did you say something?

I don’t talk a lot. It probably has something to do with being an introvert. In any case, I can happily go for long stretches without saying a word. With that … um … said, when I do talk, I generally have something that I want to say. I’m not just talking to hear noise in the air. And I want to be listened to.

This doesn’t always work out in my family. I have a busy, hardworking husband; a teenage daughter with the usual array of friends and interests; a nearly teenage son who will talk your ear off about whatever book he’s reading; and a mother who prefers to fill every empty second with sound, as if she’s afraid of silence.

Sometimes, when I make a statement, I have the vague feeling that I didn’t say anything, after all, but only imagined the words leaving my lips. No one responds, no one’s activity changes; they all go on with whatever they’re doing or keep talking about other things. This happens most frequently when I speak about something that I read, or saw, or did, and my statement introduces a new topic that they weren’t thinking or talking about already. I might get part way through an explanation of something that happened during my day, and be interrupted, and then experience the sensation of never having spoken — someone else’s words or actions intrude on my thought, and when the interruption is finished, no one makes any effort to return to what I was saying. Lately I’ve become a little more assertive and occasionally started reminding them, “Can I finish what I was saying?” The response is surprise (oh, was she talking?) followed by hurried agreement that yes, by all means, I should proceed.

It’s a curious feeling to have my words be ignored. When you talk to yourself, you know that at least you are listening. But when I speak, and the words dissolve into the air like mist, seemingly unheard, I wonder why my thoughts, which matter to me, have so little consequence.

5 responses to “did you say something?

  1. Your post has definite resonance and is beautifully expressed. Quite apart from how the family functions there are so many communication issues there- how silence is interpreted, whether there are shared norms on interruption, whether conversation is verbal tennis or takes parallel tram lines, the value of talking to oneself, the role of listening, compulsive talkers- you touch on them all. Essentially, conversation with more than two people is a jungle and I have five, probably frivolous jungle warfare tactics:
    – leave a tape recorder running. Listening to it together can be quite revealing.
    – use the ‘payback’ technique e.g.
    Son: Is it OK if I borrow the car tonight?
    Mum: There was this really poignant moment in the movie last night…
    – make it seem like you’re in their conversation when you’ve been ignored e.g. they quote something from a book or movie they’re interested in;
    You: that’s really uncanny, that’s just what the woman in the supermarket said this afternoon…
    – put a point blank question into your story as soon as you see there’s going to be an interruption
    – stay completely silent. It might unnerve them.

  2. Tiff, I can truly, truly, empathize. Though an excellent orator, I often would prefer not to say much at all unless is really necessary. I don’t feel that idle banter is a necessary way to illicit conversation just because there’s silence. Isn’t silence supposed to be golden? (lol) Seriously though, we live in a society where self-absorption is the norm and if one is so consumed with everything and anything about themselves, then what someone has to say isn’t that important.

    When I’m really upset about something is when I’m the most quiet and have found it to be an effective way of getting my point across without raising my voice.

    I really enjoyed this post and will make sure I save it as a reference tool.

  3. Interesting ideas for helping to cope. The tape recorder would be particularly enlightening, because people (including me, I’m sure) have no idea how they sound to others or what part they play in conversations. And there have been dinner hours where I’ve considered staying silent, just to see if anyone would notice…

    Blu, it amazes me how some people can be so effective, the quieter they get. My high school Latin teacher never raised her voice, but was regarded with awe by all who entered her classroom. The few times she had to speak to us veeeery quietly, you’d better believe we sat up and took notice. I’ve always wished I had that power to quietly command!

  4. Maybe I am naive or I missed something. How can it be that you get ignored? I find this most amazing. It happens to me sometimes and when it does, unless there is good reason for it (such as somone shouting “Fire!”) I feel very upset.

    I think people sometimes use silence as a way of saying “What you just said doesn’t interest me” or “I can’t cope with that right now.” Whatever the reason, it is discourteous.
    If people don’t want to attend to what you say, they should explain why.


    PS I’m adding you to my blogroll and hope that’s OK.

  5. Tiger, I’m pleased to be on your blogroll, and I’m enjoying reading your posts. Part of the reason it’s too easy to get ignored in my house is that we have 4 people (5 when my mother is here), all of whom are busy, enthusiastic, and wanting to share their news and opinions. We all need lessons in listening more effectively and courteously and remembering that there’s more to a conversation than figuring out what you’re going to say as soon as the other person shuts the heck up. 🙂

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