Last week I was trying to have a conversation with an acquaintance of mine. I use the word “trying” loosely, since I felt I was in the midst of a verbal martial arts competition. I became extremely vigilant about observing when my friend was about to take a breath. It was then that I was able to squeeze in a few words of my own. I was amazed at how many words she could elicit without stopping for a breath. I really was in a no-win situation since my replies seemed to disappear into thin air. She just continued on her mission of discussing her issues without so much as an acknowledgment that she had heard one word I said.
This type of exchange is not an anomaly. Trying to converse today is often a losing proposition. When I look back in time, I cannot believe how far we have come into not listening to one another in lieu of talking about ourselves or simply being more interested in hearing our own voices. As a daughter of a family that had strict rules about interrupting, I am now witnessing interruption as a new paradigm. The nuns that were a huge part of my education simply had to give a look if you dared to talk while they were talking.
How to actually listen was a big part of what I learned from the nuns. When you don’t listen you will have a tendency to respond to what you think you heard. In the early years of my career, I taught communication skills in many organizations. Not listening can create a great deal of problems not only in a company setting but in our personal relationships as well. How we respond is often predicated on parental influence, brain chemistry, how much stress we are under and even how little sleep we’ve had.
We are now in an era that has exacerbated all of the above. Have you had the experience of being in the middle chatting with someone and their cell phone begins to ping incessantly? “Oh, you don’t mind if I catch this call do you?” What if you said “Yes, I do, you’re being rude!”
I could be understanding if something serious is going on and the other person must answer the ping. But most often, they can call someone back without the threat of the world coming to an end.
My greatest fear is that we are losing touch with each other in exchange for conversations focused on listening to ourselves talk or waiting anxiously for our next text. I love the following quote by Doug Larsen: “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening, when you would have preferred to talk.”
— Author, humorist, PBS star and Fortune 500 trainer Loretta LaRoche lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. To share your pet peeves, questions or comments, write to The Humor Potential, 50 Court St., Plymouth, MA 02360. Visit her website at stressed.com.