Thursday, March 11, 2010

Waiting to Talk

I know you know people like this. They ask you a question. It may even appear as if they are actually interested in hearing your response. But before you can answer, they've answered the question themselves or filled in your blank with information pertaining only to them. It's a bit like being hit with a bolo-paddle. Bring the ball to you, hit it, knock it out again. Just when you think it's your turn to answer...Bam! I have a friend like that. Here's how the conversation goes:
Her: How have you been? I've missed you. Tell me everything!
Me: Well,
Her: We have been so busy. I thought I had mono. Didn't you have that once?
Me: Yeah,
Her: Mine was the worse case ever. Has Taylor been sick? What's he up to?
Me: Today he,
Her: I have been doing more stuff than ever recently. I'm so glad everybody is doing well at your house.

I bet you can name two or three people just like that. You couldn't call that listening, could you? What's interesting is that later that friend may report, "I had a wonderful conversation with Marianne today." No, for so many of us, listening is simply---and rather crudely, "Waiting to talk." It's like, would you please finish what you are going to say so I can jump in and talk about myself some more? Oh, that sounds kind of harsh now that I've said it. But somehow it rings true.
There's a thing we teach new teachers when it comes to asking questions. It's called Wait Time. Teachers ask students a question and then wait. A researcher, Mary Budd Rowe, found that if we wait in complete silence for 3-5 seconds after asking a question, that many positive things happened to students' and teachers' behaviors and attitudes. Whoa! Wow! Something that is free and yet that produces profound results. Can we, could we, should we apply that wait time to our own very real lives? I mean, the research has already been done. Now all we have to do is get on with it. Why is that so hard?

Taylor doesn't talk much at all. If asked a question, his requirement for wait time is much greater than normal. I often hear people ask him a question. Complete silence follows most often. It can be awkward. I know that Taylor knows the answer, but there is no look from him that indicates, "I'm in the thinking mode here." So, the requisite 3-5 seconds of silence gets interrupted and the space gets filled in with conjectures and words that do not really belong to him. I am not criticising anybody here. It takes a whole bunch of patience. Even when I know he's got an answer forthcoming, my own need to fill in the gap bulldozes in and silences him--again. The wait time is left in shreds.
I love to have my hair washed and I loved to be listened to. Both of those actions by others seem so luxurious and so caring.(I just threw the hair washing part in in case we're ever partners on The Newlywed Game on TV.) Knowing that we have not only been listened to----but have been heard is simply one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. It's free. But it is so rare. To listen, to wait, to be still and allow others to have the space, the air, the moment, requires that we step back and just "be." Gosh, this is so hard. It's hard because we're all so needy and our lives seem so urgent---maybe even desperate. But, here's a place to start. Don't just wait to talk. Wait to listen. Or, just wait. Wait those few seconds for the treasure in the other's answer. Time to wait. Count slowly to five. Quiet. Listen.
There is something they want to tell us---for us to know.
Wait time.
Now, tell us. What's on your heart?
1...2....3....4....5....We'll wait for you.
We want to hear.


  1. Be still and know that I am God.....
    I mean its in Holy Scripture and still,like you say, it is sooooooooooo hard.
    That line from a song in the musical Les Miserable says something like "to love another person is to see the face of God."
    I think you have hit the crux of that line. Loving and listening and waiting to hear....really hear.
    (so far I'm the only responder.....the other readers LISTENED today. Even my fingers are too loud!)

  2. I love LISTENING to what you have to say in your blog. I work with Deanie and she shared the site with me. (I blog too, in spurts... occasionally...when the spirit moves me....)
    I have read every post and appreciate your perspective, honesty and spirit.
    My cousin Richard would have loved Taylor..

  3. Of course you know that many of us are thinking nervously of the last conversation we had with you... "Was that me being rude and not listening?" Sometimes it might be me, but not now: I remember our last visit, our walk, our words: that was some sweet, pure sharing. Thanks for being you, both in person and in print. xoxoxoxo a

  4. Actually, Annie, I think it's mostly me that I'm talking about. Isn't it always really about ourselves that we see? It' just easier to pretend it's somebody outside of ourselves.
    I love all of you brave brave comment-ers. It is so hard to be so exposed. Thank you so much.

  5. My mother sent me an article once about neo-narcissism. In the article it mentioned “duologue”. When someone is thinking about what they are going to say and not listening to what you are saying, that is called “duologue”. In our society it is viral. I don’t think it is because folks are neo-narcissists but rather that many folks have lost the art of listening. We have lost the Bardic tradition in our society and so we don't know how to hear a story. We get nervous and frantic and loose our way and words began to “jumble”. To SEE what is being told to you is so wonderfully creative but like our appendix, if we don’t use it we loose it. I guess you could say our ability to hear a story has atrophied. Now if we are listening to Rush Limbaugh or NPR or a book on tape, we might call those experiences “the expert from out of town”. Folks always seem to listen to them. Hee hee.
    Recently I tried to tell a magical story to a friend. Forgetting that I was magical, she began slipping into duologue.
    I said to her, “Close your eyes. See a Rooster. Do you see it?”
    She nodded yes.
    I then said, “It is rearing its head back. Do you see that?”
    “Yes.” she said.
    “Now it is barking like a dog.” I said.
    She started laughing. Then I told her the story. She heard it.
    I like that.

  6. Though-provoking words here... I admire your gift of writing and the courage to say what we need to hear. I've been noticing this very thing more and more lately and have been really working to try to stop and listen more. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. I hear you, Marianne. You are such a good listener, and I agree with CAannie; I'm sure we're reading this and thinking, "She got me! I knew I should have stopped talking occasionally."

    There's a woman at work who has a habit of saying the last word or two of everyone's sentences. It's as if she knows what's coming and just can't avoid joining in. :-) Don't you think we need poor listeners in our lives, so we can look at them and say to ourselves, "Ooh. I hope I don't do this." Or, "Ouch. I do this and NOW I see just how annoying it is." ? It's much easier to learn from poor role models, I think.

    Thank you for your pearls, Marianne. x

  8. Thank you , Marianne , for the great reminder...I find it so hard to do the "wait time" thing at home and at school.

    One thing else, though, that is hard, is when we sincerely ask people questions about their lives, their families, their jobs, their feelings...and the person deflects it immediately back to the person asking the question. The conversation goes like this...

    "hey, how are you?"
    " are you ?"
    "I'm great... how is _________? "
    "She's fine...what about your _________(kid, husband/job"

    and so on...and so on.....

    I know I am not expressing myself well here, but it's that person who never really gets into a "deep" conversation about her family/job/beliefs, etc....but LOVES to talk "deep" with you about your stuff. I've got a couple of friends like this.... they are "great" listeners, but I feel like they are not willing to reciprocate.

    Maybe I'm not "safe" enough...ouch....that hurts!


Thank you so much for your comments. I know it's scary to put yourself out there. I really appreciate your being on this journey with me. You really are brave..