Slow to Speak
I think many more thoughts than speak the words that would bring those thoughts to life. In conversation, I hesitate; I wait just a moment or two to identify the precise words I want to use to express what I think. Arguments are difficult because my thoughts hold my words back and I end up using an imprecise word to convey what I mean or prove my point which inevitably makes my point fall apart. Words of advice come slowly, even if my thoughts have been building steam for some time. It is a blessing and a curse – at times I am viewed as a sage of sorts [a mute sage, perhaps], building mystery with each brooding thought and rarely revealing the tempestuous and tedious thoughts of a quiet man. Other times, I haven’t had enough time to think and either blurt out nonsensical, hurtful, or incomplete pronouncements about a situation. I don’t know how to describe it well, but I often sense that others look at me while we’re in conversation and think, “Huh. That made no sense at all.” That perceived reaction leads me back into my cycle of not using many words. Conversation is hard for me solely based on this impression; I shy away from introducing myself to new people or even having second conversations with people I’ve recently met. In public, I hide my face when I encounter almost anyone from my past spheres of influence. Long story short: I don’t find it easy to converse, so I keep my mouth shut and avoid people.
There are others in my life who do not seem to have the same “problem” as me – my wife has adequate wording on the tip of her tongue in any given moment. These others that I see, speak often with efficiency but not always with grace. They don’t seem to need a moment or two to figure out how to better articulate the thought – it just comes out, makes sense, and exits stage right. I have a friend who speaks wisdom into others’ lives – it’s not that he speaks quickly, but with apparent ease [though I would venture he doesn’t think it easy]. It is as if there is a sense of authority from within his command of his own life that permeates the air of the relationships that surround him.
These “fast talkers” meet new people, hang out at parties, and engage in meaningful and meaningless conversation free of anxiety. I watch them with a hint of jealousy and a shade of admiration. Why are they able to do that with strength and a command of the language and a knowledge of leading the conversation along? As with many other things in my life, I wonder who taught them this skill, because I missed that class long ago.
Sticks and Stones
It’s not just conversation with strangers that I’m addressing – it’s the whole idea of words being used in everyday life: story time with your significant other at the end of your day, yelling at your kid for how they’re talking back [when all you want them to do is listen to what you say the first time, dammit!], or casual water cooler conversation with your coworkers. What strikes me about the spoken word is the effect it has on others. I see some people speak into a situation with little regard for another person involved. Sometimes those people are present – other times not; still the words spoken have an effect that is detrimental. Others have an innate sense of caution without a delay on their words – they know how to eloquently dance conversationally through a situation without harm. I find myself stumbling clumsily through those situations because I am working so hard to not step on the toes of my dance partner.
There are many celebrities famous for terse responses to common folk – they don’t have time to be nice so they’re not. Instead of pretending what someone brought them as an idea or criticism is any good or worthwhile, they dismiss it. They don’t have time for people’s feelings, don’t have time to be polite, don’t have time to engage with someone who is “less” than them. But there is no real authority there – that’s just a person being a dick because they’ve attained a certain status that allows them to tread on people without having to apologize. They cast their words about however they deem necessary to accomplish whatever they need to accomplish. In my estimation, the people who speak quickly without concern for another’s feelings is no better.
What is interesting to me is those who speak clearly and concisely in a manner that encourages others to move on, to move up, to move forward. Where did they find that authority? How did they attain that ability?
So, at this point, I’m counting three different types of thinkers/talkers. 1) The Slow Speaker [too busy thinking], 2) The Quick Spewer [without regard for others], and 3) The Eloquent Motivator [quick thinker with good words to give]. And my question is this: is there a time and a place for each one of these in every person?
I first wanted to write about this idea after a fight with my wife – our fights are generally like this:
- I do something dumb.
- My wife brings it up.
- I tell her she’s being [insert adjective].
- My wife doubles down with conviction.
- I get sensitive while still trying to sort out my thoughts.
- My wife triples down with more conviction.
[insert at least two if not seven more rounds of steps 3 – 6]
- I explode and say some shitty things.
- She leaves which angers me more.
- I pester her until we have a real knock down drag it out fight.
- I beg for forgiveness for the dumb thing I did.
- Fight is over [eventually].
Anyway, after this fight, I was caught up thinking about our differences in approach: she starts out very direct with some harsh points raised while I deflect, trying to think of the “proper” response, while she hits me with more and more until eventually, I become the spewer. Obviously, a couple fighting is a very specific scenario – in an ideal scenario, I don’t ever do the dumb thing and my wife doesn’t have to bring it to my attention.
But outside of that specific scenario, I’m searching for the answer to the above question: Is there a time to stop, think, and speak slow, AND a time to spout off, AND a time to be that eloquent quick-thinking smooth-talking type of person? Digging into it and thinking about it more, the answer seems yes, obviously. The important part is practicing the art of speaking while also enhancing situational awareness.
The long and the short of it is there is a time and a place for each behavior with, I would argue, the third type being the goal for, let’s say 70% [because I don’t have any real math or statistics or scientific measurement to base this on], the slow to speak type coming in at 35%, and the spewer piping in hot takes only 5% of the time. My nature is very deferential, so I have a harder time comprehending using words with little to no regard for others regularly. I don’t like to stir pots or make points that would trigger another person. But there are plenty of people who do, and I would guess their argument would be that people need to get over it and not be so “mamby pamby.” Even then, it is my opinion that the less often this type of speaking is done, the better off the whole will be. I’m all for being direct and to the point, but I also believe in the idea that people deserve to be treated respectfully [and I believe you can do both].
I think being slow to speak should be higher weighted for the simple reason that too many things in life are grey. Also, too many people think a lot of those grey things are black and white – and that makes navigating a conversation with those people a much more circumspect thing. I think there is a strong case to be made for more thoughtful dialogue when discussing the harder aspects of humanity, instead of the spiteful, dismissing retorts that are shared so easily. It is easy to believe you know the answer but a lot harder to speculate that maybe you don’t have it all figured out.
Which leads us the third and most important idea – being the one who can speak quickly but having clear, concise thoughts that make sense and which uplift those to whom they’re being directed. This third type of speaker is one that takes her time to evaluate situations, read people, and have a deeper well of understanding on the topic at hand.
My brother called me the other day – he wants to bring his boyfriend home to see where he grew up, but he doesn’t know how people will respond. He thought I would have some wisdom to share – so he expressed his angst, and I kicked some pebbles asking some questions to get a better feel for what he was looking for and I finally had to admit to him: I had no idea how he felt because the one person that I have chosen as my person has been fully embraced by everyone in my sphere of influence. AND there wasn’t ever a chance of rejection [not realistically]. I simply couldn’t relate – I gave him my thoughts, but really, what else could I offer him? My ability to gauge the scenario and read the people at play is one thing; it’s completely different when I can’t intimately relate to what he is experiencing. But I still spoke with empathy and worked to insert myself into the situation to embrace him and his experience more completely.
Well, this turned into a much bigger post than I was anticipating and I still have more to flesh out – in my next post, I’m going to continue these thoughts and will write about how you find that authority to speak into others lives, whether or not apologizing for what you said is necessary, and why people lean one way or the other in this spectrum of speaking quick and slow.