I’m pretty good at talking.
Not so much in hushed tones, but if you’re looking for a – louder than you’d probably like – conversation about pretty much anything? I’m your gal.
When I was younger, I was quite literally stuck to mum’s side. I hated soft play, kid’s parties were hell to me and I’d scream if anyone other than my parents were left looking after my brother and I. Any man with dark hair or a beard could also do one (my, how things have changed, eh?). This shyness continued throughout my childhood until about eleven years old, when the teachers at secondary school coaxed it out of me with drama, assemblies and a whole lot of encouragement – and I’ve never looked back since.
Life’s too short to keep your mouth shut, that’s my motto now.
Throughout my adult life, not being shy has meant I’ve found some scary things in life, easy. Presentations have never been a problem; meetings are welcome and small talk is my favourite, which is all well and good in the workplace. But when it comes to friendships and being able to listen to those around me? That’s where I’ve faltered. Not being able to shut up long enough to listen has meant that, at dinner parties, I shut off if someone’s views differ wildly from my own, which quite literally defeats the point of a conversation. If someone’s had a problem and decided to share it with me, I’ve tended to reply with an anecdote about something similar that’s happened to me – trying to help, of course, but not really listening. I didn’t actually realise it was a major problem until I read this quote from Stephen Covey:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
It struck a chord with me because I began to realise I didn’t take a breath for long enough to really comprehend things I both read and heard. I was hearing and seeing what people had to say but I wasn’t really trying to understand or sympathise, I was always trying to think of a quick, clever or funny retort. Or sometimes even work through my own problems at the same time.
I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I’ve come to learn that sometimes it’s better to simply sit back and listen without any intention of replying.