Automatic talking is how most people talk without really listen to another person. This group dynamics exercise demonstrates no real listening followed by how to really listen. Participants in this exercise get what you are demonstrating and use it to change the way they listen.

You can use this in any kind of group. You need a person to help you with it in a dialogue. It needs to be slightly rehearsed, but must be spontaneous for the best results.

Automatic Talking - not listening

Illustration of Automatic Talking between person A and Person B


Tell the group you are going to demonstrate automatic talking because this is how most people talk. [Refer to the illustration above.] Person A speaks. Person B listens just long enough to pick up a word that they know something about, then they start to think about what they will say related to this word. They do not “hear” what the other person is really saying or perhaps what they are not saying, but implying. This can cycle many times between persons A and B without much real communication taking place. The dialogue goes like this:

Person A: “I’m going to Kansas and visit my 97 year old mother next week.”

Person B: “Oh, I was in Kansas once and it was very hot. I like cool places like Colorado.”

A: “I lived in Colorado for 3 years once and it was a nice place to live. But I like living in Texas really well where people are very friendly.”

B: “I found Texas is a friendly place. And I liked it there. But, I think the most friendly people live in Alabama.”

A: “Alabama is where I went to flight school. I tried to get stationed in Alaska after flight school, but ended up in Colorado.”

B: “Alaska is a place I’ve always wanted to go, but haven’t made it there yet. I have been in Switzerland and thought it's similar to Alaska.”

A: “Europe is a great place to visit. I liked Germany the best.”

B: “I liked Paris the best and would like to go back there.”

A: I found Paris expensive. The place I would like to go back to is Australia. It is really different.

The group will begin to laugh at some point. You keep it up a little after this starts, then stop and debrief:

"Ok group. We just took a trip around the world but did not do much real communication because Person B missed the real subject that Person A stated. We are going to do the dialogue again and notice the difference."

Person A: “I’m going to Kansas and visit my 97 year old mother next week.”

Person B: “It sounds like you may have some concerns about your mother?”

A: “Yes I do. She is really old and has many things wrong with her and she could die anytime. I have some things I want to talk to her about before this happens”

(you will notice the group has become really quiet and is intensely listening.)

B: “This sounds important to you.”

A: “Yes it is for a number of reasons. I don’t go see her often because its an 8 hour drive. We really need to talk with one another and I need to help her as much as I can. I know she is very lonely because my dad died 14 years ago. I really feel sorry for her living in the assisted living home.”

A silent pause . . . . . . . . to just let this hang in the air. Then you see that A is getting teary. A continues to speak . . . . .

A: “ I will really miss her after she is gone. She has lived a long and fruitful live. I think her early life when I was born was really hard because it was right after the great depression and they had little money. She has told me many stories about how they often had less than 5 cent to spend. That makes me sad.”

Another silent pause . . . . . . . .

A continues to speak and the group is fully engrossed and you now may see a few tears. You know that this is real with person A, so you allow him to continue talking until finished. Then you debrief, and that is easy to do because the group will do it for you:

Ok group did you notice the difference in how B really heard what A was saying?”

People in the group will start to speak and tell you what the difference they observed. You can follow with a few questions like:

“How many of you know you fall into automatic talking?”

Get response.

“What can you do to stop the automatic talking?”

Get response.

This exercise can be done in conjunction with several others to form a workshop about improving personal communications and having better relationships.

See : Barriers to Communications | Listening Exercise | Silence | Resources

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