who’s talking now

Not talking was quite an adventure.

Post-experiment, I have a slightly different vantage point than I did halfway.

Not talking about other people was hard. Harder than expected. And the second week was harder than the first. Strange, right?

First off, it was shocking how much we talk about other people… how little we talk about each other or ourselves.

In fact, entire conversations, entire lunch dates are held talking only about other people.

Not talking about others is harder with certain people. Call it habit or superficiality or lack of deeper connection; some relationships are built on gossip. (I bet you have one or two of those relationships in your life, too.)

Highlights of what I learned about myself (feel free to skip my experience and go to the questions for your own inquiry at the bottom):

  • I avoid talking about myself in a real and vulnerable way (dreams, fears, opinions) by talking about other people (what I will call “filler talk”). Basically, I am avoiding intimacy when I do this.
  • Similarly, there are significant conversations I am avoiding by using this filler talk. The lack of filler talk made the avoidance of these conversations more stark.
  • Letting go of the focus on others, at times I wondered if I even knew how I felt. Instead of I wonder if she… or I bet he…, I had the silence and space to consider where I was in the moment. This was not comfortable.
  • In the last two weeks I found myself talking more about my experience, i.e., I really enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) the class versus The teacher did (didn’t do) a good job. It keeps the responsibility on me (it is also Non-Violent Communication).
  • I knew going in there was some less-than-glamorous usage of praise or positive talk about others (it’s not just the negative stuff), and refraining from sharing how much I know about you-who and her who-who was sometimes as hard as not saying something ill-natured.
  • Some of the most precious moments in conversation were silence. Just being with one another.
  • If I’m not really paying attention, speaking unnecessarily of others is a habit that can be very unconscious.
  • With so much less to say, I could focus more on listening; on watching the person’s face, tonality, inflection.
  • Even though Bubby was not partaking in the experiment, knowing that I was not talking about other people influenced his speech. Several times he started a tirade about someone and stopped mid-sentence to say, It’s not worth talking about and just makes me feel worse to relive it.
  • On the other hand, the experiment really upset my mother. She is The Reporter of the family. To not talk about other people? What would we talk about? No, really. I imagined her telling my siblings about my ludicrous experiment. The irony…
  • By far the most difficult situation was in the company of gossip: do I excuse myself, not engage, make a statement of non-participation? (I tried all three. Mixed results.)
  • Overall, the experiment allowed me to slow down and pay more attention to my words. I felt so much more sensitive to my own ulterior motive and how toxic some conversations/topics feel.


Questions for you:

  • What conversation are you not having?
  • How much of yourself do you share in conversation? Would you consider your interactions with loved ones (appropriately) intimate?
  • How are you listening in conversation? Are you preparing your response as the other person is speaking?
  • How do you meet pause or silence in a conversation? Do you rush to fill it?
  • What are your motives in sharing information about a 3rd party?
  • Are there relationships in your life that are more draining than they are nourishing? Can you limit or discontinue those relationships?
  • How do you see your role as a participant of gossip even if you are not speaking (only listening)? How do you handle those situations?

These are hard questions. And we are perfectly imperfect humans. We don’t get it right all the time.

Thank you for participating in this space and inspiring me to ask these hard questions of myself.

Perfectly imperfect.


6 Responses to “who’s talking now”

  1. 1 Liz August 31, 2010 at 3:53 am

    Goodness. I need to be more aware of this myself. Thank for for the enlightenment!

  2. 2 Elizabeth August 31, 2010 at 4:03 am

    I was at a lunch a while ago when the topic changed over to celebrity gossip. Why so-and-so did certain things and what was wrong with them. I hadn’t heard about the people, and don’t really like to speculate, so I sat quiet. That was as uncomfortable for me as participating. What does one do in those situations. (Which is not to say that I don’t gossip .. I am guilty of doing it myself, just not really for people I don’t know.)

    I have a hard time with silence in a few cases. One being where the other person is deliberately being silent because they are trying to express disapproval. I feel a need to fill that with chatter to act as if I am not affected. Another being in conversation with people who are hard to draw into conversation and it feels like constant pulling. I have a need to fill that with chatter (not sure why, maybe I’m hoping that somehow I’ll find the right things to say – though it is also possible that they are very comfortable with quiet and enjoy it).

    Perfectly imperfect. Thank you.

  3. 3 Josiane August 31, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Thank you, Michelle, for sharing about your experiment and its results. Thanks also for the thoughtful questions; they provide good food for thought.
    {hug} (I miss you.)

  4. 4 Tracy August 31, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Your insights and experience make for great food for thought, as do your questions! While I’ve not “officially” be doing this project I have been keeping it in mind daily, noticing the way I and other communicate, what is communicated or not. It IS really hard not to talk about people! If I do, I try to keep it positive only. Something that is really prevalent in conversations is the whole celeb gossip, or gossip masquerading as news. I avoid taking part in this, celebrities don’t interest me, nor does their “news”. I am OK with silence, with natural pauses in conversation, interaction. Many folks seem the opposite I notice, needing to fill the gap with something, anything. I would prefer silence. I try to be engaging and share of myself, but also try to find the balance of silence–to just be, be where I am, who I’m with in a peaceful moment. Far from perfect… ;o)

  5. 5 Amy --- Just A Titch August 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about being less of an a-hole, about being more positive, and hearing about this experiment has influenced that. I want to hear more about it—these points alone are amazing and definitely give me things to think about.

  6. 6 blogasana September 1, 2010 at 2:51 am

    you guys are so completely awesome and inspire me.

    @elizabeth – i get it. totally agree. what a great perspective on silence, and how helpful that you know that about your own response. funny (not really) how those patterns stick with us for lifetimes…

    @josiane – i miss you, too! i was just thinking that the other day… it’s been over 6 months since the retreat. so many good things have happened for both of us. i feel totally supported by you, and i hope you by me. <3

    @tracy – i think it's this "awareness" that will continue with more sensitivity than prior. i don't want to put such limits on myself as with the experiment, but this noticing that you talk about it key, i think. thanks for sharing!

    @amy – lunch, girl… gotta have lunch again!

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