There are always at least two people involved in a conversation: the communicator – the person doing the talking, and the receiver – the person doing the listening.*
These roles usually switch frequently during the conversation, but they’re always there.
Both roles have a huge amount of power. I generally believe that the receiver has the edge. Yes, the communicator is the one who is putting the message out there and is, ostensibly, in control of the information being transmitted. They choose the words, the inflections, the gestures, all the little details of the message.
But it’s the receiver who ultimately decides how to interpret it and how to respond.
The receiver can choose to listen, or choose to space out.
They can choose to be insulted, or choose to ask themselves “now what did that person really mean?”
They can choose to escalate, or choose to diffuse.
To be mollified or to demand more information.
To say something in response, or to keep quiet (which can be a pretty loaded response in and of itself).
And on and on and on.
This also puts a great deal of responsibility on the receiver, as much as is on the communicator. The communicator has the responsibility of putting forward a certain message, but it is the receiver who decides how they are going to take it.
Everybody involved in a conversation has a role, has power, has responsibility. Be wise when you choose how to use yours.
*This holds true even if the words only ever flow from one person to the other, with no return exchange. Conversation happens when there is an offering of information from one person, and a response – whether spoken or not – from another. A one-way speech from the stage is still a conversation, as is a recording. And thanks to the internet, the possibilities and options for responding are nearly endless.