Saturday, February 17, 2018

No interruptions, please...

I’ve always been a talker.  I'm one of those people who process my thinking with talk.  I'm not proud of it; I admire—so admire—those quiet, introspective people who save talk until thoughts have been carefully processed.  The people who talk with articulate, wise eloquence after beautifully arranging their words into sequential order.

That’s not me.  Let’s just say I am working on it.

By which I mean I really do try.   I think about it before going into meetings.  I try, try, try to keep quiet when I have nothing to say.  

And I remember this one time.  When I was firmly, effortlessly hushed by five little words from a colleague.

I use past tense when I describe this guy, although he is very much alive and well; in fact, he has moved on to an important position in a neighboring district.  A few years ago, when I worked with him, he was our technology director.  He was smart, kind, and impressively innovative.  I really liked him.  Everyone did.  He pushed us to think differently about technology, and taught us a lot about efficiency, cost vs. benefits, and about technology as a tool to access content, not as its own stand-alone content.

One day, he met with a group of us to talk through re-allocating computers to serve more students in less time.  As he started talking, I grew antsy; I didn’t agree with his proposal, thinking it cumbersome and difficult to implement.  I interrupted with a couple questions.  Ever graceful, he answered them, and then went on. 

“Listen, Mike,” I interrupted, all hoity, some sort of cross-examiner, “I understand your point.  I do.  I just—“

He raised his hand to stop me and looked me square in the eye.  I haven’t made my point.”

So, then.

Duly chastised, I shut my mouth.

He continued, and it didn’t take me long to realize his point was —a-hem—a very, very good one.  A reasonable, well-researched one.  Backed by innovation and efficiency and fiscal responsibility.  Ashamed, disappointed in myself, I realized I’d been impulsive, obnoxious, and borderline disrespectful.

That afternoon, I called Mike with a humble and embarrassed apology.  As was typical for him, he didn’t seem ruffled, and responded with grace and humor.  

"I continue to work on my input in large groups," I told him.  “It’s a lifelong challenge."

“Good thing life is long,” he quipped.  And just like that, I felt forgiven.

But I've not forgotten Mike's chastisement that day, especially when I feel that itch to jump in and interrupt.  I remind myself that I can’t respond to a point if it hasn’t yet been made.  Doing so is like making decisions with only partial information, or without the most important voice being heard.  It’s not fair, for one thing, nor, of course, does it make any professional sense. 

As this school year turns into our final trimester, that’s (again!) my goal.  Display restraint, patience, and be an active listener.  And, most of all, avoid stomping on any conversations. 

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