Shut up and listen.

I’m reviewing notes from the IABC International Conference in New York June 22-25. One speaker had her roomful of strangers pair up and tell a vivid, two-minute story about our childhood. It could be about anything, but it had to be descriptive enough for the other person to have a real vision of the circumstances.

My partner told a rich tale of shopping every Sunday afternoon with her grandmother, walking the mall together, getting treats — she even remembered to describe her scent (a little talcum powder, a little Aqua Net and sometimes a dash of Icy Hot). The lush detail got me thinking about my own grandmothers. I started formulating my own story to share before I even realized it.

“Not the point,” I had to remind myself. I had to keep chomping on my tongue to allow her the time and freedom to speak without interrupting or interrogating or otherwise getting in the way. When I focused on listening to her, we connected. There was common ground. And the images she left in my brain sparked memories I might not have accessed if I’d been formulating my answer instead of actively listening. The point of the exercise is clear: we have only one mouth and two ears, which might mean we should listen twice as much as we talk.

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