Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Full Contact Phone Tag

I have a tendency to interrupt people. Once I think I know how their sentence is going to end, I'm ready to move on. Not surprisingly, this gets me into hot water on a regular basis (even though I usually get the meaning right, it tends to piss people off).

Mostly, I think, I lack enough patience. Sometimes this happens when I get excited and just want things to move along more quickly. Sometimes I do this to redirect a conversation that is starting to stray (from what I think is most interesting or pertinent). Sometimes, as a facilitator, I do it because the speaker has completed their thought and is circling around to say it again, and I break in to bump the needle out of its play/repeat groove.

While I've made some progress over the years in being more mindful about my tendencies—and achieving greater control over my urges—I'm still a work in progress. Over the holidays I got anonymous written feedback from participants at a series of workshops I did in November at NASCO Institute, and perhaps 4% commented about my interrupting as a presenter. So perfection is still some distance off...

What's more, making progress here is more nuanced than merely learning to keep my trap shut. The other day, I achieved new heights (or is it new lows?) in the kind of trouble this can lead to. I was having a one-on-one exchange with a close friend who had already given me feedback about not wanting to be interrupted, when a tricky moment came up that I didn't know how to handle.

We had been working in different buildings and I knew that my friend was expecting a phone call. When the phone rang in my building and it was the anticipated call, I directed the person to try the number in the other building. The caller, however, reported that they'd just done that and no one picked up. Hmm. I was pretty sure my friend was there, but I didn't have anything better to suggest and I agreed to pass along the message that the caller no longer had time for the conversation that day and would prefer to set up a date for another time.

I subsequently went over to the other building and tried to relay the message. I reported that I had handled a call from the expected person, that they had first tried to reach the building we were in, and that no one picked up the phone. I was poised to pass along the message that the caller now preferred to talk the next day, but my friend was eager to explain why they hadn't been able to hear the phone. Now I was at the delicate moment.

While my instinct was to break in with information about the request to reschedule (which was more important, I thought, than details about why the call was missed), I was mindful of my friend's irritation with my tendency to barge in, so I held my tongue. Instead I simply tried to breathe and give my friend all the air space they wanted to tell their story. After a time though, I got in trouble anyway, as my friend could tell what I was doing and accused me angrily of waiting for them to get done talking so that I could respond.

What could I say? They were right! I felt completely trapped. Here I was trying to be responsive to the original feedback, but I wasn't being quiet pleasantly enough. Ai-yi-yi!

No doubt impatience was leaking into my countenance, or was reflected in the way I was holding my body. But I was dismayed to realize that my friend's irritation was probably enhanced by my having not interrupted. (I naively thought I had been making progress on my impatience.) It meant, I guess, that I was aware of the urge to interrupt yet still managed to convey disdain. Where was I to go with this? Must I pretend to be interested in what anyone around me says, whether I am or not? Yikes!

This is a tough one, and I'm still unsure how to do better next time (though I am sure that there will be a next time).
Somehow, I have to find a way to be in a state of greater neutrality or acceptance. I need to move beyond my obsession with accuracy and authenticity; I need to embrace listening as a meditation—as a way of building relationship through presence rather than words. It adds depth to the concept of "active listening."

It's a good thing that I typically enjoy personal growth challenges such as this, because I don't seem to be able to conduct my life in such a way that the next opportunity isn't available momentarily.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have an exact image of how you looked when you were waiting for them to finish. I've seen it a million times you are not as subtle as you think.