Sounding Boards Don’t Give Speeches

Posted on August 12, 2013| by Geoffrey Tumlin

After a few sessions with a new client, I realized she was using many of our conversations to think out loud about pressing issues. Instead of looking to me for advice or solutions, she was using me as a sounding board in her decision-making process. Once I figured this out, my verbal contributions decreased dramatically. Too much talking would have eroded my effectiveness as her sounding board.

Three communication tips will help you be a good sounding board:

1. Pay attention to conversational signals. Phrases like “Help me think through this…” “I believe that I should…” and “I’ve been thinking that…” are often clues that your conversational partner wants to think through a potential course of action. These phrases are your clue to sit back and listen, not to start generating solutions.

2. Shorten your responses. When someone is talking out loud about an issue, respond in sentences, but not in paragraphs. Sounding boards don’t give speeches.

3. Watch for redirection. When your conversational partner brings you back to a particular topic a couple of times, it’s usually safe to assume that something is weighing on his mind. The client I mentioned above kept returning the conversation to an incident of perceived insubordination with a direct report. At first I thought she’d made up her mind about how to handle the issue, but after she redirected to the incident, it became apparent that she was still considering her response.

Sometimes, our primary role in a conversation is to listen and to allow someone else to voice an idea. Sounding boards let the other person do the talking.

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