When I saw this meme I thought: “What a perfect visual of ‘spider-webbing’ from the book ‘Love & Respect’ by Emerson Eggerichs.” And a great reminder of how we can end up in unnecessary conflicts.
Yes, I know it’s really fun to tell a story in a “stream of consciousness” type manner, letting your mind wander where it will to include all the random details and additional thoughts. Fun for you – probably not so much for another person trying to follow you – especially if some response is required.
As counselors we are certainly familiar with this challenge. Often people in distress will have a hard time corralling their thoughts. We understand that and make room for it. But at some point it is necessary to rein in the person so that we can be of help.
So what should we do when we begin to be overwhelmed by a rambling conversation?
First of all, be patient and kind. Wait for a break in the narrative (they have to breathe sometime). Then suggest gently that you are getting lost. I might say “I want to track with you (or hear you) but I’m getting a bit tangled.” I sometimes ask if we could circle around to the original point.
What is happening is that the listener is becoming flooded. They are reaching their capacity to process the incoming words and are slowly shutting down. The speaker may notice the withdrawal and believe that the other person doesn’t care. And although sometimes that might be true, it is usually not the case.
And if you are the speaker?
As a speaker, I can watch the body language that gives me a clue when I need to wrap it up. I grew up with a mom who was pretty much a non-stop talker. She was an extrovert and external processor. She didn’t see or hear the social cues that others gave out. It made it awkward for the gracious introverts who liked her, but didn’t know how to detach when they were becoming overwhelmed. You may know what I am talking about. I could say “Gotta go, Mom” – and her response could be “One last thing” (it never was) or “Oh, I just thought of something important.” I often just tuned her out. I felt guilty about it, but I also felt trapped.
Of course, when we stop actively listening we may miss things we need to know. Those dropouts in our hearing often lead to miscommunications in the future. It is actually being kind to the other person when we ask for what we need (more concise communication).
For me the book of Proverbs is the manual of wise instructions that should be required reading for everyone. It talks about the risk of not practicing some restraint.
I love this verse:
Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV) In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.
A bit direct perhaps, but good advice nonetheless.