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.