I’ve thought a lot about listening this week. I’ll admit I’m not a very good listener. I’m a talker. I get anxious when I can’t finish a story, and the story that goes along with it, and goes along with that one too. More than once I’ve woken up with a sore throat because I talked too much the day before.
But this week I’ve been in a foreign country where I speak just enough of the language to really have to listen to understand anything. On top of that, the English-speaking folks I’m with are consistently chattering. To be clear, this isn’t a critique – it’s naturally to talk a lot when forming a new group, and like I said, I do the exact same thing, but man do they/we talk.
So, I’ve been trying to listen more this week, and honestly I’m struggling. With the French speakers it’s hard to understand the words, despite how intently I listen. With the English speakers it’s hard to intently listen. Perhaps because understanding the words takes so little effort, my mind races to the next thing I can say, what I can contribute, or how I can relate. But if I’m not really listening, how can I hope to truly relate? And isn’t that what communication is about? Connecting?
Runners are typically divided into two camps – the talkers and non-talkers. I can be both – unless of course the pace is demanding, then I’m a strict non-talker.
I communicate more openly when I’m on a run. I’ve opened up quicker to strangers I’m sharing a few miles with than close friends and family members that I’ve shared years with. There’s some science to that. Jonah Berger, in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, presents research suggesting that exercise promotes information sharing. It’s got something to do with the brain chemicals and increased blood flow. Further Berger research also argues that feelings of awe promote information sharing. I’ve been on some pretty awe-inspiring runs, and I’ve shared all sort of nonsense. So yeah, I’m a runner/talker.
Then again, running is a solitude endeavor. I have spent hours upon hours on the roads and trails in my own head, listening to nothing but the world around me and my own thoughts, often focusing on the former to avoid the latter. So, I’m ok silently trotting along with my running pals too.
What I rarely do, however, is simply listen. When I’m with a fellow runner/talker, I engage immediately and consistently – often focusing more about what I’m saying that vice versa, sometimes going as far as to completely dominate the conversation. Acknowledging that fact now makes me cringe – not just because it’s embarrassing that I’m such a mouthpiece, but because I’ve preached and preached that the best approach to training and running (or lack thereof) is to listen to your body. Why haven’t I applied that lesson to listening to others? I shake my head when I think of all the stories I missed out on, all the people I could have learned about, and all the connections I could have made.
So that’s my running resolution this week. To listen more, in and out of my running shoes. To bite my tongue to better my brain and deepen my connections, and maybe even my French.