“Never miss a good chance to shut up!” was the headline of an article that caught my attention as I flipped through the pages of a magazine in a waiting room. It was written by Dr. Phil McGraw, psychologist, author and talk show host who gives credit to his father for that bit of wisdom.
The article was about how quickly we share personal information before we really know people. My mind went immediately to the online dating sites where men and women share personal details with complete strangers. McGraw believes people need to earn your trust, and being cautious and slow to divulge details is simply wise.
The article also made me think of how often people come to a therapist saying their problem is they don’t know how to communicate, meaning they want a therapist to teach them how to talk to each other. However, what most people need to learn is how to be quiet and listen.
Listening means stop talking, strive to understand, observe body language, don’t interrupt and forgo planning what you want to say in return — just listen. If there is a pause, you simply remain quiet and wait. The person may want to talk some more. The person will let you know when he or she is finished. Even then, it is still not your turn to talk. The next step is to say back to them what you heard to make sure you understood what was said. And if there is something you misunderstood, it can be clarified.
Instead, we interfere — we get defensive and interrupt, too often using words we later regret and wish we could take back. Then we wonder why the other person will no longer communicate with us. It is simple: We didn’t listen. We didn’t hear — usually because a person is not saying what we wanted.
“Never miss a good chance to shut up” might be a piece of wisdom worth heeding — in the family, with friends or on the job. Amazing what we might learn.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.