“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
– MARGARET J. WHEATLEY
Many of you have been asking how to get people more engaged during conversation. You want them to warm up to you.
Now there’s plenty ways to accomplish this, but today I wanted to give you a quick and easy tip.
It’s a specific form of “active listening” called parroting that, if used sparingly, gets people talking more and feeling closer to you.
I learned this way back in my interpersonal communication studies classes and it’s served me well since. Here’s the what, why, when and how… (Plus a word of warning!)
What is Parroting & How to Use It?
Parroting is the simple technique of repeating someone’s last few words.
You repeat their words exactly and use a “questioning” tone of voice. In other words, the pitch of your voice goes up end of phrase to indicate you expect a response.
When Should You Use Parroting?
- To get the other person talking more
- To clarify what they mean
Here’s an example of getting someone talking more. It’s especially useful when you don’t know what to say to continue the conversation.
You: Woah! Looks like you’re busy. That’s a lot of paperwork
Other Person: (laughs) Yeah, got a lot of studying to do.
You: …studying to do?
Other Person: Well, I’m going to college for business and midterms are coming up.
Parroting can also help clarify statements. Here’s an example:
Other Person: Well, sometimes I wish it was easier.
Other Person: Y’know, like I wish I could just go on a diet and lose weight and just keep it off.
As you can see, you’re simply repeating the last word or few words they said. You don’t need to repeat their entire last sentence.
How Often Should You Use It?
Sparingly! Part of the “magic” of this technique is it seems so natural and personal. Used too often, it becomes obvious and feels manipulative.
I mean really, you don’t want this:
Other Person: I just don’t know what to do…
You: …you don’t know what to do?
Other Person: Y’know, are you just repeating me?
You: …just repeating you?
Why does it work?
- It shows you’re listening and truly interested in what he or she is saying. Being interested to get others interested in you is a cardinal rule of good communication.
- It’s like asking the question “what do you mean?” only better. People are usually happy to clarify themselves, but I find in some cases, they shy away from direct questions. Parroting on the other hand is a warmer way of drawing them out (for reasons explained below). It also causes a “knee-jerk” reaction for them to fill in the blanks.
Parroting Builds Rapport
Parroting someone’s words suggests warmth and closeness.
Well for one, parroting is less formal. It uses fewer words by “skipping” the normal, expected way of asking a question. People who don’t know each other tend to stick to formal and accepted ways of doing things.
Friends aren’t like that. They hang out. They’re casual.
So by breaking social norms with someone, even in such a small way, it subtly communicates you’re like a friend.
Also, repeating his or her exact words suggests similarity. This is because we all have different patterns of speech based on our life experiences. Subconsciously, we feel people who use similar words to us have lived a similar life.
Again think about friends. They share inside jokes and usually say things in the same way (like “Hey, let’s go to ‘the V’” instead of “Let’s go to Varsity Bar”). So again, parroting subliminally suggests you’re more “like a friend.”
A Word of Warning
Now, this isn’t something I want you to get too focused on. Parroting can subtly work to build rapport and extend conversations, but obsessing over it in the moment can make you seem withdrawn.
Your priority is to focus on the other person – what they’re saying and doing.
Parroting is just a helpful tool to be used from time to time. A little goes a long way.
Consciously try to incorporate parroting into your next conversation. See if you can find a natural spot to fit it in.
It may feel awkward at first. That’s ok. Just like anything else that’s new, it takes getting used to.
In fact, improving your self confidence and social skills feels awkward too when you’re just starting. Most people don’t know what to expect and have incorrect expectations.
It makes you give up too soon and feel like YOU just can’t do it.
If you want some help with this, check out my free social success video series. It’ll get you on the right path to social confidence so you have less social anxiety and finally feel “more likeable” in conversation.