Thread: Listening
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Old 04-06-12, 01:30 PM   #14
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Default Re: Listening

Although this Thread is what we call a Sticky (One that remains at the top of the Forums) I'm not sure if everyone goes into Message Board from the same Front Page.

In my efforts to flag up posts and discussions that I felt were very useful in helping me care for Hubs, I wanted to highlight this Thread. I also wanted to promote Jimmy's book again which was a revelation!

The book is available from Lulu in the USA but an easier source is via the HDA's Book shop:

HDA Book Shop

Originally Posted by myrna View Post
When I did my jHD presentation recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy Pollard & listening to his presentation. I was fascinated by the explanation below & wished I had known it a lot sooner.

I think you'll find this really useful.

(stolen from HDAC & SteveI)
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One of the icons in the HD community is Jim Pollard. I've admired him for many years and regret having the opportunity to visit with him only once every year or two. He shared an important lesson with one of the other groups and I'm sure he wouldn't mind me passing it on.

This article by Jim was originally written for the Spring 2008 issue of HOPE, the annual magazine of the Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland. Their website is [].

Tommy's Listening Lesson

A popular book calls listening a "sacred art." It certainly is! Listening is active, or so I've learned. For some of us, myself included, it's a skill that needs lots of practice to achieve mastery. I'm a person who has an answer on the tip of his tongue before a question is completed. I need to make a conscious effort to wait until my family and friends finish their sentences. While they're speaking to me, I'm looking into their eyes and struggling to impede my impulsive response to them. Not surprisingly, what I assumed that they were going to say was often different from what they actually said.

By nature I'm not a good listener. I'm not alone. There are others just like me. We tend to be one step ahead in our conversations with others. Moments of silence during discussions unsettle us. We feel compelled to fill silence with words. They often don't have to be relevant to the conversation. They relieve our discomfort with silence. Huntington's Disease challenges people like us.

Actually, though, it challenges people with HD to an even greater degree.
They have to interact with us! Some of them may depend on us for assistance in their daily lives. From moment to moment they live with the cognitive challenges of HD. These changes affect how well they can deal with those of us who cannot actively listen and can't wait to take our turn in a conversation.

HD impairs the efficient function of thousands of brain cells. This accounts for slower processing of information. It takes longer to take it all in, to think about what you want to say and then to actually say it. Before their HD began to show itself, folks did this instantly and unconsciously. Now the same thought processes take longer. It may take one second or several seconds to respond to a question. In an ideal world their families and communities would be made up of people not like me. Their worlds are better populated with spouses, children, parents and neighbors who do listen and can wait for an answer better than I can.

Tommy was a dear friend. I met him after HD had begun to affect his speech and thinking. Even then, he was a master teacher to me as he explained some of the ways that HD challenged his thinking. One evening he was reminiscing about his family with me. He told me about his daughter's childhood. He spoke one sentence at a time with extended pauses before he'd share his next thought. It was a warm conversation, just Tommy and me. I was fascinated by the details of his life.

As tactfully as I tried to keep the conversation going, I sensed that Tommy was becoming increasingly exasperated with me. Increasingly unnerving tension began to replace the warmth of his reminiscences. I wasn't sure what was happening between us. He told me about his daughter's first day of school decades ago now. He paused. I waited for his next thought. I waited a bit longer but not long enough. At the moment he began speaking again, so did I. As soon as he heard me speak, he stopped. I apologized for stepping on his words and waited for him to begin speaking again.

I waited again. As if we had choreographed it, we both began speaking at precisely the same second. I apologized one more time. I sensed Tommy was a bit more annoyed. I felt that a greater apology was in order. "Tommy, I'm sorry that I keep tripping over your words. I am trying to listen but I'm not doing a very good job of it. Again, I'm sorry, Tommy."

He looked at me and said nothing for several seconds. Hoping that he would, I waited a few moments longer. Not wanting to make the same mistake yet again, I waited even longer. Tommy began to speak. "Every time that you do that it sets my timer back to the beginning."

Without missing a beat, I asked, "You mean every time I step on your words you have to start over again?" I realized immediately that I had done it again! I failed to wait. Too embarrassed to apologize again, I waited for his answer. I waited so many seconds that I was sure he had given up on me and wasn't going to say anything else.

Just then, I was silently lamenting that my impatience had ruined our warm moments of reminiscing, he said, "Yes."

I said, "Tommy, tell me if I understand this now? Every time that I don't wait long enough to let you speak, you have to start thinking all over again about what you're going to say, right?"

I waited again. Those twenty to thirty seconds of silence seemed like a lifetime to me. Then, just when I thought he would say nothing further, he said, "It's annoying." I finally understood that every time that I stepped on his words or asked the same question again because I thought he didn't understand me, he had to begin to formulate his idea and plan his answer all over again. How annoying it must have been to think and rethink his answer simply because I wasn't giving him enough time! Suddenly it dawned on me that I had been doing this for years in our conversations. I recalled the many times that I believed he was irritable or just didn't want to speak with me.

I was well aware that many people with HD had difficulty organizing their thoughts and expressing them. I was unaware, though, of my role in making it even more difficult for him. I waited for a few moments to pass. I simply said, "I'm sorry, man."

Tommy looked up at me for a few seconds. "That's OK, Jim." I let a few more moments pass. "My wife dressed my daughter so cute." He paused a few more seconds. "She put ribbons in her hair." I listened, smiled and waited.
"She's twenty-three now." The reminiscing continued.

I still have difficulty waiting through silent pauses in conversations.
Sometimes I have to repeat silently to myself over and over, "Silence is golden." Or "Listening is a sacred art." I've learned that I have to sit down, turn off the TV, close the door and actively listen. I still have to remind myself to not set his ticker back to start. I'm getting better at it, though.

Thanks, Tommy! Lesson learned. Thank you, teacher, for patiently enduring my impatience. Had I only understood earlier.
I tried.
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