Listening is hard

This happens every so often, you're out with someone, and you can't get a word in. The other person never pauses in their story. Every little detail of their life is sacred. Every idea they have. When you insert something about yourself, it's just a cue for them to explain something else to you, about them.

After a while your mind drifts, you start looking away as the person is talking wondering if they'll get the hint. It's nice to have a smart phone you can take out and start browsing, while they're talking.

Maybe they'll wonder why you aren't listening?

What is going through this person's mind? And when they leave, and they tell another friend they saw you, when asked how you're doing, what will they say? They didn't get any information.

I tend to do a lot of talking myself, I'm aware of it, so I try to reign it in. Tell my mind to listen and not talk. That's hard for some reason, but it's important. Otherwise why bother spending time with others? I can hear myself talk any time. This is a different person across the table. Someone I don't see every day. What's their experience? What can I learn from them? I want to know. And if I can't get my mind to quiet down, none of that happens.


1. A conversation is like a tennis game. Hit the ball over the net, pause, the other person hits it back. Hopefully with a little spin, an edge, sharpness, a bit of humor or wisdom. Every so often something completely new. Hit it, they hit it, back and forth.

2. As a general rule if there are two people each person should do 50 percent of the talking. It's okay if it's as much as 80-20, or even 90-10. But if it's 100-0, something isn't right. If you're the 100, just stop. Maybe something interesting will fill the silence.

3. Or ask questions. Imagine you're interviewing them. What just happened in their life? Find out what it's like to be them, but don't ask the question that way. Ask for a story. How do you like your apartment? Did you have fun on your trip to Boston? What will you do with all that money? How are your parents, kids, etc.

4. If you're the 0 and the other person is 100, it's possible they think it's the other way around. I've had that happen, where a conversation was so dominated by one person, but they think the exact opposite is happening. People are weird, but remember, you're a person too.

5. If you really are the 0, there's a possible silver lining. It's possible that instead of the other person not caring about you (which is how it feels) they care about you too much. I had this happen once on a date. I was really pissed, but was also in therapy so I told the story at my next session. My therapist suggested that maybe my date was just trying to impress me. So the next time I asked her and she said yes. I said I was already impressed. Then things evened out nicely.

It was a big surprise that a woman could want to impress me. I thought I was a zero. That's it's my job to do the impressing. What a revelation!

6. Another thing I learned, again from therapy, is that people whose life is in crisis, because of death or disease, or a job loss, or a marriage failing, something like that, have a hard time seeing anything from anyone else's perspective. They may even be conscious of it. So if this is a friend, you pretty much have to cut them the slack they need, and be a good listener, even if it hurts. You're helping them through a tough time.

Bette Midler in Beaches

A great line from the movie Beaches.

"But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think of me?"

Posted: Sun, 27 Oct 2013 15:51:35 GMT