This is not how I like to feel.
Yet last night, that is exactly what was going through my mind. It wasn’t “tell me more,” it was, “when are you going to shut your pie-hole?”
I feel terrible admitting that I had these thoughts swirling through my head as the person was talking.
You are going to spend 5 minutes telling me this?
How long is five minutes in dog years? Five minutes is 300 seconds. And that is 300 seconds of my life I will never get back. Who even cares about his? But here we are, waiting for someone else, so there is a little down time and the person I am waiting with wants to open up and share a personal experience.
I am all for that, most of the time.
But it is after 11 PM at night, I have just worked a 9-hour shift, most of which has been on my feet. I average over six miles a day in my job, walking around, making sure everything and everyone is productive and safe. It turns out I was tired. And hungry, too. HALT signs were there, but last night I did not see them.
All I heard was, “and then we decided that we were going to move, but my daughter wanted to graduate from the same high school she has been at for the past three years, so we didn’t move out of the county, but found a house in a different neighborhood, the house was bigger and had more space and we moved and then we found out that the kids in this community, even though it was closer to the high school my daughter went to, was not the high school she would attend, so then we had to petition the Superintendent of schools to get an exemption so she could attend and graduate from the high school where she had spent the past three years, but now we have to drive her to school and pick her up because the school buses in our new neighborhood only take high school students to the different high school, so now my daughter is saving up for a car and her grandparents are going to give her some money towards the car and… and … and …
And this was just the first minute of the five-minute conversation. Today I realize that it’s not that I am an uncaring bastard who only wants to hear himself talk. I was tired and I was hungry. These two conditions made it hard for me to focus my full, in the moment, attention on someone else. I couldn’t ask questions, to engage them, to really connect. I was able to say “uh, huh” a few times and nod my head in a manner that indicated I was listening and not asleep.
But my mind then jumped to “I must be a selfish, uncaring so and so If I feel frustrated about this conversation.’ The fact that I was hungry and tired did not cross my mind. With the benefit of a meal and a good night’s sleep, I can see the situation in a more objective light.
I did learn some interesting things about someone and their family.
And I did pay attention enough that I will be able to ask questions later, to check in on her daughter’s progress at her old high school, and whether she gets her own car. The result was more of a connection than I had anticipated. So, after getting past the unhelpful thinking, it was a positive experience for both of us.
And, I have another success story of my own as I challenge myself to ask better questions. In fact, I came across a quote that Peter Shankman used from one of his friends about asking questions.
“The quality of your life is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask.”
Recognizing two triggers from HALT allowed me to ask myself about what I felt last night. It reminded me that I will not always be open to other conversations, and that is a part of life. I can also say no to listening. Not in a mean way, but in a “I’m tired, can we discuss this later kind of way.”
Knowing sometimes I will not be as open to conversation is helpful. And not taking it out on myself, not beating myself up that I wasn’t more interested last night is a healthy thing to do. I am human, just like everybody else, and I am not always as focused on others.
So, I won’t beat myself up for they way I felt last night, and I will ask follow up questions later. I hope her daughter gets a car!
Have you ever not wanted to listen?