“Shelly” was a big talker. She had an opinion about everything, whether she knew anything about it or not. And she was not shy about expressing those opinions.
“I don’t care what anybody thinks” she told people who argued, and she would talk louder and faster to talk over those who were taken by surprise.
When confronted with her loud, opinionated style, she defended herself by saying that “everybody has opinions, they’re just too scared to express them.” “Shelly” either was arguing her side of the issue or defending her style full time, which left no time for listening.
It also turns out that although “Shelly” herself had never been much of a drinker, both her mom and dad had been. They had since passed away from complications involving excessive use of alcohol.
“Shelly,” the youngest of three girls, had never been listened to, so she never learned to listen. She had learned only one speed, and that was fast forward. Her motto, although unbeknownst to her, was, “when in doubt talk louder.” Her solution to all problems was to try harder to convince you she was right. In doing so, she alienated her remaining family, two husbands and all her friends. She managed a store, so her co-workers had to listen, and listen they did.
Her district manager had finally heard enough horror stories. With enough personal observation under her belt to be credible, she let “Shelly” go. In the exit interview, she told her she was “loud and abrasive.” This finally got through to “Shelly,” who, swallowing her immense pride, began a journey to find some solutions.
It started with a therapist and continued in an Adult Children of Alcoholics group. “Shelly” has learned, over time, that the way to be heard is to listen well to others. She has learned that life has more than one speed – and many different volume settings. If you asked her friends today, they’d tell you “Shelly” is the kind of person who you can tell anything. She really knows how to listen.
• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.