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Oct 12, 2016

How to Participate in a Conversation Without Actually Listening

We’ve all been there. Someone’s going on and on about their annoying co-worker or some new grocery store or their dad dying blah blah blah WE GET IT. You realize what they’re saying is not immediately a compliment on how pretty you look so you rightfully zone out. This happens to all of us. But even if everyone you talk to is Borefest ’09, you need people in your life, you know, to do things for you. This is why we listen. Oh, sorry, I mean pretend to listen. Pretending to listen in a conversation is key to all social interactions. Your human-waste conversational partner is most likely going to ask you a question like “So what do you think about that?” or “So what was your favorite memory with him?” and you’re going to need a response. This is where the three F’s come in.

The three F’s have served me throughout my entire life. Seriously. For all I know, I could’ve won a trophy for World’s Worst Listener, but I definitely wasn’t paying attention during the ceremony. I got surgery on my ear when I was, like, four years old, and still use it as an excuse for not hearing anything. I can hear fine, you’re just boring me out of my surgically-enhanced earholes. The truth is, my attention span is so short that it has forced me to come up with shortcuts that allow me to totally zone out in a conversation without the other person even noticing. And I can’t go underwater without earplugs. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, ears! Wait, no, paying attention! Right?

Whether you’re hard of hearing, an alien camouflaging into our society to plan our demise for when Trump gets elected, or you just don’t give a shit—you need to learn how to be in a conversation when you have no idea what the other person is saying. So, follow me.

1.  Face-mirroring! THIS. TIP. IS. THE. TRUTH. *pronounced with RuPaul-level drama* I read this tip in a magazine somewhere—either J-14 or AARP or maybe one actually for people my age, who knows. But I read that tip in whatever psychiatrist’s waiting room and, boy, it has stuck with me ever since. Here it is: when someone is talking, mirror their facial expressions. That’s it. Really. When people tell you a story, they’re going to smile when they say something funny. They’re going to look concerned when they tell you something sad. Look happy. Look concerned. Have your face follow the flow of their face, and, oh my god, that sounds like making out. That is totally not what I meant, but making out is a good last-ditch effort to get someone to quit rambling.

Granted, this tip does not work if you’re talking to someone who is catatonic or Stephen Hawking. However, with 99.9% of people, face-mirroring leads to seemingly more effective conversations. I can’t even tell you how many times someone was womp-womp-womping like Charlie Brown’s teacher and then laughed at what they said so then I laughed and that person was so happy that I was laughing with them, ultimately leading them to trust me with all their secrets. (Charlie Brown’s teacher is rolling in her cartoon grave at how awful that run-on sentence structure was.) Yes, face-mirroring makes you feel like a soulless robot, but it’s actually much less awkward than violently stopping the conversational flow by asking “Wait, what?” so just mirror their facial expressions and move forward with the conversation, Loserbot 3000.

2.  Filler Frases! Sorry, got a little too excited for “f”-ing (not the first time I’ve said that). But, oh man, the fail-safe combo of face-mirroring and filler phrases will transform you into a Casanova of Conversation, baby. These filler phrases are pleasant, simple phrases that suffice as a response in the grand majority of conversations. Let me spill to you some of my go-to’s and why they are all aces in the deck of conversational cards.
  • "That is terrifying.” Okay, this doesn’t seem like your usual filler phrase, but that is exactly what makes it so effective. “Terrifying” is such a heavy word that the other person would never suspect that you’d just throw it around without thinking. Plus, the word seems too specific, but my prior usage proves that people will accept it as a response to a ton of scenarios. I’ve responded with this filler phrase to “I saw a roach in my apartment,” and “Clowns freak me out,” and “I’m so happy I’m having a baby!” – and they all seemed totally acceptable. I think.
  • “That is just…” If using the filler phrase “That is terrifying” is just way too much effort for you, then congratulations – you are really committing to this whole ‘not listening’ thing. But really, this lazier version is honestly just as effective. When the other person pauses for you to respond as humans do, and you slowly sputter out, “That… is… just…” they will eventually become so impatient that they will interrupt with “I know, right?” I’m not even kidding. This exchange really happens, in real life. All your human-waste partner wants to know is that you’re alive and not comatose and physically able to listen and respond to her. With “that is just…” she’ll fill in your blank with whatever it is that she wants you to say. Besides, don’t flatter yourself, she’s probably not caring what you say either. Then both of you can carry one with your mutually fake conversation. Ignorance is a beautiful, beautiful thing, my friends.
  • “I can’t even imagine.” I say this filler phrase every single day. And people absolutely love it, because it implies that their life is so much bigger and more exciting than yours that you mentally cannot wrap your face around what they’re saying. But, can you keep a secret? Good, well, I can even imagine. I once had a dream where Miranda Lambert went to speech therapy because she couldn’t pronounce “abra cadabra” and her street magic exhibition was only three weeks away. So, yeah, my imagination is just fine. You’re just boring.
  • “Well, I wish I coulda been there for that.” Okay, this isn’t a filler phrase but it is the greatest, most underrated line from Talladega Nights. If you know what part that’s from, please, here’s my hand in marriage. Take me away from all this. Please. 
3.  Fuck it! We have reached the third F, folks, and ‘tis the biggest F of them all. In all seriousness, the best way to carry on a conversation without listening at all is to think “fuck it,” then say whatever the hell you want. As we previously covered, the other person is probably not listening to you right back. Write this down, kids, conversations are what happen when two people’s phones are dead at the same time. You think you might be the only one not listening, but really, no one’s listening. Half of what people say are just things they’ve always wanted to hear themselves say, so they seriously don’t give a third F about what you respond. Just think “fuck it,” then say, “that is true, but also have you ever pictured someone other than Tom Bergeron hosting Dancing With The Stars?” Just like they say in that one Tom Bergeron, I mean, Cruise, movie, you lost them at hello.

There you have it, nerds. Face-mirroring, filler phrases, and fuck it. If you have trouble remembering these three F’s, try to think that without them, you’ll lose all your f-f-friends because you’re a terrible listener. And you stutter, but that’s neither here nor there. Now, before the bell rings, I would like to remind all of my loved ones and hated ones about that one time I said “That is terrifying” to you; just know that I totally meant it. That thing you were talking about was just… wow. Right? Yeah. What was his name again? Sorry, you’re talking in the ear I got surgery on. Heh.