Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When The Voice In My Head Is Louder Than Yours

Barbara: I noticed this phenomenon first when I was on the receiving end, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I do it too!

When in discussion with a certain someone, I’d suddenly become aware of the fact that she was finishing every one of my sentences for me. It wasn’t malicious, it was … hmmm, what’s the right word? ... “enthusiastic listening”. She was so intent on letting me know that she was on the same page as me that she kept flaunting our symbiosis by speaking my mind for me. Now here’s the real problem: she was almost always wrong. I would be on my way to saying one thing, she’d interrupt, and I’d have to start my thought over again in order to make the actual point I was trying to make.

Me: “If we bring flyers to the school, we can—“
Her: “I know, hand them out to all the kids. Great idea.”
Me: “Oh, okay, we could do that. But I was going to say we could give them to the teachers to hand out.”
Her: “Right. Give them to the teachers. We could do that too.”

You can see there’s a twofold problem for me: one, the obvious one of being interrupted and misread, but two, the subtler one of the voice in her head being so eager (and clearly much louder than my own), trumping the idea I was about to present and making it seem … lame. And ironically, her habit seems to deflate her too: one, because she’s not on as “same” a page as she thought, and two, because she kinda really likes her own idea now much better and foresees a (possibly lengthy) debate.

It used to really irk me. (I’ve had issues with being “heard”.) Until I found myself doing it too. Repeatedly. To all kinds of people. Then I read somewhere (wish I could find the link for you) that studies show that while we all spend time interpreting other people’s thoughts and intentions, we’re only right 20% of the time. 20%!!! If we’re really gifted and sensitive, it maybe gets bumped up to 30%. That means ALL OF US ARE WRONG ABOUT PEOPLE’S INTENTIONS 70 to 80 percent of the time! Can you believe that?!

I realized that rather than getting irked when it happened to me, I had to do my own homework. I’d have to restrain that voice in my head that can get very LOUD and INSISTENT and, quite honestly, a little OVER ENTHUSIASTIC. So I came up with a game plan: Stop finishing other people’s sentences! Stop trying to convey how much you “get” them! Listen, listen, listen! You can always formulate ideas after you’ve heard the one on the table first. It’s not a race.

And maybe I can hit that 30% mark. But don’t interrupt me. Please.

Deb: I am both a perpetrator and victim of this senseless crime. My excuse is that I get so excited sometimes that I just burst out. Most of the time I say, “Sorry I interrupted you,” but by then the damage is done.

Other people do it to me, and for the most part I can see that it is because they are excited too.

Bottom line is, we do not listen well enough to each other. Well, many of us anyway. And the truth is, I am a very good listener and a major question asker. I am genuinely interested in people and their lives. But when something they say sparks something in my brain, I blurt.

But here is my take on the whole affair. My rule is to try to appreciate the person’s intention. 

Are they simply forcing their stuff on me or are they just enthusiastic? The enthusiasts can be forgiven, but should learn to wait for it… wait for it… wait for it...

I am one of those enthusiasts, always down on myself when I interrupt, but doing it nonetheless. It is something I truly work on ALL THE TIME.

But those of us who think that our poo is just more interesting than the next guy’s poo, shut up and listen. If you do, you may find yourself responding with something far more intriguing than the thought that was ruminating in your noggin while you watched the other person’s lips moved. Take it from a pro. 

PS Stay tuned for a new 3-way on Friday! And a new recipe and deco tip on Saturday.            


  1. Brilliant. I was just about to say all that.

    My uncle, whenever my auntie tried to complete one his sentences, used to freeze up immediately and do the stony look. He wasn't a man you would happily interrupt.

  2. The stony look! I wonder if I have the balls to try that. Hmmmm... ;)

  3. I have to say that I am guilty of that is well. I tend to finish sentences before other people speck them and i'm not sure why to be sure. Actually I do it with my boyfriend now and he just laught's at me for it,but yet he does it too,even know he may say different. I guess the only reason for it,is because we have been together for so long so I guess we are kinda in each other's minds,if that makes sence. I think too that if you have been together with someone for a long time,it's going to happen. One time or another you are going to finish what that person was going to say,it's almost like they are in your head. Weird.

  4. Yes Lyndsie I totally agree that when we are a couple, we tend to do this and somehow it does not feel rude does it? In these cases, it feels sweet and cosy.

  5. I am guilty. Thank you for such a thoughtful reminder to listen more, interrupt less.
    I blurt. It is my excitement at being of one mind, that makes me do this. I will practice "waiting for it" after reading this today.

  6. Melissa, as you can see, you are in damn fine company. Something else for we humans to work on. Man my list is loooooooooooong!

  7. I tend to have the opposite problem. When someone else is talking, I'm so intent on listening that I rarely say anything at all. If the other person wants my opinion on anything they've said, they have to ask for it, and then they have to wait whilst I think about what exactly I want to say. I think I have a tendency to think too much before opening my mouth, if there is such a thing. (Yes, I know, I'm very odd...)

