Timing Matters

Timing 2Poor Timing

“Why doesn’t anyone listen to what I say?” My complaint probably sounded like a broken record to my husband. Frustration over someone failing to heed my advice resulted once again in stimulating this repeated source of relational frustration.

Then awareness hit me like a punch in the face. If multiple people from a variety of settings and types of relationships seem not to listen to me, perhaps the problem lies with me and not with others.

Some people (my husband) have a terrific sense of timing in conversations. Whether funny or serious, the flow seems as natural as breathing. Other people (myself), struggle finding the “right” words, which often (usually) come long after the conversation ends. And ill-timed humor only amplifies uncomfortable and awkward feelings.

For a while, past mistakes in conversations were just too painful to risk repeating. Additionally, extreme sensitivity created a constant awareness of every interruption, every misplaced comment and certainly every blank stare of confusion. So, to minimize these miscues in timing, I simply avoided face-to-face conversations.

As you might guess, avoiding talking to others is pretty impossible. Sure, I can do a lot of communicating via electronic methods, but they in no way substitute for the richness of connection made when talking to someone while at the same time experiencing the fullness of their presence.

Instead of allowing struggles with timing in conversations to suffocate relationships, either by lack of awareness or through over-sensitivity, a better approach involves taking time to increase understanding of timing in conversations. Perhaps in doing so, I can finally discover victory within this struggle.

Understanding Timing

Timing involves when something happens or is done (or said), especially when that timing is thought of as having a good or bad effect on the result. Timing also involves the ability to chose the best moment for some action, movement, words, etc.

Timing within conversations significantly impacts the success or failure of the contained communication. It also involves well-timed orchestration of the elements involved in successful communication.

Timing Awareness

As I thought about past failed communication, I realized that my poor timing had a huge impact. And that poor timing usually took place because one or more of the following were happening.

  1. Failing to fully listen because I’m thinking of what I want to say next.
  2. Getting distracted & being unable to hear what was being said.
  3. Talking before letting the other person finish talking.
  4. Focusing on giving advice rather than on understanding the person.
  5. Letting my emotions take over my flow of words.

Knowing that any one of these can knock the timing of a conversation off kilter, being aware of each conversation malady provides a first step for improving my timing when talking with others.

timingTiming Words

Poor timing with our words involves a myriad of factors. Poor social skills, loneliness and selfishness all impact a person’s timing when they talk to others. Being uninterested in others, having a lack of confidence and feeling intimidated can also impact how well we pace conversations.

Understanding that one or more factors may be at play in those to whom we are speaking helps in employing patience, but realizing theses issues may also exist within ourselves can help in making necessary adjustments for at least improving our end of the flow of communication.

Once awareness and understanding begin, we can then apply the following Biblical principles.

  1. Listen first and more. (Proverbs 18:13)
  2. Let relationships develop. (Proverbs 6:1-5)
  3. Use good sense. (Proverbs 11:12)
  4. Think first. (Proverbs 13:3 & 29:20)
  5. Use less words. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
  6. Be slow to speak. (James 1:19-20)

Notice that much of what Scripture reveals about timing involves not speaking but instead deliberately focusing on others in the conversation. Maybe this is because our words simply don’t matter when others don’t feel heard in a way that shows their value.

Focusing on understanding provides the key to proper timing in conversations. Sure, other people’s baggage impacts the conversation too, but your honing of timing certainly increases the probability of understanding and growth.

DISCUSSION: What impact has timing, or lack of it, had on your communication?

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27 Replies to “Timing Matters”

  1. As I have gotten older I have learned more about timing and knowing when to speak or when not to. i was once told "I assumed a familiarity that is not there." Translated: I spout off and try to be funny when it is not the time nor am I funny. Your post speaks right to that kari.
    My recent post Path

    1. Well, I don't know anything about getting older 🙂 but I do understand what you mean by assumed familiarity. My dad did that all the time, and I have a friend now that does it too. He says it's to cover up him feeling uncomfortable. Don't know if that's the case for you, but I understand how this can be a struggle when it's a "go to" approach.

