Talk less, listen more
Updated: Sep 6
Every time I’m in a social setting, this seems to happen: I find myself standing in a circle of humans who are talking at each other. (Talking in a way that feels like yelling to my sensitive brain. At each other in the way Ken plays the guitar at Barbie 🙃). And I have not uttered a word for the last thirty minutes.
I have not said a word, yet I could repeat almost every word that everyone else has said, for it is all seeping into my consciousness.
I feel like the energies of each person are percolating within me.
It’s like my brain has become a series of freeways, underpasses and overpasses with bumper to bumper traffic. Horns are blaring. Some cars are aggressively merging. Others are backing up to get to the exit they missed. Single occupancy vehicles are jerking into the HOV lane. More horns are blaring. Everyone is trying to get to where they are going, without any awareness of that others are trying to get somewhere too.
It is chaos.
As more words are uttered, I absolve into this chaotic freeway of other people’s energies and directions and perceptions.
I feel both tense and depleted.
As I explore this, this is what is true for me:
I love people. And sometimes it is utterly exhausting for me to be in groups of people. Because, it seems that every time I am out in the world, every single person is talking, and no one is listening.
People believe that they are connecting and having a conversation with each other. Yet, what I observe is not connection or conversation. It is a yelling match. It is postering and performing. It is individual egos existing in their separate bubbles. There is little exchange of ideas, feelings, or information happening.
It’s as if everyone is showing up to this group dynamic with an acute awareness of “I” and zero awareness of “we”. I am not suggesting that we lose our I-ness when in group settings, but I do think there is a shift that gets to occur when I become we.
I think that in our deep desire to connect with each other through conversation, we end up doing the opposite.
Here’s what I mean: instead of listening to others, we interrupt. Instead of holding space for others to speak, we hold them hostage with our monologues. Instead of offering empathy, we offer unsolicited advice. Instead of asking questions, we lecture.
As a sensitive introvert, these ways of being in social settings are deeply exhausting to me.
As the talking at continues, the more lost on the freeway I get. So much so that, once I make it to a place where another person does want to have a conversation of connection, I am so exhausted and feel like I have nothing to say. I cannot find my own words because I have become saturated with the words and feelings and energies of everyone else.
I yearn to figure out a better way to help myself through this. One method that works most of the time is to take a break. To go somewhere quiet and dark and sit for a few minutes. I focus on my breath. I visualize everyone's energy exiting my body. This is a great reset.
I also want to understand why it seems most people talk and few people listen...
Perhaps you came from a hectic home where the loudest voice was the one that was heard.
Perhaps you came from a home where your parents or caretakers did not listen to you, and therefore you developed behaviors to force others to listen to you.
Perhaps you are insecure about your place in the world and feel that you need to prove your intelligence by telling everyone what you know.
Perhaps you find your worth in your ability to give advice to and help others, and therefore you insert your experience with xx hardship when another is sharing about a similar hardship.
Perhaps the silence makes you uncomfortable so you take great measures to avoid it.
Perhaps you think the amount that you talk is directly representative of your intelligence.
Perhaps you mistake quietness for passiveness. Or stupidity. Or weakness.
There are probably a hundred more perhaps I could list here, but I think this list will suffice for now.
All of these perhaps are valid, when we consider the fact that they are likely coping mechanisms developed at an early age. Or simply a product of a loud, extroverted, individualistic society.
AND, we can do better. Because the truth is, that under each of these perhaps is a shared desire to connect and to be seen and heard.
Yet in our very desire to connect, to be seen, and to be heard, we end up causing the opposite effect through these conversation behaviors many of us have developed.
So I want to offer a few tips to help us all be better conversationalists. What I mean by better, is to help us use conversation as a tool to connect with others. To see others. To hear others. To be seen. To be heard.
1. Ask questions. Ask questions that you truly want the other person to answer. Do not ask a question just so you can answer it. Questions are also a great way to include people who are quieter….people who have just as brilliant insights and ideas as those who are more vocal.
2. Don’t interrupt. If someone has opted to be brave and share something with you, give them the gift and respect of the space to share. I find interrupting to be almost violent in nature. I’m not talking about an interruption in the form of an assist, or a creative addition to the conversation. I’m talking about an interruption that totally changes the direction of the conversation in a sudden way. An interruption that has resulted in the person speaking no longer having the space to share their ideas, and the expert talker now holding court again.
3. Listen. Like really, listen. Don’t just wait to talk. Listen as if there is zero expectation that you say anything after the person talking as shared. Simply let them speak, and let their words bask over and into you.
4. Be aware of your air time. Perhaps you have the skill of being able to hold court for hours. That’s great. But what if you considered that others might want to contribute as well? What if you saw how, sometimes, you're monopolizing the conversation? What if you had the humility to be quiet and listen?
Do you have any other tips? Thoughts? Objections? I am open to it all in the comments below 💙