Challenge Passive Listeners

I smile back cff2015

I spend a lot of time exploring various topics. Usually, one article leads to the next. On good days, I come across a true gem like this article on how to handle passive people by Joe Neely.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve noticed I can spend too much energy on a certain personality type. We call these amiable (but secretly cold) people by a few names:

  • Good listeners
  • Nice people
  • Polite conversationalists


On the surface, these people come off as good members of society. People who like to talk enjoy these folks.

However, these passive people hold a secret fear. They project a glassy, cold resentment onto the people they tolerate. You’ve seen this in the world – a listener puts up with a talkative person – though they really want to end the conversation.

I’m learning to notice this negative behavior. People pretend to be nice or pleasant but set up a negative interaction. They won’t end a conversation (out of fear of social friction) so they wait until the talkative person notices their discomfort.


By not enforcing their boundaries, these supposedly nice people set up talkative people for a fall. I notice this when I pause a conversation and the other person doesn’t want to continue. If they don’t want to talk, why not say so? Why not walk away? Why not assert yourself?

Some people just have a lot of social anxiety. They accept submissive roles in social interactions. However, these people aren’t naturally submissive. They wish they could be free and assertive – and they project this perceived limitation on others. They secretly resent talkative people for not reading their minds and self-censoring/self-limiting.

I agree. People like me who talk a lot can display social savvy by holding back when a person gives us a chance to talk at length. However, we are NOT to blame for listeners’ lack of healthy boundaries.


“Talky” people walk a path of social awareness. Listeners choose a different journey: learning to assert themselves and accepting responsibility when they let others walk (or talk) over them.

As a talker, I’m learning to challenge passive listeners. I’m learning to leave intentional pauses and force others to deal with this social discomfort. I’m learning to lead. I’m learning to teach.

I stop a conversation when I realize (often well after a passive person feels discomfort when they begin to show body language signals) my listener is only tolerating me. They feel trapped and resent me for continuing to talk. I don’t allow people to project their limiting beliefs on me. I pause, look them in the eyes, smile, and wait. Now, they either have to continue the conversation (showing interest and investing in the interaction) or end the conversation (risking my disappointment at losing a listening ear).


If you’re a talkative person, don’t fall into this trap. By indulging in a listener’s passivity by “talking their ear off”, you’re allowing them to project their weakness on you and create resentment. Instead, take a moment (EARLY in the interaction) to challenge your listeners. Let them know via body language and pacing (not words, which they fear), that they must invest to keep you interested in them.

Identify the people in your past (and your present) who indulge you as listeners and challenge them (non-verbally) to interact with a genuine heart/mind or lose your attention. Some people give false attention to feel secure and get your attention – but when you realize they don’t really want to talk with you, it HURTS!

This is a trap for talkative (and lonely) people like me. I love love love to talk with people. I’m building bigger and bigger social circles across the Southeast U.S. (and beyond) so I always have people who want to talk with me. They key to this is to weed out the “Venus Flytrap” people from my circles – to make room in my consciousness for genuine friends.

It’s just like the friend zone – but in miniature. Just as we hang around their crushes, hoping against hope for reciprocation, we also maintain conversations with people who don’t want to talk.


It’s funny. Starting conversations and “forcing” people to engage with us is very positive in the opening seconds of our interactions. We show confidence by saying “hey, you’re an attractive/interesting person and I’m going to find out about you.”

However, there’s a special point (called the hook point so social dynamics experts) at which we MUST test our listeners. Very early on interactions, take a risk. Risk losing a listener by shutting up and giving them a chance to either resart the conversation – or ending it somehow.

By pausing your conversations and testing your listeners you project a frame that says: “I’m a confident person who starts conversations without fear. I engage with virtually everyone I see. However, if they don’t return the favor, I’m confident/strong enough to stop. I don’t allow Venus Flytraps to suck energy and create negativity. I don’t have time for these over-polite time-wasters. I deserve genuine interactions and enforce firm boundaries.


Here’s the flow:

  1. Start a conversation (demonstrate courage).
  2. If the person doesn’t respond, keep talking until they respond (Show persistence)
  3. Keep talking, ask questions, and get them to interact, even though you feel some social friction/discomfort from them (Be a person who goes for what they want)
  4. As soon you feel a little compliance/desire to continue the conversation, shut up. (Make them take action, either to stop the conversation and risk disappointing a confident person – or to show interest in you).
  5. If you DON’T feel a listener’s desire to invest equally in a conversation, put them on the spot. Change the subject. Say something challenging like “What do you really want to do now?” or “If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be”. Encourage them to talk.
  6. People who prefer to listen in passivity will likely have trouble answering these questions. Shut up now (see #4) and let them be in a (slightly) uncomfortable place of choice.
  7. Accept the outcome of your silence. By taking a leader/teacher/guru role, you’re challenging them to either end the conversation (saving you from a time-suck) or engage in a more genuine fashion (a step towards the genuine friendships/relationships you desire).

It’s the Growth Triangle:

  • Notice a fear-motivated habit (social, logistical, etc.).
  • Take massive action in the opposite direction.
  • Pull back to a “middle path” after conquering your fear.


Join me in my self-development and social dynamics journey. Check out



Categories: Professional Development

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