This passed summer I was fortunate enough to gain an amazing friend and mentor, Mel Mah. Mel is the co-founder of You Got This, Girl! and an expert yogi, dancer, independent film maker, human, as well as a million other things. Over the course of several weeks Mel helped me work on personal goals of all kinds and coached me in mediation, spirituality, and how to be a kick-ass woman. We read books, did exercises, and I walked away from our time together with a greater understanding of many things.
Before I go any further one thing you must understand about me is that I am constantly overflowing. With thoughts, words, ideas, laughter, emotions, you name it. I am chalk-full of everything and bursting at the seams. I am rarely quiet, and I am constantly interrupting people. It can be a good thing, but I also exasperate my partner and can verge on being an annoyance to my team.
This is something Mel noticed almost immediately, and so, she came up with a challenge for me: For one week, whenever you’re in conversation with someone, don’t say anything unless it’s absolutely crucial, and when it is, take a brief pause before you speak.
Initially this sounds like it could create a lot of awkward situations, right? Standing there staring at someone while they wait for you to respond. But the results shocked me.
1. Choose Your Words Carefully
I am an avid reader and writer, and I believe in the power of words. But despite this, I have a tendency to use words willy nilly. In speaking only when I truly had to, I found that not only was I much more careful about the words I chose, people started taking the words I did use more seriously. Friends nodded vigorously when I gave them advice and my colleagues perked up and gave greater consideration to my ideas and suggestions at work.
2. Don’t Monopolize the Silences
Even more powerful than my words were the things that happened in the silences. When conversations took on natural pauses, instead of rushing to fill the silent void, I waited. And what do you know, others filled the void!
On just the first day of this practice it felt like my partner was much more open with me. As I (uncharacteristically) let him lead the conversation, he spoke freely about his hobbies and shared details of his day he normally wouldn’t have (or maybe wouldn’t have been able to). I could see him relax as he realized he didn’t have to fight to get a word in during our conversations, and it led him to being warm and open.
3. Listening is Rewarding
When I expected to be bored, I instead found myself happy listening to him talk about car engines, and other things that normally wouldn’t interest me, and seeing his face light up. It was wonderful watching him talking about his passions, and I felt closer to him than I had in a long time.
This trend continued in my other relationships. My sister, who is normally quite guarded, opened up more to me than she ever had in the past. I learned more in a week about the people around me than I had perhaps in the last two months.
When I speak, I don’t intend to be selfish. In fact, I often view (over)sharing as my way of developing trust. I view talking as a wonderful way to connect with people, but I often forget that what’s more important is listening.
This week, if you’re up for it, make hearing more important than being heard. You’d be surprised at how rewarding it is and at how much you’ll learn.