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Talk Less...Listen More

So I’m currently on Day 3 of complete laryngitis. I’m not hoarse, I’m not raspy, when I try to speak or make any kind of sound at all, nothing comes out. All I keep thinking about is Ariel in the Little Mermaid when Ursula tells her “That’s right sweet cakes, no talking, no singing, zip.”

This has been surprisingly difficult for me. I do not consider myself a “talker,” although I do enjoy good conversations. For the past 8 years or so I have made a conscious effort to talk less and listen more, and to be a considerate and conscientious listener. I started paying attention to my listening vs. talking ratio after reading Erma Bombeck’s quote and especially after hearing from a college student from a different country explain the things that he didn’t like about living in America. His main complaint was that Americans don’t really listen, but rather pretend to listen during a conversation, all the while planning what they are going to say next. As the other person finishes what they had to say (or sometimes even before that (apparently Americans are well known for interrupting others), the American jumps in with his or her opinion or advice on the matter, making it abundantly clear that what they had to say was much more important than the original speaker’s words.

Now of course I’m not saying that every person does this, nor is this rather rude habit reserved solely for Americans. But as I’ve been unable to speak for the past 3 days it has made me realize how often I do open my mouth when there’s simply no need to. There’s no need to fill silence all the time, in fact, there can be something nice about 2 people sitting together, enjoying the stillness and peace that comes with quiet moments shared.

This lapse in talking has also made me realize that as much as I don’t think I’m one of those “I’m not really listening but instead planning what I’m about to say,” people…at times I actually am. Especially when someone is talking about something that I have a particular interest in or opinion about. This was a disappointing realization, but a necessary one for me, because I honestly do not want to be that kind of person, no matter what the situation. For the past few days I have been forced to listen; really listen, to others, and pause before reacting in the only ways that I currently can - a thumbs up, a nod, a smile, etc. because I am completely unable to plan ahead to respond in any other way. An excellent learning experience for sure.

I also believe that the whole “Talk Less…Listen More” concept applies to online commenting as well. I personally never comment on anything online, but for the millions of people who get some satisfaction about typing their (usually negative) opinions online for anyone and everyone to see, I have to wonder if they might have happier and more truly fulfilling lives if they spent less time “talking” in front of a computer screen to no one, and more time engaging with real people and real life experiences. I mean, has anyone said on their deathbed, “I wish I had trolled more people on the internet and spewed more negativity out into the world?”

I’m choosing to use this slightly difficult and inconvenient time as a lesson in talking less and listening more, and I intend to carry on this practice once my voice returns. It’s a great reminder that when someone else has the floor it’s not about me. I’ll get my turn. I can be patient. I can realize that it’s not always all about what I have to say. It also takes the pressure off of me feeling like I must say something to fill the silence or to add my two cents in even when it wasn’t asked for. And that’s definitely a happy choice for me.

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