Do you ever wonder if you talk too much?
If so, don’t count on people to let you know. They don’t want to hurt your feelings or be confrontational. Instead, their body language will tell you. Their eyes will glaze-over, they’ll check their phone, yawn, or offer a flimsy exit line, then head for the bathroom or bar.
Are they being rude, selfish, or impatient? Maybe, but it’s tough for people to break away if you’re dominating the conversation. So, if you’re wondering if you talk too much, congratulations for being curious about a blind spot! Today, you can take control of your speaking and listening.
Talking about yourself gives you a hit of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. That’s why it feels good to vent or give your opinion, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasurable for others. Your positive qualities could easily be overlooked and you could be viewed as arrogant, boring, or unaware.
Psychologists offer a deeper, less judgmental question. They ask, “What is this person really saying?” Underneath, your constant chatter could be code for:
- I’m lonely.
- I’m nervous/anxious.
- I’m afraid of being irrelevant or unneeded.
- I’m scared of my feelings, so if I keep talking, I can push them away and not have to face my fears.
- I’m smart, but not confident, so here’s a data dump to impress you.
- I’m ‘on the spectrum’ and I honestly don’t realize that I’m talking too much.
As professionals, we are encouraged to speak up, sell ourselves, and make our point, which some people interpret as everyday communication. In conversation, however, if you don’t come-up-for-air, read body language, and listen, it could isolate you and become a career deal-breaker.
You could lose a promotion, a client, or key relationships. It might be tough finding a mentor or sponsor to help advance your career. You might not even get past a job interview. On a personal level, you may never develop that treasured tribe of friends. Any of these experiences can rattle your confidence.
Lisa Zigarmi is an Executive Leadership Coach with Fortune 100 clients. She says, “My clients who over-talk are not aware of it. Their managers usually name it as a problem for us to address.”
It’s hard to see ourselves. And, the problem is, we don’t often know WHEN to listen because we’re caught in own universe.
Mary Beth Weigel is a 20-year consultant in the high-tech space. She says, “Early in my career, I talked too much because I felt like the client may be threatened by my helping their team. I wanted to convince them that I was competent. Over time, I trained myself to be an objective, active listener who didn’t spout solutions. When I’m quiet, my clients can often discover the answers themselves and it’s exciting to be their guide.”
Even Mary Beth Marsden, an award-winning TV news anchor, says, “At first, I talkedway too much. Over time, I learned to take cues from the person I’m interviewing. Less of me and more of them makes a better interview.”
“I never learned anything while I was talking.”
— Larry King
Long-windedness has become the verbal equivalent of the internet acronym, tl;dr(too long; didn’t read). A Microsoft consumer study claims that the human attention span today is only 8-seconds. So, it’s hard to hold people’s attention, but if you learn to listen deeply, you’ll reap the benefits.
If you think you’re someone who talks at people (or over them) and you’re having trouble connecting with others, here are 5 strategies, plus a BONUS to catch yourself.
- Check Your “Frequency.”
Lisa Zigarmi says, “If you enter a room feeling passionate or excited, and others aren’t in that same space, they won’t be able to receive your energy, and they’ll ‘check out.’ Try quieting yourself before going inside. Then, listen for tone of voice and what people are saying, or not saying. Watch body language and their eyes. If they’re engaged, they’ll look at you, not at their phone.”
- Don’t Try to be Right.
It’s natural to want to make your case, show you’re smart, and offer solutions, but Lisa asks, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be effective?” Listening is performance free. Simply acknowledge, “I can see how important this is to you.” Once others feel heard and understood, then you can offer your view.
- Keep Calm and Carry On.
It’s normal to feel nervous or intimidated, especially if you’re meeting with a potential client or your boss. Monitor your delivery. Slow down and make eye contact. (If it’s tricky to look someone in the eye, look at the bridge of their nose. It’s a great fake!)
- Be Present & In Person.
Social media isn’t social. If you really want to connect, you need to look at “actual” people and hear their voices! No edits or filters. Practice, 50% them; 50% you. Say, “That’s interesting. Tell me more about that…” Remember: Everybody’s favorite subject is themselves.
- Embrace the Pause.
Silence can feel scary because we make up stories like, “I’ll be invisible if I don’t talk.” No. Silence carries power! In fact, it’s the New Model of Leadership: assert your influence and power by listening. Listen intently, gather information from the person or crowd, and say, “I hadn’t thought about it that way. Thank you for your perspective.” This shows people you value them.
BONUS! Assess Your Situation.
If people don’t return your calls, invite you to events, or ask, “How are you?”, it’s probably a clue that you over-talk. Practice the “Traffic Light Rule,” courtesy Dr. Marty Nemko, host of the NPR program, “Work.”
- “You have a GREEN light for the first 20-seconds when your listener likes you and you’re saying something relevant or in-service to them.
- The light turns YELLOW for the next 20-seconds. Beware: your conversation partner is losing interest & you’re sounding long-winded.
- At 40-seconds, your light turns RED. Don’t run it. Stop talking.”
Forty-seconds goes fast. At first, time yourself on phone calls, then take the technique “live,” in-person.
For the next 30-days: If you have a choice between talking and listening, choose to listen. View it as a new muscle you’re developing or a break from trying to impress. Your silence might feel awkward but when it’s met with confidence, people will begin to see you as more compassionate, patient, and trustworthy.
And, in general, that kind of person gets the job, the promotion, the leadership post, or makes new friends.