Waiting to Respond: Who Listens and Who Doesn’t During a Conversation

“Auntie Yang is not hard of hearing. She is hard of listening.” – Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

You’ve been on both sides of the conversation. You’ve looked into the eyes of a person you were speaking with and knew they weren’t listening to you. They may have made eye contact and nodded at all the right times, but they were too busy with their own mental housekeeping to really attend to what you were saying.

But there have also been times when you were the guilty party, nodding your head and tapping into what the other person was saying, but only every couple of beats – just enough to stay on topic. In reality, you were busily focused on constructing your next response. After all, you wanted the bon mot that was emerging from your imagination to hit just the right note. Or maybe it wasn’t about sounding clever, but about searching for a response that would be suitably sensitive, tactful, firm, impartial, or otherwise appropriate to whatever you felt the other person needed (or wanted) to hear.

Either way, you were too busy formulating a response to actually listen to the other person in a genuine way. We wanted to find out whether certain personality types are more apt than others to approach conversations this way, so we asked our community to agree or disagree with the statement, “In a conversation, you often find yourself too busy anticipating what you are going to say to really hear the other person.”

The results were rather intriguing. Of all the personality traits, the Turbulent Identity was the greatest influencer, with 58% of Turbulent types agreeing with our research statement, compared to only 36% of Assertive types. The Intuitive, Thinking, and Introvert traits were the next highest influencing factors. Let’s examine these results in further detail below.

Roles

“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.” – Agatha Christie, The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Analysts (61% agreeing)

With the Intuitive and Thinking traits at their core, it makes sense that Analyst personality types were the most likely to agree that they tend to be too busy anticipating their responses during conversations to really hear the other person. Analysts’ Intuitive trait makes them naturally curious, and they are constantly gathering ideas and taking them to the vast landscape of the conceptual world within their imaginations. Consequently, anything that’s happening around them – including conversations with other people – might be held secondary to whatever is going in on their minds. This doesn’t mean that Analyst personalities don’t listen. It’s just not what interests them most. Additionally, due to their Thinking trait, Analysts are, in all probability, too focused on logically dissecting the validity of ideas being discussed on their own to worry so much about what the other person thinks of those ideas.

Of all the personality types, Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T) were the most likely to agree with our research statement (71%). It might be surprising that Debaters (ENTP), given their penchant for arguing, didn’t have the highest score; in fact, Debaters agreed at a lower rate of 57% (with Turbulent variants agreeing at 62%). One might imagine Debaters eagerly plotting their next counterattack or setting a trap instead of listening, but in order to feel like they’ve truly won a debate, Debater personalities will often listen quite closely to their opponents, picking up on every subtlety of their argument in order to thoroughly refute each point. What makes Turbulent Logicians more likely to agree may be their Introvert tendencies (see the Strategies section below), along with the fact that Logicians are so highly inquisitive and analytical that the wheels in their brains truly never stop turning.

Diplomats (52%)

Diplomats are another Role that, like Analysts, are known for being contemplative and living largely internally, thanks to their shared Intuitive trait. It’s not that Diplomats and Analysts are out of touch with the world (well, maybe in some cases they are a little), they just process the world differently, embracing the big picture and rearranging it in creative ways. The best part of the conversation, for them, would take place in the playgrounds of their imaginations. The Feeling trait of Diplomat personality types, however, made them somewhat less likely to agree that they tend to spend more time coming up with responses than listening to what the other person has to say.

Filtering everything through their emotions, Feeling personality types are much more concerned with connecting with other people than Thinking types are. They don’t care as much about trying to impress or outdo others with their conversational prowess; they care about understanding others’ perspectives and building strong relationships. Diplomats often find their calling in professions that involve helping people, like psychology and counseling, and they would certainly struggle in those fields without the ability to genuinely listen.

Explorers and Sentinels (42% and 41%)

Nearly tied in their responses, Explorers and Sentinels are two Roles that are more in touch with the concrete world outside of themselves. While Analysts and Diplomats translate the world into something deeper than what’s on the surface, Sentinel and Explorer personality types tend to take their world at face value. Approaching life in that manner can, in a way, make one a better listener. Less likely to get caught up in their own thoughts, Explorers and Sentinels are interested in attending to the words and ideas of others in a conversation.

Sentinels, in particular, are loyal and reliable types concerned with caring for and supporting their friends and loved ones, a core value that lends itself to careful listening. Assertive Consuls (ESFJ-A) were the personality type least likely to agree with our research statement (24%). Consuls get satisfaction from bringing people together socially and making sure that everyone is happy. Generally popular people, Consuls don’t earn that popularity by being self-centered or dismissive during conversations.

Strategies

“Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.” – Emily Post, Emily Post’s Etiquette

Constant Improvement and Social Engagement (61% and 54% agreeing)

As previously mentioned, the Turbulent Identity was the greatest influencer in our respondents’ likelihood to agree with our research statement, and Introversion also played a role. Accordingly, the Turbulent, Introverted personality types who define the Constant Improvement Strategy agreed at the highest rate, followed by the Turbulent, Extraverted types of the Social Engagement Strategy. This suggests that there is an element of insecurity about those who are too busy anticipating what they’re going to say to really listen to the other person in a conversation. Turbulent personality types are not always sure of themselves, and they tend to care deeply what others think of them, so they may try to make sure that people regard them favorably.

The major difference between Constant Improvers and Social Engagers is the Mind aspect. The favorable regard of other people, for Introverted Constant Improvers, matters as a measure by which they can judge their own performance, even when it comes to everyday conversations. Internally focused, they’re prone to trying to connect the conversation around them to what’s going on inside their minds. These personalities may even go over the conversation again later, in solitude and quiet, and critically analyze how well they fared and what they could’ve said differently, a habit that is particularly draining for Turbulent types.

Extraverted Social Engagers, on the other hand, derive energy from social situations. Focused on the external world, they are more likely to listen to and connect with the people they converse with, which accounts for this Strategy’s lower rate of agreement. Still, their Turbulent trait makes them concerned with those people’s opinions of them, so these personality types will strive to make a good impression, hoping to maintain or improve their social status. Thus, during conversations, they’ll feel more anxious about coming up with a perfect response.

It’s important to remember that people sometimes compensate for their anxiety by showing off. What looks like confidence can, at times, be an attempt to disguise fear. Considering the exact right words to impress and then jumping in as soon as there is a break in the conversation may, on the surface, seem bold and confident. In reality, however, it might just be an attempt to stay afloat, rather than to soar. This need to compensate for their perceived conversational deficiencies can keep Turbulent personalities overly preoccupied with their half of the conversation, at the expense of hearing the other half.

Confident Individualism and People Mastery (41% and 34%)

The markedly lower agreement rates of respondents in the Confident Individualism and People Mastery Strategies speak to just how influential the Identity aspect is when it comes to listening to others during conversations. Much more self-confident than their Turbulent counterparts, Assertive individuals are not very concerned about what others think of them and are comfortable with their own opinions and abilities. In conversations, therefore, these personalities are likely to focus on what the other person is actually saying, rather than what they should be saying in response. That Assertive confidence combined with an Extraverted easiness in social situations made People Masters the least likely of the four Strategies to agree with our research statement.

Conclusions

“The key to good listening isn’t technique, it’s desire. Until we truly want to understand the other person, we’ll never listen well.” – Steve Goodier

It’s doubtful that anybody is entirely able to avoid letting their mind work on a response instead of listening to the other person during a conversation. It happens to us all, at least occasionally. But our poll suggests that it happens to some of us more than others.

Even so, most of us would agree that listening is a good thing. The more we listen, the more we learn and the more we connect. For those who agreed with our statement, seeking to improve their listening skills and committing to being more present during conversations may be a worthy endeavor.

Are you good at listening during conversations, or are you usually preoccupied with what you’ll say? How does that fit with your personality? Join the conversation below.

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, here. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

2 months ago
Analyzing what I said in a conversation after it happened is something I do evertime I talk to someone, that part was so accurate it scared me, but at least I am not the only one.
3 months ago
I'm an INTP-T, with all of my traits leaning heavily into the personality and I find that I'm not responsive during conversations as I contemplate what to say, how to say it and when. I tend not to answer even if I am listening, but if I'm not muttering to myself about what was said afterwards then I wasn't listening at all.
3 months ago
I can often guess where the conversation is going and come up with a response that must fit in at an exact point and I get annoyed when I can't insert my comment and sometimes will back the conversation up to the point where I wanted to insert my comment. Another thing I do is keep all the previous subjects running in the back of my mind with the result that I often back the conversation up a lot in order to point something out, usually something that strengthens my argument. These habits and others often make conversations with me very all-over-the-place.
3 months ago
Yup, this is pretty true.
4 months ago
As a heavily INTP-T I have to admit this is pretty much every conversation I've ever had. It's a sign of respect for me. If I'm not listening enough to craft a response (regardless of if I actually respond), I'm probably not listening at all.
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