Mike McAllisterCongratulations to Mike McAllister for Winning the March 2022 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

Tell us about a bad habit you have and what you’ve done to remedy it, along with whether you’ve been successful.

Mike shared the disarming story of what it took for him to truly “hear” others. Enjoy his winning submission:


Do you interrupt others to make your point known?

At one point, my active listening communications had shortcomings when I interrupted others before they finished their message.

Yeah, I was that guy.

I’d hear the assertive words… “HEY! I’m not done!” or “Seriously, let me finish before you butt in.”

Silently, I was frustrated.

When others dominated the conversation, I grew tired quickly and lost interest.

My conversations were short, sweet, and to the point. Yet some would say I was boring and rarely used stories to share my thoughts. Ouch!

Turns out, people wanted to speak their minds, so when I interrupted, they lost trust and felt I didn’t have their best interests at heart.

Of course, this doesn’t work so well when one is their team leader.

As the team grew resentful, I had to figure out why and get to work adapting.

What I came to realize was that I hear conversations at a different speed than almost everyone else. Since age 3, I have lived through the valleys of not being able to hear the context of most conversations. I’m deaf in my right ear and have a profound hearing loss in my left ear.

Adapting has become a way of life, so overcoming this challenge would be no different.

  • Opportunity 1 — When I perceived others as rambling in their message, I failed to genuinely listen to what was being said. Instead, I was focused on the response.

Resolution: I learned to focus on what was said and bullet point two or three key message points. When the speaker finished, I’d pause, then paraphrase back those two or three key points before I replied.

Discovery: People appreciate knowing you listened first, responded second.

  • Opportunity 2 — I process information two to three sentences behind most people.

Resolution: This delay forces me to slow down with my responses. Conversations are about engaging and understanding. Tonality elements in the message are critical in any conversation.

Discovery: What I found was that facial- and lip-reading talents help identify the unheard tone and nonverbal clues people are expressing.

  • Opportunity 3 — I learned the way I talked was boring and soft-spoken.

Resolution: This feedback was hard to absorb at first. So, I picked up reading stories and learned to look for non-obvious clues in the written messages. By becoming more observant, I found being soft-spoken was a good thing, even though it goes against the norms of most people.

Discovery: Choosing to be different than what others are expecting draws attention to your message, provided others get to share their message too.

All in all, people are drawn to great stories, but most importantly, they want to be heard. Half the battle is already won when you give to others more freely.

Give it a try: Stop and truly listen, then paraphrase back what you heard said. People will grow appreciative that you listened first!