The Listener Test

“At work today, I was socializing with two extroverted co-workers. I wasn’t completely comfortable, but I was able to get a few words in every once in a while. Then, a third extrovert came up, and I found that whenever I wanted to say something one of the other girls beat me to it by one or two seconds. I started feeling extremely awkward, because I was just standing there and not contributing to the conversation.”

This forum poster described a phenomenon I’ve experienced very frequently. For one whom social interaction is competition for attention, one who enters the arena with other goals cannot possibly hope to compete. Those who talk at the competitive level are so saturated by Loud attention getting tactics that they don’t even notice someone who’s trying to talk normally any more. They’ve long forgotten that the main purpose of conversation is to convey meaningful information and have constructive discussions. The rat race has consumed them utterly.

Frustrated with being ignored, I resorted to a test while growing up to see if someone was worth my time. I would say something in a measured tone of voice at indoor volume. I would then monitor the response. Most of the time the eyes of the extrovert in question would remain glazed over with incomprehension, if indeed they were even aware of that I had been talking. They would quickly flit onto something they thought more stimulating. Appallingly few people passed this test and I would feel more alone than ever. But this test ultimately did help me find people who didn’t see people as advertising, who wanted more than shallow stimulation from conversation, and who wanted to be my allies, not my competitors.

The truth I have found is that most extroverts live amongst so much noise pollution that they quite simply can’t hear the spoken word until one keeps a sentence to no more than a few words, fires them out quickly, and puts great emphasis on all the stressed syllables. It seemed to me that to get a Loud person’s attention, I’d have to address them in much the same way as I’d address a pet dog. Such a realization was very discouraging indeed!

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

The Listener Test appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 05/9/11 in featured, Language | No Comments | Read More

Leave a Reply