“What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” – Brene Brown
I like to talk. A lot.
It’s how I get ideas and work through concepts I’m not quite clear on. It’s how I get myself motivated or calm myself down.
If you let me, I would probably talk your ear off all day. As a creative grasshopper, my mind runs a mile a minute, and has no shortage of ideas to explore.
But a conversation in which people are talking, but not listening, is not really a conversation. It’s selfish, unsatisfying, and does absolutely nothing to build real connections.
As much as I like to talk, what I really want is to connect.
I talk about what I do because I crave appreciation and admiration. I want to inspire someone.
I talk about what’s on my mind because I want to know that I’m not alone. I want to feel accepted and validated.
I talk about what I know about anything because I want to show that I have something to offer. That I’m worth listening to, and wanting to be around.
But no matter how much I want to be accepted, loved, and appreciated, over the years I have learned that talking is not always the way to get these things.
For a talkaholic, talking is asking: for attention, praise, acceptance, love.
But talking is not really giving. It feels like giving to us, but it isn’t.
I may think that by telling my friend about what I do I’m inspiring her, but she has other worries and blocks that are keeping her from ever applying what insights she may gain from my overly generous monologue.
I may think that by espousing my opinion about everything under the sun I’m showing that I’m a worthy conversation partner, but people have their own opinions, and feeling like their opinions are heard is much more valuable to them than listening to mine.
It took many years of being bullied and feeling alienated before I realized that my strategy for getting me the things I wanted was backfiring and getting me the opposite.
I used to kick myself for that. Why couldn’t I learn faster? Why couldn’t I just be there already?
Just like every engrained habit, I realized that talking too much and listening too little was comfortable, even if it didn’t feel that way.
The reality is that listening is much more vulnerable for me than sharing even my best kept secrets.
When I’m listening, giving the other person my full attention, holding space for them, I feel vulnerable because they have control over the conversation.
All of a sudden, I’m left open and naked.
My thoughts are free to race, and keeping them focused on the other person is tough, just like meditating. Talking a mile a minute is so much easier.
By not spouting out my ideas and beliefs, I’m letting the other person form their own opinion of me. Instead of trying to direct it. I am “just me,” and I can’t put on a mask through my words, opinions, and knowledge.
A long time ago I made a commitment to be minimalistically myself—naked and raw, unapologetically open and authentic. No excuses. No drama. No frills.
On this journey of rediscovery I learned that my true self does not need a mask.
I don’t need to let my ideas and systems march forward to create a better impression. I now know that everyone else is just as broken as I am, and the cracks only have as much importance as you give them.
I don’t need to always share a story of my own in order to connect. My heart knows how to connect without my help.
I don’t need to give everyone the brilliant solution they need. I’ve learned that I can be most helpful when I just give people the space they so desperately need; then they are free to discover their own solutions, and are much more open to seeing and implementing them.
Learning to listen is a lifelong journey, one that is definitely not easy for a talkaholic like me. But the joy that comes with the rewards makes up for the pain and effort. Achievements are, after all, only worth as much as the time put in.
Talking about my achievements, opinions, conclusions, and lessons learned is a lot of fun. But listening for an hour, really connecting, fully being there, and watching the other person relax, unfurl, and bloom is priceless.
What changes have you made to become a better listener? What have you learned about yourself along the way?