Yesterday I hung out with a friend who loves to talk.
We hung out, she talked, I listened.
Slowly my listening turned to sort-of-listening. Then sometimes-listening. Then not-listening-at-all-and-instead-thinking-about-how-tiring-listening is.
Then trying-to-practice-mindful-listening while repeatedly getting distracted by Neville, who was busy alternating between self-righteous judgements:
“this friend is selfish and lacks self awareness”
and self-deprecating concerns
“this friend doesn’t give a damn about me. I’m obviously too boring to listen to.”
It has often baffled me that some people seem to have no internal radar to alert them when they’re dominating conversation, no inner alarm that says “stop talking, ask a question, stop hogging the ball and rally it back”
I have a very loud inner conversation-fairness alarm clock.
It computes the length of time I’ve been speaking for, and when the elapsed time exceeds 6 minutes, it prods Neville in the arm, causing him to leap off the couch shouting
“STOPPPP TALKING! Look at their eyes… Glazed over, Andrea, LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE!
Quick, redeem yourself by asking copious questions.”
When other people talk and talk at me, I usually feel completely content for at least an hour or so, safe in the knowledge that I’m being a good, listening friend, and that I don’t need to worry about talking too long myself.
I may sometimes also have the not-proud-to-admit thought that I am building up many listening credits,
which means that should the occasion arise where I require support and lengthy ranting, I will not need to feel guilty with this friend.
Recently I’ve discovered that somewhere in my old age I’ve transitioned to enjoying listening and asking questions more than I enjoy talking about myself. Very recently.
That is, until we enter the red zone.
When 1 hour has elapsed where I perceive myself as having been the predominant listener, a different alarm is set off with a slight whisper, gradually building to a scream:
“Andrea, why aren’t they asking you anything? Do they find you so uninteresting? Are they just using you because you’re happy to listen?
OH GOD! You’re being used!! They don’t even like you!! AhhhhHHHH!”
This usually leads to analysis of why some people, like me, and most people I know, have stressfully overzealous, inbuilt conversation-fairness alarms, and others, like a few people I know, seem to have literally no self-awareness at all as to A. how long they’ve been dominating the conversation and B. whether or not their topics of conversation are relevant, meaningful, or interesting for the listener whatsoever.
Sure, we all like to spout our every thoughts out loud for our partner and friends to deal with –
we love to feel heard and understood – but moderation yo!
Are Neville and I being judgemental pricks? Absolutely.
Have I done this myself without realising a thousand million times? For sure.
Is there a solution for this conundrum? Probably.
Both for those of us with overly-loud internal conversation-fairness meters that affect our ability to be fully present for our friends, and for those of us with no internal meters whatsoever…
I suspect it’s to do with learning to tame our minds.