Monday, August 29, 2011

Waiting to Talk

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.


Danicus said...

i think 'waiting to talk' is less
"yeah" responses, and more like just constantly trying to revert the flow of conversation to your topic.

"Hey man, im going to fly my cousin's float plane this weekend."

"Oh, cool. I hope you have fun with that. I've never flown one before."

"Yeah, its neat."

"What I have done is skydiving, so I've BEEN in a plane, at least, haha." (note that this ties the previous topic to a new one)

"I dont know... I think flying a float plane is better." (ignoring the new topic as well as ANYTHING in the previous statement and commandeering the flow to keep talking about his damn plane)

Yes, this is based on real events.

Mike said...

Nice post sir Ian. I'm guilty of "waiting to talk" on countless occasions, even including conversations with you. It's one of those things that can happen so automatically and unintentionally. We are all, on a subconscious level, selfish to some degree, because the only lives we get to live and thus care the most about are our own. And, it is not always easy to maintain focus. I wouldn't judge someone whose mind starts to wander when you talk to them; there are many factors that could contribute to it, and it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't interested in what you have to say.

Also, why don't you get offended when people call you "man" ("How's it going man?"), but you get very offended when someone calls you "buddy"? I had a coworker who called everyone "kid", it was just a tic, the word was used irregardless as to whether he was being superficial or not. Sorry, but I think that the hatred that surfaces in you when someone calls you "buddy" is simply close-minded.

Ian said...

To Dan: Your example is a good one, and a habit I've encountered many times. I chose not to write about it this time because the stock responses are the habit I encounter the most (as well as being the bane of my conversations with a certain nameless individual who inspired this post).

To Mike: I think it's great that you're honest enough to admit that you're guilty of waiting to talk on occasion (very seldom, as far as I can tell), because I am too. Another thing I wanted to show in this post is that we all find ourselves in situations where this is the natural course of action.

Also, I think that calling someone "man" is very different than calling someone "buddy" because the former has more of a mutual closeness to it, and is a cool thing to say. I hate "buddy" because people use it in a derogatory way, to imply that the "buddy" is somehow less competent, less mature, and fits in less. I think "kid" carries the same connotations, but luckily I don't meet many people who use that one.

Danicus said...

... I call women 'kid' a lot when I talk to them, but I do it because if it was good enough for Rick Blaine in Casablanca, then dammit, it's good enough for me.

Mike said...

Ian, you should listen to more of the Stuff You Should Know podcast. Chuck often calls his co-host Josh "buddy", but it is delivered entirely as a term of affection and there is no offense taken in the slightest.

Why be so sensitive to someone's use of a word, when it is their true intention behind the word that should drive you? Especially if someone just has a tic and can't help it. I mean, the world has enough intolerance in it already, why add to it with something that, to me, seems so trivial?