“Do You Listen, Or Do You Just Wait to Talk?”

A lesson I learned about listening from “Pulp Fiction” and my marriage.

In a deleted scene from Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) meets Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and the first thing she asks him is, “When in conversation, do you listen, or do you just wait to talk?”

Vincent thinks about it and then responds, “I wait to talk, but I’m trying to listen.”

The first three times I saw that scene, I didn’t understand the meaning of this dialogue. Both of those statements sounded synonymous to me. Because I’m a visual learner, I had to see the quote in print before it dawned on me: Most people just wait to talk.

In other words, I can be talking to a pro-choice person and while she’s making her arguments, I have an inner monologue going on inside my mind:

Wow, that’s a lot of arguments she’s making.

Which one should I choose to respond to when she’s done?

Should I ask another question or make an argument?

When can I make MY argument?

What did my wife ask me to get on the way home?”

That’s not listening. That’s waiting to talk.

I learned that the hard way last year. I had built up this dumb-husband habit of getting home and talking to my wife, but while she talked about her day, I’d browse Facebook statuses on my phone. (I know. As Mike Birbiglia says, “I’m in the future also.”)

I thought I was listening because I was hearing (some of) her words, but I wasn’t really retaining them. We both realized this unfortunate habit of mine when she would ask me a question and I’d answer with the always-appropriate response of “Uh huh.”

Not on the list of "Ways to show your wife you care."

Not on the list of “Ways to show your wife you care.”

Notice how obvious it is to everyone reading this that I shouldn’t browse Facebook while my wife is talking to me, yet much of the time a pro-choice person is talking to us, we have an inner monologue going on in our head

Although it’s a discipline, this is what I’ve been trying to do in every conversation lately: I’m trying to silence that inner monologue.

jessica featured

When the pro-choice person is talking, I’m trying to just be present in the moment with her. I’m trying not to think about what I’m going to say next. I’m doing my best to think about what she’s saying, and track with her ideas as well as I can.

When she’s done, I will need to take a few beats, and just…process.

Then I’ll respond appropriately if she shared something as devastating as, “I was raped.” (Click here to learn how to respond to that.)

If we’re in philosophy mode, I’m going to take a second, find common ground where I can, and then try to ask a good question or make a counter-argument that won’t strawman her view.

Some people feel awkward taking eight seconds to process what the other person just said, but I think it’s great! It shows this person that I’m taking her seriously. It shows that I’m taking her arguments seriously. People don’t do that anymore, and as I’ve said before, how awesome would it be if in ten years, pro-life people were the ones who changed that paradigm? What if it were pro-life advocates who were known as the people who will take the time to not only understand, but to take other people’s views seriously, whether or not we agree with them? I guarantee you that, in return, people would take our views more seriously too.

Disciplining myself to listen to people is helping me to not interrupt them. That’s another bad habit I have. I have all these thoughts about the issue, and it doesn’t take long for someone to talk about abortion before I’m ready to jump in with my go-to talking points. Silencing my inner monologue and trying to love the person in front of me is helping me to interrupt less often. I need to care about hearing and understanding what she has to say more than I care about her hearing me. [Tweet this!]

This discipline has also helped me to not feel the pressure of getting all of my arguments out right away. Getting to know this person and where she is coming from becomes one of the priorities of the conversation. I want to ask a lot of clarification questions so that I can discover as much as I can about the intrinsically valuable human being that I’m talking to.

I guarantee that if you become a better listener, you will have increasingly fruitful dialogues about abortion or any other hot topic you discuss with people with whom you disagree.

For more of my thoughts on listening, check out this post from last year, “Sometimes what you should say is nothing.”

The post “Do you listen, or do you just wait to talk?” originally appeared at JoshBrahm.comClick here to subscribe via email and get exclusive access to a FREE MP3 of Josh Brahm’s speech, “Nine Faulty Pro-Life Arguments and Tactics.”

Question: Are you a good listener? Do you sometimes find yourself “waiting to talk?” How has this effected your friendships, your marriage, and your dialogues with people on the other side of hot topics?

President

Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh uses speaking, writing and campus outreach to emphasize practical dialogue tips, pro-life philosophy, and relational apologetics.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Janet Susan

    This is such a great reminder, Josh. Just about every relationship we have benefits if we practice active listening. At work we use the “OARS” acronym to practice active listening (I work at a call center providing telephonic RN education). Have you heard of it? At both World Wide Marriage Encounter and in a training class at work I also learned about dialoguing to promote active listening and obtain conflict resolution.

    P.S. You probably already know this, but most women–when having had a cause for frustration that doesn’t involve you–just want you to listen, because listening while we vent is very helpful. :) Sometimes when my adult kids come to me to vent about something, I’ll ask them, “Do you want me to just listen, or give advice?” That’s probably not the question to ask in an abortion debate, haha. But it can be helpful in interpersonal relationships.

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