It is a wonderful thing to be quiet and just let others talk. Have you noticed that in the classroom? There's been a lot of published research on the power of "wait time" during discussions...the idea that those few extra moments provide the time to retrieve information and respond appropriately. I think there's more to it than that. I think that silence makes most people uncomfortable and they will have a need to fill it.
In my district role, I am finding that speaking last continues to have advantages. This week, I had a principal whisper some concerns about her science staff. And while I thought about what she was saying, two of her teachers presented some further information for me to chew on. I next had two teachers at another school paint very different pictures of some events in their science department...and later the department chair filled in some details while I just listened.
Sometimes it's hard to not say much. I suppose this blog is my form of gossip as I think about all of the things that pass along my way each day. Just because I don't immediately react in front of colleagues doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about what I'd like to say and do. It just seems like I more quiet I am, the more I learn about my job.
I am also having to deal with someone who is an alcoholic and spins some amazing stories. I hadn't really made the connections, even with all the James Frey hoopla. But a piece I read recently helped some things come into focus:
Substance abusers lie about everythings, and usually do an awesome job of it. I once knew a cokehead who convinced his girlfriend the smell of freebase was mold in the plastic shower curtain of their apartment's bathroom. She believed him, he said, for five years (although he was probably lying about that, it was probably only three). A recovering alcoholic friennd of mine reminisces about how he convinced his first wife that raccoons were stealing their home brew. When she discovered the truth, she divorced him.
Go to one of those church-basement meetings where they drink coffee and talk about the Twelve Steps and you can hear similar stories on any night, and that's why the founders of this group emphasized complete honesty---not just in "420 of 432 pages," as James Frey claimed during his Larry King interview, but in all of it: what happened, what changed, what it's like now. Yeah, stewbums and stoners lie about the big stuff, like how much and how often, but they also lie about the small things. Mostly just to stay in practice. Ask an active alcoholic what time it is, and 9 times out of 10 he'll lie to you. And if his girlfriend killed herself by slashing her wrists (always assuming there was a girlfirend), he may say she hung herself instead. Why? Basically, to stay in training. It's the Liar's Disease.
I'm not sure what the answer will be here in terms of dealing with this sort of thing. For now, I think it's good to be quiet, and give the person enough rope to hang himself with.