I Totally Missed What You Just Said

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Mime ‘Statue’ in Victoria, BC

For someone with an acquired brain injury (ABI), sharing a story or relaying an experience has its challenges. It might surprise you what factors can make it hard to share a story. It takes extra effort to not mess up.

Story Telling

I used to take the factors below for granted. The different parts of telling a story just seem to have their own way of falling into place. It now takes extra effort.

  1. Deciding what details are relevant and making sure they are included
  2. Recognizing what details are irrelevant and making sure I don’t go there
  3. Bringing details into the story in a proper sequence
  4. Be aware of your audience i.e. Getting to the point of the story without losing the listener’s attention

ABI requires greater focus and effort to make the story work

  1. Is that relevant?

Deciding what details are relevant in relaying a story is complicated by the challenge of finding the right words. Finding the correct nouns seems to be my biggest challenge. Often I can picture the object, what it looks, feels or tastes like but I am unable to name it. Needless to say it interrupts the flow of the story, not to mention the awkwardness felt by the listener.

  1. Where did that irrelevant comment come from?

At times I find myself including too many details that don’t necessarily enhance the story. I cannot explain why irrelevant details aren’t recognized before the words come out of my mouth. I’m told it’s called tangential thinking. It might simply be a matter of a particular detail suddenly finding its way into my thought path.  It also wouldn’t surprise me if I repeat some of the details because I can’t remember whether I had already shared it. Kind of like a story detail making a u-turn and ending up on the same thought path by mistake.

  1. Does it matter what actually happened next?

Recognizing a story’s natural structure takes additional effort. In telling a story certain details come to mind that belong in an earlier part of the story. When certain details are missed, the puzzle is how and where to fit it into the story. If I’ve already missed putting it in the right spot once, I want to include it as soon as possible else I run the risk of completely overlooking it. It’s tough to end a story and see the puzzled looks only to find myself saying, “Oh didn’t I mention at the beginning how the… ?”

  1. Are you still with me?

I have on occasion found myself quite frustrated a few minutes after relaying an event only to realize I had gone on too many tangents and then missed the main point. This happens when it’s too difficult to hold more than one thought in suspension.

An additional distraction in telling a story is reading body language. It’s important to know whether the listener is still with me. This actually poses a double challenge. One is being able to recognize and interpret the body language. The second is responding to the body language in a timely manner. At times I recognize the body language is conveying the message, “You’re losing me,” or “I need to be going now.” The problem is, not knowing how to bring the telling to a rapid conclusion. The easiest is to suddenly stop talking but that would be awkward for everyone.

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I lost you. Sorry

Conversations

Conversations are more difficult than simply telling a story. Conversations are rather complex activities. They become exponentially more complex with every additional person who joins in.

Telling a story or relaying an event is rarely a one way talking experience. One always has an audience of at least one person. Hopefully.

When sharing a story with a friend, comments and questions are to be expected. You want the person to be engaged in the story. When comments or question are interjected it’s easy to get side tracked. When there`s been too many comments or interjections, that’s when I’m most likely to miss the point of the story.

When conversing with one person, things generally go well. The conversation can wander a bit and go on for quite some time. If I miss something, it’s easy enough to ask the person to repeat. I am quite comfortable telling someone that I just lost track of what they were sharing. It’s the pleasant meandering of stories and events that makes a visit interesting, informative and at times amusing.

When the conversation includes several people, it becomes difficult to follow the thread. The frequent change of speakers makes it harder to follow what is being said. It gets even more difficult when the conversation splits into separate conversations. As the conversations morph between single and multiple conversations I quickly lose focus. That means I’ll miss even more of what is being share. It is much harder in these situations to tell a person, “I missed what you just said.” I definitely wouldn’t ask someone to repeat what they said.

In larger groups I might experience cognitive overload within 15 or 20 minutes. Either I just quietly listen or I find a way to inconspicuously exit the group.

Participating in a group conversation

At times when there’s a group of people talking, it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise. There are several factors that compound the challenge. At times I experience a time lag in processing what I hear. If I choose to respond, the delay in formulating a response will make the comment seem out of sync with the conversation.

My attempt at helpful hints

It would be beneficial to list some pointers. But the social decorum of conversations is that they are organic. They morph as different people have their say.

For that reason I don’t think the helpful guidelines below are achievable or should even be expected of others.

Helpful guidelines?

  1. Have only one person speak at a time.
  2. Invite the quiet person to contribute their thoughts
  3. Offer clarification if someone`s body language communicates confusion

This sounds more like guidelines for a skillfully chaired meeting.

Question to you the dear reader

Do you have some helpful hints? Maybe I overlooked some obvious things.  Would love to hear from you.

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Author: Jasper Hoogendam

I have been working in the field of elementary education since 1980 till my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

6 thoughts on “I Totally Missed What You Just Said”

  1. Thanks again Jasper………….so great that you can express these thought s to us. All are helpful if we pay attention to each other in conversation, and the tips would be especially helpful in including the “quieter people”in multiple persons’ conversations.

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    1. I found it difficult to present this topic clearly and coherently. I guess it’s a difficult one to nail down with clear guidelines or suggestions. Anyway, I’m glad you found it helpful. Must be clearer than I imagined it to be.

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  2. Wow, this was very helpful! You explained it very well! It reminded me of my sister, who is nearly 100% deaf, and she cannot handle group conversations either, among other similarities. Anyway – I hadn’t known about your accident, and very sorry for the life changes it brought to you! I would love to call and chat with you and Jane sometime, would you care to message me your phone number, on facebook? Sending you our prayers & hugs!!! Diane (Vruwink) Carlson

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  3. Jasper, you are helping people more than you imagine. My son, who was born with some disabilities, has challenges telling stories. By breaking down your experience and writing about it, I understand my son and his challenges better. Thank you so much Jasper!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s a strong inclination to not let one’s disability show when in public. It’s a reflex to avoid feeling vulnerable. When someone has noticeable difficulties in public because of their disabilities, some people show patience and understanding, others get uncomfortable. This often causes a ‘contagious’ response to others who are present..

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