I got the flu this last weekend, and with it a very, very sore throat. By Sunday the fever was down, but the continued discomfort in my throat caused me to lose my voice.
Also on Sunday, I felt well enough to go to my gallery job, and left a friendly hand-written message tented next to my computer at the front entrance letting people know that I had lost my voice and that I was happy to answer any questions in writing.
It’s astonishing how differently I experienced the world without a voice to express myself. My internal reality and responses could not as easily be shared with others as fully as I might usually share it, and so I got to see a lot of my own thoughts quietly reflected back to me for further observation. I also could not help opening up my ability to listen more intently to others.
Using lots of hand gestures, and writing out key information on note paper was the main way that I communicated with most people throughout the day. This seemed to work for most, but some folks were slow to read the sign, and seemed befuddled as to why I was not talking to them, or why I was moving my mouth with no sound coming out. Others even started making more hand gestures back to me while they spoke which was exceptionally strange since I did not lose my ability to hear others speak. I think that last one probably has more to do with the psychology of mirroring that some folks often take on in an attempt to make the recipient feel more at ease by establishing expressive affinity; I know I tend to mirror behavior with others for this very reason.
I started to notice how many times I would have normally said something funny or clever as conversational banter, and how much of this I had to edit in my responses in order to focus on delivering the key information. There was a lot of material that no longer seemed as important for me to share.
Since Sunday I have been keeping up this habit of editing the thoughts that I wish to share in verbal communication as my voice has continued to go in and out. I get laryngitis about 1-2x/year and this condition has been a welcome assist this time around in fulfilling a months long goal to listen more and speak less. It’s really helped me prioritize what I need to communicate versus what I need to make space for others to share. This doesn’t automatically make me a more quality listener since the internal editor is now cross-checking priority information, but I still think it’s increasing my odds.
Something else I have noticed on further reflection is that the extra communication I am accustomed to offering often amuses me, but is that really the point of being in communication with others…? This flare up is making me think more deeply about the need to amuse myself with my own thoughts as often during a conversation with another person. This self-amusement preoccupation in conversation with others is definitely one thing that gets in between me and my ability to listen with more intent to the other speaker. Am I alone in this thinking?
I also want to acknowledge that this entire train of thought is hearing/speaking centered. I wonder whether the core of my difficulty with finding the balance between “speaking” (sharing), and “listening” (giving attention and receiving information) in conversation of any kind are problems exclusive to my hearing/speaking centered existence. No matter what language - audible or visual - we use to converse and share information, will there always be some folks that default to speaking/sharing, and some that default more to listening/receiving?
Striking a respectful and reciprocal balance in communication and conversation are things that I want to spend more time thinking about more deeply, as well as working through actively in my daily life. My voice appears to me on the mend, so it will once again be up to my inner compass, and not also my strained vocal cords, to edit what should be shared from what should be more intently received.
Do you need to listen more to others today? Or do you need to spend more time listening to yourself?