I am fully aware that I talk too much. I tend to over-explain things, repeating myself as if I don’t trust people to understand what I meant the first time I said it. When I’m nervous, my go-to response is usually to babble on and on about nothing at all, until the person I’m talking to decides that I’m a complete idiot. Even worse, when someone tells me about a problem, I barely wait until they stop talking before I start telling them exactly what they should do, completely ignoring the fact that they didn’t actually ask for my advice. So believe me, I understand how much easier it is to talk than it is to listen.
It’s not that talking itself is such a bad thing. We all have important information to share, and we all want our stories and opinions to be heard. Sharing our thoughts and feelings allows other people to get to know who we really are, and it’s an essential part of forming the relationships that all people need. But all that talking doesn’t do a bit of good if there isn’t anyone who is actually listening.
I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I realize that someone isn’t listening to what I’m trying to say to them. It makes me feel dismissed when someone interrupts a story I’m telling to launch into one of their own. And it makes me feel diminished when I share something that I think is important and the other person just says, “Uh-huh,” and then brings up a completely different subject. Nothing says “I don’t care what you have to say,” or even “I don’t care about you,” more effectively than not bothering to listen to someone. Those kind of conversations don’t exactly build healthy relationships.
Which is what I need to remember the next time someone is talking to me. Am I giving that person my full attention, and really trying to understand what he or she is saying to me? Am I bothering to ask a question if I need to in order to make sure I get what they are talking about? When our conversation is over, will that person feel as if he or she was truly heard? Or will they feel the way so many of us do these days: that it would have been just as effective to talk to a brick wall?
I think that talking will always come more naturally to me that listening, but listening has far better results. Actually, it’s kind of amazing how much I can learn when I shut up and listen for a change. I get genuine insights into how someone else thinks and feels, and a chance to develop deeper relationships with my friends and family. I hear new facts and different ideas, and they broaden my horizons considerably. (Also, the odds of me saying something stupid go way down when I’m not actually talking.) The perks of listening are bountiful indeed.
I have come to believe that there’s a lot of truth in that old saying, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason.” Because one way or another, it is almost always better to listen than to talk.