  8. Yes I think it's about balance - you need too show that you are listening and not tuning out and sometimes if you're too quiet, people think you're disinterested, but not rudely interrupting.

    My voice is extremely, extremely quiet (barely above a whisper) due to a problem with my vocal chords and it's really hard work for me to push my voice any louder. So if someone interrupts me, it's quite inconvenient. I tend to do the freeze up... and just refuse (even when prompted) to talk till they're ready to hear it, it just takes too much energy to talk over people. I keep pretty quiet at family gatherings (my extended family are terrible with interrupting each other). Maybe that's why I love loud music and playing it on my guitar - it's my opportunity to be loud and interrupt for myself ;P

    But I do occasionally find myself trying to finish my friends' sentences. I'm not sure if it's excitement, or impatience on my part - or maybe both. When I catch myself doing it though, I make a conscious effort to stop.


  9. and April - I wouldn't say you're odd, I'd say you're wise! :)


  10. April, I hear you. I do know people like you (NOT guilty ;) ) and it's really a gift that you're this thoughtful. That said, maybe you have to work on the opposite compromise. Don't worry about speaking up and maybe even blurt out your first, unrefined thought. It could be an adventure -- and people might get to know you even better???

    And, Elle, argh! can't talk above a whisper??? That must be just an incredible challenge. I'm glad you have music to "shout out" for you. And you're a terrific writer, so there's that :)

  11. I am someone who has been on both sides of the conversation countless times. Your post got me thinking beyond that vaguely guilty feeling I get when I am the interrupter, to the 'why' I do it (a lot). I think that I am an interrupter because I am highly engaged in the conversation. my head is not off thinking about what I will make for dinner or how pissed off I am about something that happened last week. I am totally one hundred percent in the moment and am making connections to what the speaker is saying,and yes also inferring what they will say next(mostly wrong, as Barb said). However, just as when I read a great book, my brain is spinning with ideas and thoughts, and I keep adjusting them as the text moves along. I do the same thing in a conversation that has me interrupting, not to get my point across (mostly anyway), but to clarify and feel a part of the conversation. I can tell you also, that as the listening friend of many GREAT talkers (like they rarely stop to take a breath), the few sentences I end are sometimes the only contributions I am permitted to make.

  12. Oh, this is a great reminder. I think the problem is PARTIALLY because it is so totally satisfying when you really ARE on the same page (and I've had friends that I bet we hit closer to a 70% accuracy with) and there is this RUSH to it, so you try to hit it with other people and some people (maybe the people we are married to) then start saying we're bossy... It's possible I'm projecting...

    Very good reminder to just listen.

  13. Nicole, "permitted to make", lol. There's the rub, right?

    And Hart, you might laugh to know that last night (on the very day of this post), my husband and I spent 10 (hilarious in retrospect) minutes of him trying to tell a story and me finishing every sentence -- and getting every finisher WRONG. Yiy. It's a steep learning curve ;)

  14. Should I be patting myself on the back, because I very rarely finish someone else's sentences for them. Maybe it is just my consultant's training, but listening is my greatest contribution to any conversation.

    But those statistics are plain scary- are we really wrong four times out of five? So those times when we tune out because we are sure we know what is coming, we are actually missing the point altogether?


  15. Thanks Barb
    Yes it can be incredibly frustrating, especially if I'm talking to someone who turns out be a bit deaf as well! But it's one of many health-related issues I have to deal with which keeps it in perspective for me.

    I generally do find ways to make myself heard some way or another at any rate :) Music is definitely my outlet - for both things I need/want to say, and occasionally simply to vent my frustrations :P

    Thanks for the compliment about my writing - it means a lot :) Maybe I will start a blog... I'll MAKE time!


  16. Barb, that would be a challenge for me, blurting out the first thing that pops into my head. It seems I have to think about everything I want to say before it comes out of my mouth, and even then it's almost never exactly what I was trying to say. And it's not just during conversations, either. If I'm going to post something online I'll read over it 3 or 4 times to be absolutely sure it's right before I hit enter. (Yes, even comments such as this one are proofread several times.)

    And Elle, I know all about music being an outlet to be heard, and a wonderful outlet it is. :)

  17. I know, Rayna, I wish I could find that study. I remember it vividly because it struck me as so unbelievable ... and then utterly believable. It was in our national newspaper, I do know that. So a reputable source.

    Elle, You could DEFINITELY blog. Let us know if you do.

    And April, even though I'm a blurter, I still relate to your caution about uttering your words and letting them ride without a lot of consideration. I've had the same issues with leaving comments and thinking too much as I speak. But as I've let that go, I've also had a lot more fun. Even if it doesn't always come out right ;)

  18. Have you ever noticed people will tell you their whole life story if you appear to be listening. Happens to me all the time. I rarely tell mine but if I get going they think I talk too much. Not fair. I am a good listener but everyone in a while I am a big interrupter-sometimes I get ahead of myself with my questions to the other person. :)


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