I like to talk. I have been known to over-talk.
It is what happens when I go to the dark side. I have a strong point of view and I will let you know. And darn it, sometimes you don’t respond. My unchecked instinct is to keep talking UNTIL YOU DO RESPOND. The more I talk, the more impassioned I tend to get, the more stone-faced you will become.
I’m in the midst of conducting 360 feedback interviews on behalf of Bo, SVP of Sales for a global manufacturing enterprise. I think of my own character defect as I listen to the feedback. He lobbies too hard. He doesn’t know when to stop. He needs to shut up.
When I check in with Stephanie, the CHRO in Bo’s business, she says to me tongue-in-cheek: Things are going well with Bo. He hasn’t bothered me with anything.
Being habitually silent certainly does not work in a business meeting. We abdicate our ability to influence. We stifle our voice.
Also not pretty.
Choosing to shut up when we really long to talk is at times the most inspired choice. Silent not because we are afraid to talk. Silent because our silence will advance the conversation.
How do we know when it’s time to shut up? Here are 4 simple considerations.
- Does it need to be said?
Whenever you have a compelling urge to speak, especially when you know that your conversation partners may have a strong reaction to what you will say, do a gut check. Ask yourself these 2 questions:
- Does it need to be said?</em
- Am I the one who needs to say it?
If your answer to both questions is an unequivocal YES, say it. If not – it may be time to shut up.
- Has it already been said?
If someone else has already said it, I don’t need to say it again. If I have already said it, I don’t need to say it again. Trust that ONCE IS ENOUGH. Repeating the same old point again, no matter how passionate you are about it, is a surefire way of giving up your social influence.
When you speak because you wish to be an ally to the one who has already spoken, keep it brief. Because it may be time to shut up.
- Can I say it succinctly?
Here are 2 little guidelines to gauge an optimal level of conversation-contribution:
- If you’re telling a pertinent story, take all the time you want. Your story will live in the scintillating details.
- If you wish to make a point, make it in 4 sentences or less. Short sentences, not long rambling ones.
Even if the point you wish to make is complex, don’t unload all of the complexity on me at once. Deliver complexity one message at a time. 4 sentences or less.
If you can’t break it down for me, it may be time to shut up.
- Will it deepen commitment?
The biggest reason to NOT shut up is when I am certain that my speaking has the potential to invoke a deeper commitment to a course of action. Deeper commitment is rarely stirred by sharing more data or passionately stating my point-of-view. Chances are others have already done so. Commitment is more likely invoked by a powerful image, a metaphor, a surprising gesture that stirs the soul.
Don’t have a metaphor handy? Can’t think of a surprising gesture? Silence may be your golden choice. More blabber rarely is.
When I first worked as a corporate trainer, back in the 90s, I was mentored by two very different colleagues. Helen was a diva. She could spin circles around a message and was frequently entertaining. Helen held her conversational space well. Antonio was a master-distiller. He could convey a message in a sentence. The message was always essential. Simple and clear. Deep.
Antonio knew when to shut up. And when he spoke, it mattered. Antonio was the brilliant one.
Habitual silence renders us impotent. Strategic silence accelerates our social influence.
Be the brilliant one. Learn to distill. Know when to shut up.