  2. Paul Tillich said "The first duty of love is to listen". We need to get over our discomfort with silence. Every second does not have to be filled. To truly listen you have to forego the idea of responding as soon as someone finishes speaking. Sometimes just letting someone have their say means so much to them regardless if you respond to it or not. People want to be heard; want to know that they are worthy of someone listening to them. This is a gift we can give people but it takes work and people know if you are not really listening; you can't fake it very good. The rewards can be great if we work hard to listen. You grow in understanding of the other person and sometimes people in general; you deepen the relationship because they appreciate your willingness to hear them out totally.
    Someone who knows you listen intently to them are more willing to share more and often deeper stuff with you. Does anyone come to mind who you know listens intently to whatever you say? We can be that one to others. In speaking often "less is more". Sometimes the less we say the more people pay attention.
    Let us commit to be someone who extends the gift of listening to those who desperately need an audience.

    1. Oh yes, we definitely have a general discomfort with silence. I remember telling my speech students that silent pauses were perfectly fine in a speech, that they weren't as long as they felt, and that they were better than using fillers like "um" and "uh." We need to get back to the art of real listening, which as you said, involves silence for the times we are formulating our answers. Definitely takes work, and it's impossible to fake. Trying to fake usually ends up in getting burned (embarrassed) at some point. Deep relationships are definitely worth the effort. One "trick" that I like to use is to email or text something that's on my mind for the person to think about when I know we'll be getting together face-to-face soon. I do it all the time with my husband and accountability partner. I love how you call it the "gift of listening," and you are so right that it starts with ourselves. We can't really control what others do, but we can set the example. Plus, I bet that when we listen more and better, others will too. Great insight, Mark!

  3. Kari, Your timing awareness points are perfect. Another one I'd add is the mobility and use of electronics. I can't tell you how often Rev will say something to me and I don't even realize he's talking as I start at my laptop or iPad. And truthfully, I can get really annoyed when other people are focused on those who aren't present rather than the ones who are. Hmm, I think I needed this one. Thanks for a much needed reminder.
    My recent post Write a Note and Bake a Pie

    1. Funny that you should mention electronics, Deb. I didn't really broach that topic at all because it's an animal all its own. I've actually considered making it one of my month-long focusses. We'll see if the Holy Spirit continues leading me there. It's definitely fitting in our discussion of timing here, and I could say lots about it. Thank you for bringing it up.

  4. Good commentary today… Thinking on Solomon and his proverbs: a good judge, which he certainly was in his day, says very little and when he does it usually is to clarify what he heard. It is only after careful deliberation does a judge communicate his thoughts and decisions. The more important what one has to say, the more time one should take to communicating his or her thoughts and decisions. Listening adds value to what you decide to say.

    1. Thanks, Coach. You sum up the value of listening very well, and the example of the judge helps to clarify your point. Listening definitely adds value to what you decide to say, and we need to consider the impact that our listening – or lack of it – has on our relationships and interactions.

  5. Good insights, Kari. For the most part, I think ill-timed humor has been my downfall–best illustrated when my brother fell out of tree and broke his arm; I ran around sounding like an ambulance siren to joke about his situation.

    1. Seems to be a theme here in the comments. Not sure how old you were when you laughed at your brother breaking his arm, but my 13-year-old laughs when people fall and the like all the time. I get on him because it makes me very uncomfortable when he laughs about that stuff, but perhaps it's just a young teenage boy type of thing. Or, in your case, also a brother thing. Or, maybe it's a guy thing 🙂

  6. I could save myself a lot of trouble if I followed the "slow to speak" rule! Also, if I learned to save my advice for my books, my blog, and people who actually ask me for advice! I just started teaching interpersonal communications to a group of homeschooling teenagers. I have the kids practice conversations in the front of the class with each other. It's very funny and there's lots of laughter, but the kids also learn good skills. We tend to think that some are just good conversationalists and other aren't, when in reality it's a skill that can be learned. Thanks for teaching us!
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    1. Me too, Barb. One reason I write a lot is for exactly what you mention, to get out my thoughts and ideas so as to not have to speak so much and to allow for listening more. Plus, it quiets the noise inside my head, which really helps with listening. I taught an interpersonal communication class once too, and it really does teach a lot of good skills. Many adults could stand to take the class. You're right, it is a learned skill. Some may be more talented, but everyone can learn to be better communicators. It's really about a heart and love for people more than anything else.

