Good conversations are a delight to share in and do much to bring us together. But what is the key to good conversation? Why do some seem better than others? Many believe it comes down to content, but while content is certainly important, there is another essential component of good conversation — and that’s talk ratio.
Talk ratio is how much time a person spends talking compared to others in the conversation. This matters because the talk ratio of a conversation — just like its content — can do much to define the quality of a conversation and it can dramatically impact how satisfied each participant comes away feeling.
Consider the impact of talk ratio at work. In meetings and even in shorter exchanges, usually the more senior person will do most of the talking. After all, they are in charge and need to provide direction, right? But, what if they became aware of their talk ratio, typically at 80/20 and made a conscious effort to reduce it? By doing less talking and more listening a number of benefits could manifest themselves. First, subordinates would likely feel more valued in that their ideas and concerns were listened to and acknowledged. Second, this sense of being valued would probably foster a deeper commitment from them and a greater sense of team. Third, the manager might discover something valuable that might otherwise never have been unearthed.
Of course, not all conversations should be at 50/50 ratio as certain situations will call for an imbalance from time to time. The goal here is to introduce talk ratio as an important contributor to one’s relationships and success — at work, at home and beyond.
So, think for a moment about what your talk ratio might be, in general. If, for example, you have an 80/20 ratio, you probably talk too much. If you have a 20/80 ratio, you probably talk too little. Most of us need a little help in one direction or the other, so here are a few tips:
To reduce your talk ratio:
- Ask for input upfront. Let others involved in the conversation or meeting know that you want to hear their thoughts.
- Listen attentively to what is being said and let the person finish. Many of us are so preoccupied with how we want to respond to what a person is saying that we tune out, interrupt, or use body language to signify that we want the other person to stop talking.
- Ask more questions. This simple act immediately turns the conversation to the other person.
To increase your talk ratio:
- Decide upon the two or three key points you want to make. Practice making them succinctly. This may not always be possible for unplanned exchanges, but should definitely be done prior to scheduled meetings.
- Use verbal bridges to transition to your points. For example, “I agree ABC is important [bridge] …and building on that, I’d like to discuss XYZ”.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. Very often a certain routine is established within meetings, especially regularly held ones where people run on auto-pilot with the talk ratio seemingly set in stone. But, just because you may not be asked directly for input, it doesn’t mean it won’t be valued. If you have a good idea or observation, doesn’t it deserve the chance to be heard?
The good thing about one’s talk ratio is that it’s relatively easy to improve, once we become aware of it, but like most worthwhile things in life, it takes commitment and practice.