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Interrupter to Quiet Listener

Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard.

—Cheryl Richardson

Years ago, a coach let me know I interrupted people when they talked. I remember feeling shocked, ashamed, & slightly defensive. I clutched tightly to the thought that I was a good listener. As I recall I interrupted her when she continued to share her experience of being with me. Caught by the truth of her words, I also knew immediately why I did this. Knowing “why” allowed me to hold some compassion for myself. Yet, knowing the “why” did not create the catalyst to alter this behavior. The embarrassment combined with an “I’ll show you!” (a fierce voice I’ve had inside of me all my life) supported me beginning to alter this behavior pattern. I immediately observed that this unhelpful habit appeared with almost everyone with whom I interacted. ACK!!

The shift to listening from quiet presence took place over time and involved many moments of admitting, “Oh, I just interrupted you. I’m so sorry. Please finish what you were saying.” A combination of having people actually listen to me (Oh, those brave, fabulous souls who modeled/model this behavior for me!!), brain dumping with written words into copious journals, feeling the unresolved emotions in my heart, landing in the wonderful world of deep breathing, sensing my pounding heart, the soft, unmoving tongue in my mouth, and meditating daily to connect with an incredibly quiet place inside (Wow, what is THIS?!?!?), helped me to have an expanded bandwidth for present, compassionate listening.

When thoughts pop like popcorn I know I don’t need to blurt them out of my mouth. And if I need to interrupt someone-which in certain situations you must–I usually say to the person, “Hold that thought. I need to use the restroom.” (which 9 times out of 10 I do because I hydrate all day long!) Or “I know I’m interrupting you. I have another commitment in 5 minutes. Can we continue our conversation this evening? I really want to hear everything else you have to say.”

Listening from a soulful, quiet presence continues to be a completely different experience from half hearing another’s words and your own internal words simultaneously.

You likely will discover an ability to listen beyond someone’s words, for what is not being said, for the invisible emotions swirling around in the air. You become a safe person for other people to say what they need to say. People you encounter can know they will be heard from your heart, from that sacred place of shared humanity. Much healing can take place in the pin-drop silence of rapt attention.

Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

12 COMMENTS

  1. Laura,

    Thank you for your open and lovely article. I am a bit behind so I will be brief. Listening which I have done for a living much of my life is the understated but most important sibling in the communication family. I have said this before, and I am most pleased your article echoes this.

    With a smile,

    Darlene

    • Thank you for all your kind words, Darlene. Yes, indeed-listening is the “most important sibling in the communication family.” Oh, I Love that!! I learned so much from being listened to by many different therapists over the years and I’m incredibly grateful for the safe space and healing this allowed. You and other therapists are my heroes and heroines-the modeling of this “sibling” was invaluable. Thank you for who you are, how you listen, and the insight you offer from your heart (and mind!).

  2. Like Kimberly I am slowly evolving here. On being a coach forced me to be more mindful of my habit of listening to respond, or worse, finishing someone’s sentence. Now, I’m able to catch myself when the thought bubble starts to appear above me.

    Thanks for sharing your struggle, which is really OUR struggle.

    • I completely feel you in the slow evolving process, Jeff. Much practice and processes have supported me along the way. Work in process for certain. The experience of being listened to from the heart is like no other. I think that inspired me to become a person who could listen like that. Getting quieter on the inside with less melodrama of the mind swooping in has helped too. Am much better at listening quietly than I ever was…Whew. Yes, catching yourself noticing that thought bubble-so good!! Thank you for what you’ve shared here, for the honesty and acknowledgment that it’s “our struggle”-a Human challenge.

  3. Laura I ADORE this piece of heartfelt wisdom and wanted to share it with you 🤩

    When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen and you feel you have to do something to solve my problem, you have failed me, strange as it may seem. Listen! All I asked was that you listen; not talk or do–just hear me… I can do for myself. I’m not hopeless. Maybe discouraged and faltering, but not hopeless. When you do something for me that I can and need to do for myself, you contribute to my fear and feeling of inadequacy. But when you accept as fact that I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational, then I can quit trying to convince you and can get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling. And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.” ~ Ralph Roughton

    • OMG!! That is Such a brilliant quote! Thank you ever so much for sharing it here! I love quotes and this one is a masterpiece!!! It captures all the ways that I’ve been interrupted, not heard, seen, felt, valued, believed in and then how I unfortunately turned around and perpetuated this unhelpful-often hurtful behavior until I shifted and found the deep quiet place inside of myself!! Oh, Myriam, I treasure you-the wisdom you bring, the insights, the quotes!! Thank you! Thank You! Thank You!! I simply must share that quote widely.

