Take a Lesson from Pulp Fiction

pulp fiction

Screenshot of Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction

Who doesn’t love Pulp Fiction?  A classic Tarantino film, with an absolutely all-star cast.  My favorite scene is the final one in the diner where Jules (Samuel L Jackson) is talking to the would-be robbers.  Here’s a good little clip of it (warning: explicit language).  Anyway, I own the movie and as I type this I am looking at it over on my DVD shelf.  Even though that scene is totally awesome, it’s not the one that gives this post its title.  The idea for this post comes from a deleted scene (explicit language).  It takes place in the home of Marsellus Wallace, when Vincent goes to meet Mia to take her to dinner. She tells him, “Now I’m going to ask you a bunch of questions I’ve come up with that more or less tell me what kind of person I’m having dinner with.”  One of the questions is the following:

“In conversation, do you listen… or wait to talk?”  To which Vincent responds, “I have to admit that I wait to talk, but I’m trying harder to listen.”

I hear people say “conversation is a lost art,” but I think the real lost art is listening.  Consider Mia’s question for yourself.  Can you honestly say that you truly listen, instead of waiting to talk?  In conversation it’s not too hard to tell these two types apart.  A listener will ask you questions about what you were just talking about.  Or at least offer up a non-generic comment like, “Wow, I never knew giraffes had black tongues.” On the other hand, a wait-to-talker will launch into a story that begins, “I had something just like that happen to me when…” or “That reminds me of the time I…”  Now I’m not saying that you can never be reminded of a story from your past when listening to someone else, but we all know people who respond to pretty much anything with a comment relating the story to themselves.

This is something I have been working on myself for at least 6 or 7 years.  And yet, on occasion, I still find myself fantasizing about what I’m about to say, and refining a story of my own, while I’m supposedly listening to one of my friends.  Why do we do this?  It’s certainly not because we don’t care about what they have to say (at least, not always).  And it has detrimental effects on the relationship.  Think about it.  What matters more.  That your friend knows that you care about their thoughts and opinions?  Or that you perfect the wording on the story you are about to tell?  Also, who would you rather hang out with, someone who can’t wait to tell you all about themselves, or someone who cares about what you have to say?  Listening is not just about hearing the words someone else is saying, it’s about showing respect.  If you listen to what someone else is saying, you are telling them that you respect their opinions, you care what they have to say, and generally think they are worth listening to.

So if you think you could be a better listener (and trust me, we could ALL be better listeners), you should check out some active listening techniques.  And not only will it help your personal relationships with friends and family, but a lot of experts agree that active listening improves your career prospects. There are really simple steps you can take that help convey your interest in the speaker.  In particular, the active listening article above has 5 good points to keep in mind.

On a related note, I just want to say one more thing about conversation in general.  You should NEVER interrupt anyone mid-conversation unless there is a time-sensitive reason to do so.  For example, “Sorry to interrupt, but the building is going to collapse any minute,” or “Sorry to interrupt, but your hair is on fire.”  Those are fine.  But interrupting conversation for self-serving reasons is a huge pet peeve of mine.  I can think of very few things that convey such a large amount of disrespect.  I know it can be tempting.  Especially, if the person speaking is expressing opinions that differ from your own.  But I have literally stopped being friends with people simply because they could not stop interrupting me, even after I told them how much it bothered me.

Simply put, when you interrupt someone you are telling them, “I don’t give a shit what you are saying because I’m more important than you.  So just hold on while I tell you a LEGIT opinion/story/idea.”  Really.  You may be saying to yourself, “Interrupting people isn’t that big a deal.  Geez, thehappypotamus is just really uptight about it.”  But you’d be wrong.  Everyone I have ever spoken with about this completely agrees with me.  It’s annoying and frustrating and worth losing friends over.

Sorry for the rant, but it seems like a lot of people these days just don’t know how to listen. And it is truly one of the most important communication skills you possess.  So, if you haven’t given it much thought lately, here’s your reminder that we all need to work on being better listeners.  Also, now that I’ve pointed it out, you may start to notice that some people in your life don’t listen to you very well.  Just be honest and open with them about the issue.  Explain that friendships are based on mutual respect, and listening to what you have to say is the least they can do.

Being a good listener takes mindfulness.  It’s really easy to become distracted in conversation, or to let your mind wander, or to start thinking about what you are going to say when it’s your turn to talk.  But being in the moment with someone, and listening to what they have to say, is an integral part of the human experience.  Every human culture develops complex language systems just so we can talk to other people.  And if you want lasting and healthy relationships with your friends and family, you need to listen to what they have to say, and they need to listen to you.  We all want to be understood.  And to be understood, we need other people to listen and understand what we have to say.  Which means, if we care about someone, it’s our duty to listen to them.  And not just wait to talk, but truly listen to what they have to say, and let them know we are trying to understand them.

To sum things up, in our everyday lives we should all try to be more like Vincent, “… trying harder to listen.”


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