Note: This is the ninth of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.
I have a strange tendency, in social interactions. I get nervous, fidgety, and become very eager to fill the pauses in the conversation with fascinating and funny stories.
Now, telling a good story is wonderful, but it does nothing to ease my nervousness in the interaction.
Did I talk about myself too much? Have I made myself interesting?
Do they like me?
I think for most of us, conversations are a lot higher-pressure than we want to admit. We’re planning out what we’re going to say, while the other person is talking. We’re not doing this because we don’t value the other person. We’re doing this, because we want them to like us. We don’t want to be judged.
And yet our efforts turn into a cycle. We play our role, plan our words, and make it through one interaction avoiding judgement. But then, we feel more pressure in the next. We feel like we need to wear masks, and hide behind personas, so that we will be liked.
So how do we change this? By realizing that we are misunderstanding the entire situation.
The people we talk to are not focused on us. They are concerned about their own words, and about avoiding judgement for themselves. They, too, are stuck in the illusion. And if we offer them a way out, they will more than likely be grateful for it.
The way out of the illusion is to listen. Listen to what the other person says, hearing without judging. When you inevitably begin to plan out what you’re going to say next, think of questions that you can ask. Be genuinely interested–not because what you have to say is unimportant, but because your curiosity will be healing to both you and those around you.
I remember a time that I visited two friends, and they both spent the entire time talking to me. It was as if a listening ear opened a floodgate for them–they were yearning to feel valued, to be related to without fear. And at the same time, I heard their stories, and saw how we were similar. Our fear of being judged comes from the misperception that we are different, inferior, vulnerable. By listening to those around us, we can see are shared fears, our shared love, our shared humanity.