Just Between Us
Holding Back My Two Cents
It was by sheer accident that I was recently given a good lesson in the power of listening. Chatting on the phone with a friend, I inadvertently hit the mute button with my chin. Not realizing this at first, I began to respond to my friend’s words. She of course heard nothing coming from my end and just continued talking. By the time I figured out what had happened, I had already noticed the benefits of my being quiet for a while. My uncharacteristic (and unintentional) silence had given my friend a chance to go on, uninterrupted, to elaborate on her thoughts and to work through the dilemma we were discussing.
Eventually, I corrected my misstep and joined back in the conversation, better prepared to assist her because of how much listening I had done. As we were hanging up, she let me know that it was one of the best conversations she had had in a long time. “Hmmm,” I thought, “and I hardly said a word.”
I was so fascinated with the results of my silence (albeit accidental) that I began experimenting with a listen-more approach in other areas of my life. Though my family members may not admit to noticing my new ways, I really have been working at it. Isn’t it ironic that this nonverbal way of communicating is sometimes more effective than actual talking? I feel as though I’ve decoded an important secret that I should have discovered years ago.
And, I have discovered, there are countless ways to apply this newfound nugget of wisdom. How many times have you finished a conversation and wished you had a second chance at a witty retort or a powerful comeback? I’ve had numerous conversations with friends over the years in which we’ve commiserated about what we should have said in a particular situation. I’ve often thought, “If only I had said this, or that—or better yet, that! But now, rather than wishing for the presence of mind to come up with a witticism or a zinger, I wish for discipline and restraint—the sense to know when to say nothing.
I have learned how satisfying it can be to simply let a situation unfold and reveal itself without belaboring each and every point along the way. While I don’t like the idea of using silence as a manipulative tool to achieve the upper hand, I do like how it allows me to collect my thoughts and avoid squandering my opportunity to be heard. I have found that rushing to fill the silence is like willing myself to stumble.
In the same vein, I want to pay tribute to what someone has coined the “24-hour rule.” The rule is simple but vital: When hurt, annoyed or angry with someone, resist the temptation to make a quick response and avoid saying something that you can’t take back. Wait 24 hours. That cooling-off period can make the difference between an effective resolution and a disastrous outcome.
Maybe you have already experienced the deeper feeling of gratification that comes from biting your tongue and listening more. But for those like me who are still learning, I thought this old-but-fresh concept was worth a pause. I had an uncle who used to say, “Never talk when you can nod.” I’m starting to see what he meant.
E-mail Gina Jaber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—By Gina Jaber