Talking is such a natural act we tend to take it for granted. But when you think about it, this life skill is crucial to the development and maintenance of strong and healthy relationships. Our talking habits can also be very revealing of our personality. Some people talk too much – they are the kind of people you try to avoid at a party. Others avoid talking when actually it would help quite a lot.The following are a few suggestions for getting the right balance between being a talkative bore and a shy recluse.
When We Talk Too Much
Nervousness / Insecurity
Sometimes we talk out of insecurity and nervousness. We feel it is our obligation to fill any silence with conversation – even if it is mostly meaningless and conversation just for the sake of it. Often, if we lack a sense of inner poise, we cover up by nervously chattering. But if we have nothing interesting, worthwhile or important to say, we should not worry about keeping quiet. Don’t feel obliged to force conversation; be at peace with yourself and allow conversation to be natural.
Talking About Yourself
Talking about yourself is the biggest mistake people tend to make. There is someone at work who is terrible at talking about himself and his activities. If you go to ask for a paper clip, you will have to endure several minutes of hearing about his recent camping holiday. Do matter how much you fidget and signal that you are completely bored – he won’t stop his monologue. All you want is a paper clip, but you have to endure the tedious exploits of an Englishman camping in Provence.
The general rule for talking is that we talk to serve others not ourselves. When talking we should be offering something to the other person such as humor, information, consolation, entertainment… basically anything so long as it is worthwhile for the other person. But, if we talk only about ourselves and feed our ego, we might as well just be talking to ourselves.
Hint, look at people’s body language. If they are trying to make an exit, if they have their head in their hands, if they are staring off into the distance, or if they keep trying to butt in, it means they are bored with your monologue on your recent camping holiday. You can rest your vocal chords.
Talking about people’s bad qualities, perhaps even exaggerating their mistakes and foibles, is a bad habit. It is unfortunate that social and work situations often lead to people gossiping about others. However, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean we have to join in. The problem is that we often get sucked in to criticizing others when inwardly we would rather not join in. This is a situation where there is no harm in keeping silent. People will respect someone who can remain aloof from gossipy situations. If you criticize others at the earliest opportunity you will not be trusted, but gain a reputation as an unreliable friend. It is in situations like this where there is a great dignity in maintaining silence.
Running Commentary Watching TV / Video
Sometimes a good film can be spoiled by a ‘know it all’ who feels obliged to offer a running commentary. One of my favorite films – Lord of the Rings part II was ruined because two friends had a running argument about whether it was true to the book. “But, Gandalf’s horse wasn’t white in the book….” “Yes, but, I’m sure the Elf’s ears weren’t as pointy as that.” Does it really matter? Do everyone a favor and let us enjoy the film. One other example: the last football world cup was painful enough with England playing badly; but, it was made infinitely worse because my good friends persistent and repetitive criticism of the 4-5-1 formation. When things go badly, it is not necessary to repeatedly point them out, it only makes our suffering worse.
When You Have Nothing Good To Say
My Mother used to say. “If you can’t think of anything good to say about someone, then say nothing.” Useful advice, but, how many people put it into practice?
When We Talk Too Little
Ignoring Newcomers Because it is Too Much Effort
It is easy to become insular, we want to only talk to people whom we know. We tend to ignore newcomers because it requires extra effort and it requires us to step out of our comfort zone. However, this is a case where it is good to make an effort. Newcomers will appreciate our effort to extend a hand of friendship. By not talking to new people we become more self absorbed in a small circle of people. We should be willing to talk to new people and make them feel welcome.
In How to Resolve Conflicts in Your Relationships, one suggestion I made was that it is a big mistake to bottle up resentment about other people. If we have grievances about someone else it is often helpful to talk, even if it is not about the problem directly. Talking often helps to clear the air and realize that small misunderstandings are just that – misunderstandings and not a reason to develop a dislike of the person. As long as we talk with a good attitude, without anger and resentment then talking will help to alleviate many situations.
Sometimes we feel almost too proud to talk to some people. We have a subtle feeling of superiority that prevents us talking to people ‘lower’ than us. For example, would you talk to the company cleaner, and get to know them by name? It is a mistake to be aloof because of different social position.
Some people think that shyness has a certain cuteness. However, shyness often prevents us from expressing our real personality and from talking people we would like to. Shyness springs from insecurity and fear about saying the wrong thing. But, this is the wrong approach; as long as we are true to our selves we should not worry about saying the wrong thing. We shouldn’t feel obliged to try and impress others. Don’t let shyness be a barrier to talking to people.
Tejvan Pettinger lives in Oxford where he writes on issues of self improvement and self development. He updates a blog Sri Chinmoy Inspiration. Recent blog posts include The Unexpected Power of Gratitude.