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Have you ever conversed with someone and wished they’d stop talking? We all have.
Alas, perhaps people often wish that you’d shut up. Maybe you’ve even been told that you talk too much. Or more likely, you often get interrupted or if a person is more polite, their eyes wander or shift their body or foot toward the door, unconsciously seeking an exit strategy.
The verbose person is informally described as chatty or a blowhard and thought of as egotistical even narcissistic and so, of course, suffers in both professional and personal life.
Here are verbosity’s common causes.
To clarify your thinking. Many people, including me, can clarify our thoughts by talking it out. That’s fine in therapy but in conversation, those thoughts, which, by definition, are unclear, usually bore the listener. Better to talk aloud while alone or write in a journal. Writing articles helps me clarify my thinking.
To compensate for insecurity. Talking excessively to entertain or edify often backfires. Even if you accomplish those goals, excessive length usually brands you as a show-off and/or makes your listeners feel less-than, which makes them dislike you or even exert retribution.
A desire to help. Similarly, too much help disempowers the other person. It’s fine to tactfully offer a snippet or two or ask questions, but monologues usually hurt you more than they help others.
Inaccurate perception of what interests your conversation partner. Granular descriptions of your work will interest only a small percentage of listeners. Ditto the recounting of your wandering through the King Kamehameha Museum, let alone the dreaded travel slide show. Those may fascinate you but usually, as they say, “You had to be there.” Even stories can be boring. Most people lack the gift of telling stories at the right length, level of detail, and suspense or humor. And the longer the telling, the greater the teller’s burden.
To avoid uncomfortable silences. Even if you’re both feeling awkward in silence, it’s better to stay quiet than to say something boring. Often, the other person is thinking during that silence, may appreciate the time, and is likely to say something more interesting than your silence filler.
Sometimes, behavior change precedes attitude change. Your volubility may have been caused by one of the above but the fastest, most effective cure may simply be to speak less. Alas, that’s easier said than done. These two rules of thumb should help:
Speak 30 to 50% of the time. A conversation contains only so much energy. If you speak much more than half the time, you’re sucking up too much of that energy, thereby dissipating the person’s investment in the conversation and in you. It’s usually not enough just for me to tell you this; you need to practice. So ask a trusted friend to let you know if s/he perceives you as talking more than half the time.
Follow the Traffic Light Rule: During your utterance’s first 30 seconds, your light is green: S/he’s listening. During the next 30, your light is yellow: Chances are increasing that the listener thinks you’re a Billy Blowhard or Chatty Cathy. Or s/he’d like to respond and is struggling to keep the thought in memory as you continue to blab. At the 60-second mark, your light is red. Yes, very occasionally, you can go a bit longer, for example, when telling an anecdote that clearly is engaging your listener. But almost always, you should shut up or ask a question. If the listener wants more, s/he can ask. They rarely will. To practice the Traffic Light Rule, in your next conversation with said trusted friend, set a timer for 30 seconds. Each time you start to talk, start the timer. My voluble clients are usually surprised at how quickly the timer rings. A typical comment: “I was just getting started!”
As with most things, in speaking, moderation is wise. Put more effort into listening, really listening to what’s said, not said, and the message behind the message. Per the old saw, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.