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Do You Talk Too Much?

By Marty Nemko

Blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah.

Ever listen to someone who, long after you’ve spaced out, continued to blab on? What did you think of that person? Probably self-absorbed and interpersonally clueless. Being long-winded is a sure route to career failure, indeed life failure.

Of course, no one thinks they’re perceived as talking too much, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But without realizing it, could you be one of those irritating people?

True Or False:

1. You think of yourself as a talker rather than a listener.

2. In conversation, your utterances frequently exceed one minute in length. (This is the most important indicator that you talk too much.)

3. You are able to come up with many ideas on the fly, so you want to express them all in one fell swoop.

4. You’re detail-oriented. People who are detail-oriented often include details that seem important to them but bore the pants off the typical listener.

5. People at their workspaces tend to look away from you when you walk by. (They’re afraid you’ll come over and bend their ear for 10 minutes.)

6. The people who know you best have called you self-absorbed, narcissistic, oblivious, selfish, or egocentric. A conversation is about sharing and paying attention to your conversation partner’s needs.

7. You don’t stay alert for a sign that your listener wishes you’d shut up: eyes wandering more than 1/3 of the time (or the opposite, staring frozen at you), finger or toe tapping, frequently interrupting you, a body position that suggests the person is trying to get away from you, frequently saying “uh-huh” as if urging you to get on with it. Yes, some listeners are impatient by nature, but if you observe such reactions from more than one-fourth of the people you converse with, the problem is more likely you.

The more times you answered “true” to those six questions, the more you need to follow The Traffic Light rule of thumb: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention. During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow—your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish. After the one-minute mark, your light is red: Yes, there are rare times you should “run a red light:” when your listener is obviously fully engaged in your missive. But usually, when an utterance exceeds one minute, with each passing second, you increase the risk of boring your listener and having them think of you as a chatterbox, windbag, or blowhard.

How do you ensure you’re seen as interesting not annoying? Try these:

1. As you’re talking, keep asking yourself, “Does this detail risk boring my listener, risk your being thought of as the King or Queen of Hot Air?

2. Unless you’re saying something you know deserves more than a minute, at the 30-second mark, look for a place to stop. If your listener wants more, he or she can ask a question. She rarely will. Try it and see.

What if you’re saying something that requires more than a minute? Break it up into segments, and after each segment, ask something like, “What do you think of that?” or “Am I being clear? Really?” The “really” is important because it lets the listener know that your request is not gratuitous: you really want that question or comment

3. Be alert to your listener’s non-verbal cues, especially as your utterance passes the 30-second mark. Does your listener seem fully engaged?

Remember, anyone who cares about other people must make them part of a conversation. And if you tend to be selfish, know that you’ll get more of what you want if you trade in your talk-talk-talk self for someone who truly listens as much as he or she talks.

Lest I be accused of not practicing what I preach, I’m going to stop this column right here. Anyone wish I prattled on?

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