Long before DVDs took the spotlight, the videocassette special edition of Pulp Fiction included an after-the feature interview with Quentin Tarantino introducing some deleted scenes—a great idea I’m surprised more videos didn’t take advantage of. (Remember videocassette special editions? And boxed sets? They were clunky and huge and their oversized boxes included vast amounts of empty space. To carry one of those massive things home from the mall in your shopping bag was to know that whatever funds you’d managed to scrounge up that month had been well-spent.)
The best of the deleted scenes (which Tarantino describes as sounding “more like someone trying to write like me than me”) takes place right after Vincent Vega (John Travolta) arrives to take Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) to Jackrabbit Slim’s. Instead of the director cutting away, Mia comes out with her video camera to ask Vincent some interview questions. Is he an Elvis man or a Beatles man? Does he like the Brady Bunch or the Partridge Family? In conversation, does he listen, or wait to talk?
The last question struck me then, as it does now, as one of the most insightful critiques of conversational style I’d ever heard. Mia implies that there are two mutually-exclusive ways of talking to people: contributing to a natural flow of conversation by responding to another person’s ideas (listening), or sharing your own ideas independently of what the other person has to say (waiting to talk). I think we’ve all spoken to people who nod incessantly, responding with a “Yeah” or a “Sure,” or possibly even a stock phrase like “Yeah I know, right?” because they’re not really paying attention. Conversations with these kinds of people are more akin to separate sharing of stories possibly (but not always!) related to the same topic. It’s frustrating, and I’ve never had any patience for it.
On the flip side, listening creates a balanced and more enriching conversation. We learn more by listening, and challenge ourselves by actually processing what the other person has to say so that we can add our own ideas to it. This is how ideas, stories, and information are shared and develop into more complex and even more enriching experiences.
Of course, occasionally we all find ourselves listening to someone incessantly rambling on in a blatantly uninteresting, ignorant, illogical, inexperienced, ineloquent, bigoted, easily disprovable, repetitive, off-topic, childish, obvious, boastful, spiteful, belligerent, self-deprecating, awkward, out of place, or rude way that forces our minds to drift away from the conversation. When our attention wanders far enough, the natural step is to plan out what we’ll say next. We all do it. It happens.
Think about it and ask yourself this honest question: Do you listen, or wait to talk?
Vincent Vega waits to talk. But he’s trying harder to listen.