What’s the point of talking?

Some of you may have noticed this ever-increasing trend in interruptions during conversations. Just recently I had a friend confess to me:

“I’ve noticed more and more that when I’m listening to someone talk, and I figure out what they’re trying to say, or where they’re going with something, I just cut them off and answer their question. Just seems like a waste of time,waiting for them to finish.”

The psychologist in me cringed. And, so did my face…

I asked her after a long “therapeutic pause”:

“That’s an interesting way to do it. How do you think that impacts your relationship with that person?”

“Not so great,” she answered.

I could see her struggling with the idea that, in order to nurture her relationship with someone, she may actually have to forego her speed-communication style and just LISTEN. And more and more people these days seem to value speed over quality.

In my time as a therapist, I came to the realization that so much of what makes a therapeutic relationship effective is that people feel heard in our office, more so than in any other relationship. As a therapist we very rarely bring our personal information into the therapeutic environment and so, our job is to LISTEN. But not in the passive way that the media often portrays.

We listen to support. We listen when you tell us something that you’ve never told anyone before…and we don’t judge you. We listen when others would typically share their own information….and we create space for you. We listen when others would try to change your opinion…and we  honor you.

While practicing psychology, I realized that this was REAL relationship building. This was REAL communication. Not they information-focused, hyper-exchange that so many of us are used to engaging in.

80% of quality communication actually has nothing to do with information exchange. It’s about building a relationship. One of trust, saftey and respect.

When we talk to each other, unless the purpose of the conversation is very clearly to exchange or update information, you’re likely engaging in a relationship building space. Talking about your day, planning a meal, venting about something that’s been bothering you, asking most questions…the point isn’t actually to fact-gather. It’s about listening to someone as they share personal stuff with you that they might not otherwise have a chance to share.

It’s about showing that person, through the act of listening, that you care about what they have to say. It’s about listening, even when you think you know what they’re going to say, because you want to show them that you want them to feel good about talking to you. The information shared is so much less important than the experience you both have during the conversation.

I keep in mind, that this is a two-way street. If I want someone to want to talk to me, I also want to be able to talk to them. There needs to be space for both of us.

  • Yes, it will take more time.
  • Yes, you will likely hear the same information more than once.
  • Yes, you may get bored listening.
  • Yes, you may be able to save time by anticipating what they’re going to say and circumventing the conversation to get to “the point”.

But, if you choose to interrupt or speed talk instead…

  • No, it won’t help your relationship with them.
  • No, you won’t ever be surprised by someone because they’ll never feel safe exploring something with you.
  • No, you’ll never feel as close to that person, though you’ll usually get what you “need.”
  • No, they’ll never feel safe enough talking to you to be creative and relaxed in your presence. They’ll likely never teach you something new because you’ll likely stop them before they get there.

So, rather than teaching the people to “get to the point” how about we teach them to “get to the heart.” If you want a relationship with someone based on more than just information exchange, start listening to them, teach them how to listen to you and I think we’ll find….the interrupting stops and the interaction begins.

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