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Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Why We'd Rather Talk Than Listen

Why time flies when you're talking and slows when you're listening

Years ago I was hiking with two close friends and when we finally got back to our cars I said to my friends, "Did you notice that the first half of our walk took much longer than our return to the parking lot?" One of my friends with a wry sense of humor looked at me and smiled, "That's because you didn't stop talking on the way back!"

Imagine that your mind is a modem that is filled to capacity and can't transmit data from the outside in or inside out.

What you would do with that modem is: 1. shut it off; 2. disconnect it from your computer, internet service and power chord; 3. wait ten seconds for the memory to leave it; 4. reconnect it to your computer, internet service and power outlet; 5. turn it back on.

One of the reasons we'd rather talk than listen is that if our minds are filled to capacity and we listen, we run the risk of overloading our brain's circuits, forgetting things we're trying to remember and worse, feeling pressured to not just listen but take on the responsibility for dealing with or fixing whatever someone is telling us. Worst of all is that if we don't deal with or fix whatever that someone is telling us, we risk their going into a snit, getting huffy, becoming sullen... and that really threatens to mess with our circuits.

In essence listening is a sensory function and when our brain's and mind's circuit are at sensory overload, we haven't got room for anything else coming in.

On the other hand talking is a motor function and when we get past the first 20 seconds of sharing information we cross over into using it as a way of relieving stress by getting things off our chest all of which frees space in our brain's circuits and in our minds. The problem of course is that by going over that first 20 seconds, we have now dumped more than our share into someone else's brain and mind. And if their's is as overloaded as ours, guess what happens? Nobody listens (sound like a Congress near you?)

Back to my opening story about the hike with my friends. I was especially embarrassed by my friend's comment because after all, I wrote the book: "Just Listen." I guess it's true that we write what we need to learn.

About the Author

Mark Goulston, M.D., the author of the book Just Listen, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute.