Listening skills: The real art of conversation

Google AdWords stats reveal a surprising truth. Photo: Jack Rheam

WASHINGTON, January 21, 2012 – Talk is cheap. Or at least so goes the timeworn adage. But if talk is really cheap, why are Google AdWords about listening skills cheaper than AdWords associated with speaking skills?

Not familiar with Google AdWords? Simply defined, they’re words or phrases that generate more or less hits per Google search. According to Wikipedia, “Google AdWords is Google’s main advertising product and main source of revenue…. AdWords offers pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, cost-per-thousand (CPM) advertising, and site-targeted advertising for text, banner, and rich-media ads…. 


Right from the horse’s mouth. (Credit: TWTC.)

“Advertisers select the words that should trigger their ads,” the entry continues, “and the maximum amount they will pay per click. When a user searches on Google, ads…relevant words appear as “sponsored links” on the right side of the screen, and sometimes above the main search results.” 

Currently, the top five Google AdWords about listening skills garner about 135,000 searches per month. Meanwhile, the top four AdWords involving speaking skills get approximately 49,500 searches in the same time period. 

But ironically, advertising competition for listening skills is low in the statistical universe. The advertising competition for speaking skills is higher. Consequently, pricing for listening skills AdWords is cheaper than it is for speaking skills. 

In other words, although more people seek articles on listening skills than speaking skills, vendors are willing to pay more to advertise speaking skills. Now don’t you think that if those speaking-skills vendors were listening to prospective customers, they’d be bidding for AdWords and selling products and services about listening?

Do You Hear What I Hear? Or Do You Listen?

More often than one might think, listening has to happen before speaking can begin. This is especially true for babies. During their first few months, they hear the sounds around them. Over time, they learn to distinguish these sounds as part of figuring out who and what are worth dealing with in their immediate environment.


Do you listen to other people or just hear them?  (Credit: Jack Rheam.)

A baby’s effort to learn the difference between hearing and listening requires a rudimentary form of reasoning or thinking. Most babies discover they have to listen a lot before they can start talking. Then they learn that getting rewarded by an answer is the surest way to get a chance to talk again!

Not long after they start to talk, growing children are also taught that sharing and taking turns is essential to social success. They ignore these rudimentary forms of fairness at their own risk.   

Everybody’s Talkin’ at Me

For some people, however, those early lessons in socialization don’t transfer over to adulthood. They forget that talking means sharing and taking turns. For these people, a quick “hi” from the other person is enough, and off they go, chat, chat, chat. How do they know what to talk about? 

They don’t. People who can’t hold conversations hear don’t listen. They only. Hearing is their primary cue for talking. They don’t talk with or to someone. They talk at

Improving the Art of Conversation: Stop, Look, and Listen 

A good conversation is like orderly traffic. People go on green, stop on red, and pause on yellow, if only to think twice before proceeding. The problem in human conversation is that it’s sometimes hard to tell which signal is which, unless you’re unusually adept at reading personal auras. Also, the auras would have to be the right color….

Cover of vintage children's pamphlet.

Cover of vintage children’s pamphlet.

Once upon a time back in the day, when children were taught how to cross a road, they were told to “Stop, Look, and Listen.” Stop walking, look both ways, listen for traffic. 

“Stop, Look, and Listen” isn’t a heavy hitter on Google these days. It wouldn’t hurt to revive the phrase, not only to deal with oncoming vehicles, but also for incoming conversation. 

For now we’ll skip all the fancy body language, the reflection, the rephrasing, and all the other tips/methods/approaches the usual experts recommend to facilitate simple but meaningful conversations.

All you have to remember are these three simple steps: 

Stop. Ask a question. Close your mouth. Wait until the other person answers and stops talking. Then it’s your turn. 

Stop, Look, Listen for adults.

Stop, Look, Listen for adults. (Wikimedia.)

Look. Turn your body toward the speaker. Look into his or her eyes. Leaning forward indicates attention, not necessarily agreement, so lean forward.

Listen. Listening means allowing a little open space so the other person can try out his or her ideas without being interrupted. It doesn’t mean grabbing onto the first thing you have a response to and hanging onto it until the other person finishes talking so that you’ll have something to say. (That’s the problem with a lot of what passes for political discourse nowadays.) Allow for the possibility that you have the intellectual capacity to hold a thought, add more to it, and respond to the other person’s entire message—not just part of it. 

If you do just these three things—Stop, Look, and Listen—you’ll generally know what to say next. Or if you don’t know what to say, you’ll definitely know what to ask.

Frances Ponick’s bookOnly Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available in paperback from the author and is now available She coaches written and verbal communications and is the writer’s block expert atAllExperts. Feel free to ask questions there, or connect with Frances at Twitter,Facebook, and/orLinkedIn

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from


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