Hello, my name is Dale and I’m a frequent interrupter.
That’s a hard one to admit, but its true. As much as I love quality dialogue with others and want to be a good listener, I find myself too often interjecting thoughts or questions without waiting for the appropriate conversational pause. Now, I do have friends that when we talk and get excited about a topic, we can stumble all over each other without ever feeling interrupted. So the good news is that I don’t think I’m as bad as Kanye at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards when he rushed the stage and interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video, but the bad news is that I still think that I have a problem.
It used to be worse. I used to be a fixer. Whenever anyone would tell me about their problems my mind would immediately start thinking of a solution and once I had it I would just blurt it out. I thought it was my duty, my spiritual gift, to share my incredible wisdom with the other party so they could be better, like me. I know, as hard as this must be to read, it’s even harder to write. I did it to friends, acquaintances, family members, you name it. My fixing had no limits.
As women we do this a lot; we fix. We hear about a problem and it makes us feel uncomfortable so we rush in with the solution, whether we have permission or not. Or we hear about a problem and it makes us feel uncomfortable so we rush them to happy so we can feel better. This type of listening, the fixing-listening, isn’t about connecting with the other person as all listening was intended to do, it’s usually more about confronting people’s sins because of how they make us feel. I thought fixing was helpful and loving but that turns out not to be true.
“Interruption is basically a self serving and egotistical act. It blatantly states What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.”
The interesting thing is that fixing usually involves those issues that we dislike most about ourselves so noticing who and what you fix is often the first step toward self-awareness and change. Because change is possible. Listening can be learned. Listening is not an ability that we are born with, it’s a skill that we can practice and master.
And so I am actively working on my listening skills which is not easy because the human mind can think four times faster than someone can talk. So when a thought is jumping up and down in my mind just dying to get out, I physically lean in closer to the other person in order to take the focus off me and put it back on them. And when I am itching to talk, I try to gauge my words with the 80/20 rule. When it’s their turn to talk, 80% of the words should be theirs and 20% should be mine.
Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. James 1:19
Remember those times that you prayed for patience? Well, this is one way that God is answering that prayer for me because listening demands patience. And yet it’s not a passive act. Listening becomes very active when you start to focus on the other person and intentionally turn off your own thoughts and judgments. That is how we can be quick to listen. The upside is that your conversations will become much more fulfilling and relaxing.
I had coffee with a friend yesterday and felt so much more at ease as she spoke because I just stayed in the moment with her without needing to come up with answers or brilliant thoughts. This conversation was not a test of my conversational acumen, intelligence, or charm as I sometimes feel when I’m talking to someone. It was simply an opportunity to connect more deeply with a friend. She sent me an email later in the day saying “Loved, Loved, loved visiting with you” and I think it was because she felt heard and accepted. Listening without fixing communicates acceptance, which is one of my favorite definitions for GRACE: unconditional love and acceptance. Listening infuses all our conversations with grace. How great is that!
Just think of the last time that you felt heard, really heard, and how that made you feel. Wasn’t it wonderful? Just last week I had a conversation with a friend who listened to me intently over the phone as I spoke about my business. She didn’t interrupt me at all. She even repeated back to me the things she heard me saying which was incredibly helpful because I had never put my thoughts together in that way. Her listening allowed me to hear myself. It was powerful.
Listening as it turns out is one of the greatest gifts that we can offer people. When we really listen to another person by allowing them to share authentically at a vulnerable level we offer them the gift of being known. When we really listen to others we create room for them to hear themselves and gain clarity and vision about their lives. When we really listen to another person we are communicating that they have immense value and are worthy of our attention and our time.
Who could you listen to this week so that they might feel heard?