannot imagine this making me a better listener and it would definitely make me a more insecure speaker.

  12. Julie on May 1st, 2017 1:15 pm

    I had a boss that did that – she just stared blankly as I talked. I would get so flustered at her lack of response that I would just blather on and on and on…and the more times I did that, I’m sure the weirder she thought I was/am. EXTREMELY BAD IDEA.

  13. Jessie on May 2nd, 2017 4:36 am

    Everything about this makes me want to punch myself into unconsciousness.

  14. Danell on May 3rd, 2017 6:24 pm

    I think you just described one of my worst nightmares.

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