A simple reason for not communicating well? We talk too much.
Some might remember the lyrics to the song by Joe Jones, “You Talk Too Much,” popular back in 1960. “You talk too much, You worry me to death. You talk too much. You even worry my pet. You just talk too much.”
We joke about this tendency. Someone said “The only reason we listen is we know we get to talk next.” We smile but there is truth here as well.
The problem is that we humans are geared to talking, not listening. We like to talk about ourselves. When someone tells us a story or a problem, we instantly think of a similar experience or problem, and we can’t resist sharing it. Some people are masterful at redirecting the conversation to themselves.
I remember coming home from a month of mission work in the Fiji Islands, thinking this would really be interesting to tell people about. I found, however, that before I could tell my story, the other person would interrupt with his report on his five-day Caribbean Cruise or her trip to Seattle. Which are more important, right? But from their points of view, my introducing my story gave them permission to tell theirs.
If you want evidence of this challenge we humans face, keep a mental journal of how often this happens in a day. Or try it yourself. Can you resist bringing the conversation back to a similar situation you experienced? Must you share the great detail that’s so clear in your mind? We cannot resist without exerting great self-discipline.
I fear that I am guilty of this in my own conversations; I am acutely aware of this human tendency since I talk about it in my listening seminars.
If you want to increase your own credibility and build rapport with a customer, client, or family member, practice these techniques to avoid the verbal “one-upmanship” that this communication issue elicits.
Do not interrupt. Some cannot resist telling his or her own story in the middle of the narrative someone is sharing. Let the talker finish.
Pause when the talker finishes. He or she may want to add a detail, and when you pause the other person feels you really care about the situation. (You may not, but you can at least give the impression that you do.)
Ask questions. Instead of telling your own story in response, ask for more information. Try such leading questions as “What did he say next?” Or “Who else was involved?” Or “What time of day was it?” Or perhaps you can simply respond, “That has to be frustrating.” In the words of Naquib Mahfouz, “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”
Resist the temptation to tell your own story. Make the conversation about the talker. Simply listen as long as you can. My wife says she keeps repeating to herself, They don’t care about my story. They don’t care about my story. In some rare cases, the other person may eventually ask you about your experience and then you have the freedom to talk. And doesn’t that make you feel good about the other person? He or she cared about your opinion. That is what happens when you encourage the other person to keep talking.
Use this system of communication for a day and see how it changes your relationships with others. Remember the words of Henry David Thoreau: “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively.
Contact Steve today for priority scheduling!
(859) 441-6520 or email info@SBoyd.com