  7. When we give the gift of our attention, it shows up in so many little ways – when we fail at that, it shows up as well, but sometimes the results are incredibly painful. Comedic timing is a gift in and of itself; Joy and I are pretty quick with a good phrase, and sometimes our conversations have left other folks almost slack-jawed asking "How did you know what he/she was thinking?" We pay attention to one another is the only answer I can give.

    Great post, as usual, and good, solid Scriptural grounding. 🙂
    My recent post Now, Where Was I?

    1. Great example of how listening and knowing the other person makes such a difference. Illustrates a great point, the impact of relationship, which is February's focus. We need to be better listeners to others, especially God, for relationships to grow and flourish. Thanks, Rick.

  8. A classic introvert trait is knowing what you should have said three hours later. It's happened to me plenty of times, and it's because it takes me a while to process the conversation. This is why I have trouble with group conversations – not enough silence to ponder what was said. I'm over here thinking about something that was uttered five minutes before.

    Nonetheless, sometimes people open up to me in one-on-one conversations because I take time to listen. I don't have to have the perfect response. The other person just wants to know that I care enough to listen to them.
    My recent post Pursuing Minimalism

    1. As a classic introvert myself, I understand exactly what you're saying, Chris. I have been amazed at what people I barely know will share with me. It's as if they were hungry for a listening ear. Though, I do have extroverted friends who have moments of great listening, but I do see them struggling not thinking of their response while I'm talking. You make another great point in your comment too, and that's the idea of not needing a perfect response. Jus the act of listening is often enough, and it's often what people will remember regardless of your response.

  9. Hummm….have you been listening to my conversations Kari? Honest this hit home for last night I was with a friend and our conversation was not good, because I was going to make my point on the subject we were talking about no matter what. Of course I should have listened and kept my opinion to myself for my friend just needed to be heard, not my take on the subject. Great post, I am listening to you…
    My recent post Until Then

    1. This has been a struggle for me too, Betty, which is why I think the Holy Spirit led me to focus on words for the month of January. At times, I think I need to focus on it for all of 2014. Seems like I'm a very slow learner in this area.

  10. I'm still learning about timing, but I've learned not to make a joke about someone's teeth when they've just gotten their braces removed. I've learned not to correct my husband when he's already mad and not to pour out my heart to him when he's reading the paper. I've also learned that other people are still learning about timing, too. They don't know that someone has already pushed those buttons. My goal is to give lots of grace, hoping maybe I'll get some in return.

    1. Great examples! I especially appreciate how they reflect everyday life. We all probably have similar stories if we take the time to think through our own "skills" with timing. And yes, grace is the order of the day. We need grace for ourselves and others when we mess up timing. Grace isn't a license to not try; rather, it gives confidence to do our best in communicating knowing we'll receive grace when we mess up.

  11. Great topic. I've learned the importance of listening to someone. To try to hear the words and meaning behind the words. To truly grasp what they are wanting to say. I'm also careful about my response. Making sure they know I'm listening. I love the passages you shared.

    1. Thanks, Dan. Great that you have learned the importance of listening. I have too, but I struggle consistently applying it. But the more I spend time with Jesus, the more I have a love for others that fuels my desire and ability to listen and respond well. He does give us the ability & desire to do what is right.

    1. Timing is certainly a live-and-learn thing. My dad was a big joker too, but he never learned from his poor timing. You being aware of needing tweaking is half the battle. We need jokers like you to help lighten tough situations. Don't ever forget that either.

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