Just Listen

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.

6 thoughts on “Just Listen

  1. Michelle

    I think it’s beautiful that you’ve recognized this in yourself and are working on it. Congratulations on having a visible moment of success. I know those make a world of difference for me in my struggle for self-improvement.

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  2. zannah42

    Agreed! Not that you’re an insufferable know-it-all, but that I AM. And I keep trying not to be (once it was pointed out to me during a fight that that’s what I do). The problem I struggle with is that being a know-it-all is part of my job. Among other things, at work I am the subject matter expert. It’s right there in the description, and it’s hard to turn that off in non-work situations. Or even in work situations. Just last week, during a meeting, someone was telling a story about a trivia contest from the night before and posed the question to the group: “What’s the word that describes when you combine two words, like smoke and fog to make smog?” I jumped in with the answer before he finished the question and I WASN’T EVEN IN THE ROOM. His response? “Of course you knew that.” Everyone (including me) laughed, but UGH. I need to shut the hell up sometimes.

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