But have you ever been in a conversation at work where the other person talks at you? When you finally have a chance to speak, you have the feeling they aren’t hearing a word you’re saying because they’re too busy thinking about what they’re going to say next. Have you ever been in a meeting that’s so completely dominated by one person that your mind can only ponder ways to make the person stop talking?
There’s a saying: “What you’re doing screams so loudly, I can barely hear what you’re saying.” This happens when someone’s actions are so overbearing – when they talk so much – they send a message (whether they intend to or not) that other people’s opinions just don’t matter. This type of conversation happens all too often.
What should we do when we encounter this type of situation? Here are a few things that come to mind:
1) Monitor yourself to see if you’re an offender. Ask yourself: Is what I’m about to say relevant to the conversation? Has it already been covered? Am I repeating myself? Am I only talking because I’m nervous or want to fill silence? Do people tend to lose focus while I’m speaking? Does the person running the meeting often say to me “let’s hear from some other people”? If at any point you find yourself answering yes to one of these questions, you might an offender.
2) Remember the saying, “silence is golden.” The silent space that’s created from the time we end our thought until the time the next person chimes in is an opportunity for better ideas to be presented, for team buy-in to be established, and for people to share thoughts that otherwise might be stuffed under constant chatter. In sales training, it’s taught that the amount of talking done by the salesperson directly influences the probability of closing a deal. You must build a relationship – which means two people must be able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation. And the invaluable time that businesses set aside for internal meetings can be much more productive if conversations are focused and people aren’t allowed to go off on tangents.
3) Always practice active listening. Can you recall what the last person said? If not, it could mean that you’re too focused on what you’ll be saying next. Active listening is the process of looking someone in the eye, being silent while they speak, and really hearing what they have to say. It’s the practice of keeping your mind focused like a laser on the importance of someone’s comments, without being distracted by your own thoughts, your cell phone, or your computer. If you can’t resist the temptation to check some electronic device when someone else is speaking, it means that you’re not giving the conversation your full attention. A recent study said simply having a cell phone placed on the table diminishes the chance of having meaningful conversations by almost 50 percent. (This is true for both business and personal conversations.)
4) Need help dealing with a person who can’t (or won’t) stop talking? Try giving them this non-verbal cue – when they go on and on, look down at the table or away from them. This usually causes a natural break in conversation for even the most talkative person. Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with someone who isn’t making eye contact? It’s almost impossible.
5) What can you do if you’re the one who can’t stop talking? Paste W.A.I.T. in a place you will see often. It stands for “Why Am I Talking?” The next time you are about to chime in at a meeting, you’ll be more likely to take a moment and WAIT – to ask yourself, Why Am I Talking?
6) Think about how often someone you know has intentionally paused after finishing a thought, and because they paused someone else jumped in to fill that silence with a thought that solved a major problem. Words are powerful tools, and the greatest leaders of our time understand both this and the power of silence between thoughts. They know that when both are used wisely, profound results ensue.