I know, from my teen years on, that I speak very loudly. (My parents told me so, at a much younger age, but I didn’t admit it until high school.) I strive to keep my voice even and at a reasonable volume, but I still experience times when I fall back into old habits, and I don’t realize at first that my voice is getting louder. Often, someone else must remind me, especially when I am excited or agitated, to use my indoor voice.
Still, controlling my volume is not even my most difficult issue when talking in a group. I remember my boss at TRW Electronics, Colorado Springs, taking me aside one day after lunch. She told me, kindly, that I wasn’t even listening to others — that I appeared to be more interested in forming a response, long before the others finished what they were saying. (I received the same feedback from a dear friend, years ago.) I used to say anything I could think of to one-up other people’s stories. My boss suggested that I sit and listen, and not say a word, at lunch the next day. That was my first attempt at active listening. I hear others more deeply now, as a result of that one conversation.
I can still be drawn into a one-up conversation if I drop my guard. I was caught in one, this morning, with one of the newer women in my building. She doesn’t always remember what she has told me at an earlier time, and she often starts off complaining about how someone did her wrong. I finally heard, “I lived in Portland, and everything was better there,” for the umpteenth time, and I just reacted. I started with something like, “You think you have it bad? When I was in your situation…” Thus began a long stretch of trying to outdo each other with tales of medical difficulties and bad life situations, each more horrible than the last. When I excused myself to get my laundry out of the dryer, I immediately realized what I was doing, and decided to shut my mouth and just listen.
One-upmanship is one small symptom of a greater problem: the need for a boost in self-esteem, which accompanies so many of us through our lives. It is as though people want to be regarded as more whatever — more confident, smarter, more successful. We must prove to others in our conversations that we are important, too.
What is really odd, (and would be comical if it wasn’t so sad,) is the further warping of this kind of talk between people who consider themselves already less worth-y than others. This was my pattern: Someone tells a story about a sick friend, so I speak up and tell a story about when I was even sicker. This can go on for quite a while, back and forth, each member of the group vying for the prize of most miserable, saddest, sickest. I cemented my old, sad story in these kinds of conversations. Not until I accepted and forgave myself, and began to value who I am, instead of who I wish I was, was I able to change my story, to focus on other parts of my life besides my illnesses.
Abraham-Hicks Law of Attraction directs me to think about the good, joyful, positive aspects of my life, to draw more of those to myself. I intend to pay close attention to conversations I join, and stay positive. That is the trick — that and remembering to use my indoor voice!