The Last Word
OK. This is about this: Listening, truly listening, to the very last thought, the very last word, a person says before forming a response. Most of us, sorry….. ALL of us…. begin thinking of the response we are going to have to what someone is saying to us during the sentence the person is uttering to us. Half way through the sentence that is being spoken to us, we start to craft our “spontaneous response”. Sometimes, so much that we are merely waiting for the person to SHUT UP! [stop talking] so that we can present our “middle of their sentence pre-planned IN-THE-MOMENT” response.
You do this and I do this. So why do I do it? Why do WE do it? Well, a couple of reasons, really. For me, it is impatience. I often have the “Got it, move on, got it, talk faster, understood, got it” mentality to my communication with another person. It comes from what is probably a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder, intelligence, and frustration at too many pauses or too much trepidation when another person is speaking to me. It also comes from my arrogance that I know that I understand what the person is attempting to convey within the first 5 words of their sentence, and now I’m just waiting for them to finish before I PRESENT the “correct and right” response.
One more reason that I have conditioned myself to begin forming my response in the middle of their sentence is, believe it or not, protective fear. I want to appear intelligent and insightful so I am going to “cheat a bit” by thinking ahead for my response and then execute it as if I just thought of it. Not manipulatively, really, it’s way beyond that. It’s conversational DNA, hard-wired genetic communication behavior at this point. It’s without real thinking; it is just the way it is when we communicate. Everyone does it, yet everyone kinda believes, not even consciously, that they are getting away with something all the time by thinking slightly ahead, and that maybe they are the only one in the world that does this. It’s not that thought out, it just kind of lies there as a sub-conscious way of thinking.
Given this, you may be surprised to learn that I further believe that this “thinking ahead” actually DOES provide a slight advantage to forming the thought that you are going to communicate back. So What the fuck? Well, The fuck is, that although it can be protective in the way that your response is perceived, you are not really hearing everything that your partner is communicating to you. You are not really hearing them all the way. You are not really listening. Listening. The content at the end of a paragraph or sentence could be the most important thought, the one that everything leads up to, the thought that is the punch- line or the drawn conclusion from everything preceding it. It’s funny that we all think ahead in this way, but when we are talking we don’t really think that other people do that, as well. So we actually DO lead up to a conclusion at the end of what we are saying, not taking into account that the party you are talking to isn’t really listening at this point.
This is further evidence that somewhere in your brain you think that YOU are the only one getting away with this amazing communication advantage. It’s all fucking stupid. So what is the invitation here? Well, to realize, first, that there actually IS value in the last thing a person says so that it is WORTH listening to. That means that you actually have to listen. You have to condition yourself to “un-think ahead” and get back to the LISTENING at hand. “Un-think ahead” (Please do not remember this made-up phrase). Practicing not thinking ahead before a response is a practice, but a practice worth practicing. Truly listening to the VERY LAST WORD before you think of a response. To anti-think along the way, and constantly re-invest in the act of listening all the way to the grisly end. The very last thing.
Now not only does this require an investment in un-thinking, or not thinking of a response right away, but it also forces you to think the thougth, “OK, I’m really listening to the end”. This requires a bit of trust in yourself and courage to do this. Part of the reason you form this response early is again out of fear. The fear that you won’t be able to form the thought at the absolute last nano-second after your partner stops talking. That you need that buffer WHILE they are talking to form an intelligent response. You unconsciously sacrifice listening to all of it so that you can be safer in constructing a response to some of it. You feel as if you have become an expert at determining the operative dominant thought that they have in the beginning of their sentence and paragraph, and want to take that time to form the response thought. It makes sense, we have a fear of looking like a fucking idiot, so we begin forming those thoughts early to protect ourselves in that way. I’m here to tell you that this difference you are feeling really IS a matter of a nano- second. What is really happening is that you are listening to someone and you hear a word in the beginning/middle of their sentence that triggers an association of thought which begins to form the words of your response in your head. This happens very very very fast. My invitation is to have the courage to let the very last thing the person says BETTER inform the association trigger you instantly create, knowing that it will take the exact amount of time to form the response: NEARLY NO TIME AT ALL. Know also that your immediate response will be filtered through a greater, more substantive, fuller representation of what your partner said. You will have TRULY responded to everything they said. Once again, this takes courage and confidence on your part.
Short list of some things to DO: 1. Consantly re-invest in what they are saying and “anti-thinking” a response continuously. 2. Listening to and for the very LAST thing the person says. 3. Having the courage to WAIT and then form your response immediately based on everything your partner said. (and once again, that IMMEDIATELY is the same immediately that you use all the time everyday in the middle of someone’s sentence. It happens that fast, and takes no time at all, every single time)
Are there payoffs for this communication risk? A lot. If you are responding to the last thing the person said, there’s a great chance your partner will know this, and be ultra- affirmed that you were truly listening. You may even naturally repeat or reiterate the last thing they said and re-form it slightly in your response:
Them: “…and that’s why I decided to take the train to Toledo instead.” You: “Well, the trains in Ohio can be tricky. Did you…” They now know that you truly listened to the very last thing they said, and they feel affirmed in the conversation. Letting your partner’s full thoughts inspire your response. Even if you don’t literally take from the last thing they said, I assure you that the quality of your response will suggest that you did. Your response will be noted in that it obviously took everything they said into account.
Another up-side is that it will have you interrupting less. Part of interruption is impatience on the part of the responder. They are subconsciously thinking: “I got it, I understood from the first few words and I formed my right response, so you don’t even have to go on, I may as well interrupt you right now, I got it”. Interruption is a true declaration that you don’t value your partners’ thoughts or ideas in communication, and you will do it less if you make a point of listening until the end. Another great plus to this is pure LEARNING. You may actually begin to learn from what a person is saying, bravely listening for the very last thought, courageously letting it form your response, and be inspired by what the speaker is leading up to. This, as opposed to forming the “right” response that will make you “look good”. One other huge advantage to this is that people will notice it. In a very short time, your reputation as a listener and a communicator will grow enormously. That’s a better kind of “right” to be, and a better ultimate character payoff than constantly forming interruptive assertions based on half the information. You will also begin to appear more polite in your conversations, and people will want to share ideas with you more because they know those ideas will be respected, attended to, and fully listened to. They will also know that your response will be real and based on everything that was spoken. So, like I said, this comes from great pain on my part and an even-now continuous check in to myself. Here’s a plan if you want to give it a shot…. Socially, choose to listen for the last thing the person talking to you says, and then slyly repeat it in your response. Do this occasionally and you will already notice a difference in the quality of your communication.
Side note: I like to invite people to try a lot of communication and presentation ideas socially, at first, because it minimizes professional risk and the benefits can be equally observed. It is, after all, still human communication and interactions.
So you are in a bar and Michael says, “Did you see the Bears game last night? In the first half their defense sucked but they pulled it together. They got their shit together half way through the third quarter” You: “The third quarter is when they have shown a lot of push lately”.
Simple. Yet SO DIFFERENT, just in the thinking. You may have naturally responded this way. But you may have naturally not.
(Side-note: Im an idiot about sports so I had to do a little research on my example above. Is this what two people might actually say? Oh well)
I invite you to: A. Notice when your brain starts ticking when someone is talking to you. and B. Make a game out of occasionally re-investing in the content of the other person and truly listen. and C. Have the courage to immediately respond from a pure listening state or do repeat a couple of operative words at the end of their sentence as a buffer for thinking a half second more for your response.
And by the way, this certainly isn’t a book about dating, but if you do want more from your dating experience, do all of the above just for that. Seriously.
Enjoy the good life