Listening Is The Better Part of Speaking – Sarah Kay
Sarah Kay’s Ted talk titled “If I Should Have A Daughter” was worth the 30 minutes it took for our dinosaur-age-speed internet in Chicago to load it. I also enjoyed the discussion she had with On Being’s Krista Tippet, particularly her thoughts on choosing our words with care, and the weekly exercise she does in her workshops. During this exercise she urges each of the participants to come up with a list of things that they know to be true. The example she cites in On Being for this exercise is that her name is Sarah, and that she was named for her grandfather, named Stewart. She urges each person to think of things that are not only true, but interesting and unique.
This was my favorite part of the interview because as of late I have been thinking about how I’d like to improve the ways I connect with people. I am really, phenomenally good at talking about myself. Because of my tendency to over-share, you can ask me questions all day long and I will keep reflecting my answers back at you. I can think of so many instances where I have walked away from a conversation realizing that I spent so much time reflecting and pontificating, but I didn’t spend any time absorbing. The person I just spent time with knows more about me than they might ever want to know, but I can’t remember a single thing about them, sometimes not even their name.
I don’t want to make it sound like I greedily talk about myself, overpowering anyone who tries to take a moment to share. It’s more that I don’t know what questions to ask them, or I feel a bit anxious about silence and want to fill in the spaces. The problem has been exacerbated over the years with my blog, as I interact with people who know far more about me than I do about them, which provides them an opportunity to ask specific questions that strangers would never think to ask each other (or if they did it might be considered inappropriate or strange to do so). I am better at holding mutually beneficial conversations when it is with someone I know, particularly when we have an extensive shared history, but I still often feel like I did far more speaking than listening.
As with all things, the first step to fixing this character flaw is acknowledging that it is a problem for me. When making phone calls or spending time with family members and friends I can take a moment before our conversation begins and remind myself that the goal is to learn more about them than they learned about me. The area I’d like to most focus on though, is when I meet new people. I have a friend who was a pharmaceutical rep (I hear she was the best of the best) and I always in awe whenever we get together in social situations, particularly cocktail parties hosted by That Husband’s work. She is a master at conversing with everyone, from the wife of a new hire to the partner of a prestigious firm. I want to be just like her.
Unfortunately I freeze up a little bit when meeting new people. Once we get past their name (which I often forget as soon as it’s said, despite my efforts to lock it deep in my brain) I’m out of ideas. On my Just A Mom post we got into a great discussion about how some people feel frustrated that their profession is sometimes used to define them (particularly when our culture places great importance on specific professions and those in certain fields feel discredited), and so I want to get in the habit of using some alternative phrases in order to get to know people. Some of the fabulous suggestions proffered up include:
“How do you spend your time?“
“Where are you from?” (This is my contribution to the brainstorming, it’s the least risky and inventive)
“What are your hobbies?” and “What are you passionate about?” from Kayla
and my personal favorite from Janssen “What do you like to do?“
I’m writing this on June 7th, and as soon as I hit schedule I’m heading out to dinner with some people I haven’t met in real life. I’m going to make it my goal to work some of the above phrases into my conversations.
Does conversing meaningfully with strangers and acquaintances come easily for you? How do you make meaningful connections with those you don’t know well? If this wasn’t a natural skill for you, how did you develop it?