I had a conversation with a dear friend yesterday. At one point he paused in mid sentence, trying to find the right word. I started to supply one. And then … I didn’t.
It was fantastic.
I am notorious for interrupting people. I’ve been called out on it by more than one person in my life, and it used to shock me.
“But I’m being helpful,” I would think to myself. “I have a great vocabulary. I can help you find words. I’m a storyteller. I can help you tell this story. “ I honestly didn’t believe it was a bad thing. Human beings excel at deluding themselves into thinking their motives are selfless.
I read something in the last year (I can’t remember exactly what or when or where this was) that described interrupting as a form of mental abuse born out of a desire to control the conversation. That resonated. So I’ve been making the effort to stop doing it. In my case, it’s less a desire to control the conversation than to show off how smart I am.
Because I am – frequently – an insufferable know-it-all. The comparisons to Hermione Granger are justified. I am strong willed, opinionated, smart, and I like to be in control.
But I also like to hear what the people I love have to say. I’ve described myself as in love with words. But I want to be more in love with other people’s words.
Yesterday, in that moment, I realized that supplying someone else with words – especially someone who is equally skilled and in love with the English language – was an attempt to take away his story.
I’m glad I didn’t do that. I want to give more and take less. And let people own their own stories.
Listening is a skill, a practice. It takes deliberation and thought. Nothing important in life is done passively. Not every silence needs to be filled.
The best stories take time.