  4. No matter how many times I’ll need to repeat it, it will always be worth it Laura Staley: you are a #magical #being, and I’m honored to call you a #soulsister 💙 I can see your heart through your words and this itself is healing 🤗

    I love the active listening skills and I would definitely feel the same embarassment if I noticed I was interrupting a person sharing something important… 🙈

    Here is a small extract from one of my old essays:

    “In this step, we start developing our active listening skills. What is meant by active listening skills? Instead of listening with the intention to respond, we listen to understand. Instead of listening to the words, we listen to the body language & emotions. Instead of listening with the ears, we listen with the heart. How is that even possible? Simply because, with the ‘private victory’, comes an amazing paradigm shift; namely seeking first to understand others’ emotions.”

    I truly believe in the super power of active listening in literally giving the person some ‘psychological air’, and making it possible for them to open up and start trusting us 💙

    • Thank you ever so much for all the valuable contributions to this discussion. There’s so many benefits of deep listening, of active listening, listening from the heart. Once we experience both sides of this -being deeply listened to And quietly listening with rapt attention-Ah, what a paradigm shift this creates in interactions with people in our lives. There’s much healing, gratitude, compassion, empathy, and true transformation that can take place. I wish I could hug you-imagine me hugging you and probably crying too with gratitude and joy. You are a treasure, Myriam. I adore your enthusiasm, your commitment, joy and passion along with all the wisdom you offer. Thank you for being YOU!! :)

  5. Laura, your words always read like salve to me. I woke at 4:30 am today, unable to sleep, and it makes total sense why I would be drawn to start my day with you. I too am a recovering-interrupter and I would love to say that all that’s in the past, but it’s a constant struggle for me. I get so excited about what I’m hearing that I’m constantly having to reign myself in! But my awareness is getting better with time. I think some of it is age. I’m becoming more still, patient, aware as I’m getting older. I need to prove myself less. I’m finding joy in the curiosity. Those things weren’t so true for me 20-30 years ago. Thank you, friend, for being such a centering force in my life. It’s almost as if you “listen” even when you write.

    • Thank you ever so much for your honest reflections here, all your kind words. I totally see you and feel you. In school-high school and college-I often sat in the front row with that eager excitement, hand waving in the air just as soon as the teacher or professor would ask a question. Sometimes I would just blurt out even when he/she hadn’t called on me…. It’s a wonder I had any friends with all my blurting and interrupting. I believe I even did this behavior during one of the sessions at #NLV (as I recall-OMG!!). Self-discovery, self-awareness continues to be such a journey of humility and compassion for our shared humanity. I, like you, am so much better than I used to be at really listening, not having to demonstrate my right to be here or prove my value. All this writing helps me immensely-because-thank goodness-when I write-I’m not interrupting anyone-Thank you for being you, for sharing your heart, for being my friend and colleague. I appreciate you more than you may know. Sometimes words just don’t adequately capture what the heart experiences….

  6. John– I appreciate this perspective of the onlooker observing an interaction in which a person has been interrupted. Very accurate about that disappointment for the speaker. And yes, those sales conversations can be filled with interruptions and a sales person can definitely talk too much to the detriment of the desired transaction. There’s many different contexts in which we have opportunities to listen (and speak) which means we have a full range of opportunities to continue to practice, discern, and learn. Thank you for these thoughtful additions, the perspectives you’ve brought to light around the topic of listening/interrupting. And, thank you for your kind words, too.

  7. A beautiful confession Laura.
    I must admit. What triggered me was when was an onlooker of conversations. I saw how the person who interrupted the speaker, really disappointed that person. And I also heard someone say (regarding a sales aspect), the more you talk, the less likely you are to win that person over.
    Then I started on the path of watching myself and reminding myself not to interrupt the other person. Of course, while I reminded myself, I also lost some of what the other person was saying, but it definitely takes practice.

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