The Secret to Better Conversations Is All About Timing

Dana Covit

Ever have that moment when, listening to a friend, your eyes suddenly glaze over, and you start thinking of something completely unrelated? Ever witness that very moment in the person you're telling a totally riveting story to? Don't blame it on poor storytelling skills.

Turns out, we all have about one minute of airtime before our audience starts looking for the exit. The guideline, termed the "Traffic Light Rule" was coined by Marty Nemko, says you have about one minute before it's the right time to turn the conversation over to someone else. According to Nemko, "During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention." It's during the second 30 seconds, that things get iffy: "Your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish." And once you pass that one-minute threshold? Red, red, red. Wrap it up, people. Though, Nemko admits that yes, there are times you should “run a red light,” but only when your listener is genuinely engaged in your tale.

The best solution? Try to limit your tale-spinning to 30 second spurts, allowing others to join in on the conversation before you chime in again. And, as always, ask questions, build on what others are saying, and be a good listener.

Do you follow this rule of thumb when conversing? Tell us in the comments!

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