Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How Much Is Too Much?

My picture appeared in my high school yearbook over the caption, "I wonder if he much as he talks..." (another in a continuing series of Jay Trachman treasures)

I never bought that yearbook, but today, decades later, I know they were onto something...

I listen to an aircheck and I know instantly that h/she talks too much.

He goes from one thought to another, with a few diversions along the way, like a map-less tourist in the general area of what she's trying to say.   I have to play the tape twice before I can figure out his point. By then, I can hear her PD saying, "Just shut up and play the music already!"

I hired a new secretary and she talked too much. She babbled happily on and on and at first I thought it was entertaining. Then I realized her chatter masked a serious problem: she didn't listen. It reminded me of the old joke about how, for a teenager, the opposite of talking isn't listening, it's waiting to talk.

I have a relative who talks too much.

"How are you?" is an invitation to tell you, in the greatest detail, about everything she's done or thought for the past few days, without regard to whether or not you're interested. If you try and divert the conversation, she'll listen politely until you come to the end of a thought (or stop for a breath) and then pick up with, "But anyway..." As though your comments were an interruption. She knows they call her "motor-mouth." She doesn't let on if she minds; she even jokes about it.

And then does it again.

I talk too much. I'm the typical "Ask me what time it is; I'll tell you how to build a watch"... I enjoy talking; I delight in conveying my knowledge and opinions to anyone who seems interested...

Unfortunately, sometimes they aren't nearly as interested as I think they are...

Why do some of us "talk too much"? Is there a common thread running through us? How much talk is "too much," and how can you tell when you get there?

I suspect there's a defensiveness that runs through us talkers; it's as though, while we're talking, we're controlling the situation. If we stop, others may take over. It was clearest to me with the new secretary I had to let go after a week on the job. Ask her a question, she'd reply obliquely, as if she only talked on her own agenda. Bring her back to the question, and she'd take you away from it again until you practically had to grab her by the collar -- verbally -- and say, "Here is the question. Now answer it, for God's sake!"

My relative is that way, to a lesser extent. When she's talking, the room is in her thrall. She is controlling. She relinquishes control grudgingly, and only for as long as necessary. Her performing is a means of dominating. She is - in some strange sense - attempting to entertain...

What these observations in myself and others implies is that we tend to talk, not for the benefit of Sharing with others, but to control. To control ourselves, the people around us, our universe. When we're talking, we feel secure.

So what's wrong with that? What's the common mistake all of us talkers make?

I'll tell you: we forget about the needs, wishes and interests of the ones we're talking to.

Other people become mere dots in a carefully crafted constellation; foils, objects, targets of what we must do to maintain our security. Well, if your foil is the family member who would sooner die than allow you to think he's rejecting you, you're more or less safe. If the object is your boss and he's already tried to warn you that you're talking yourself out of a job, then maybe you've been doing this so long that you've forgotten how to stop. And if it's your listener you're babbling at - guess what? He or she has buttons on the radio!

The moral of this little insight? That talking -- for all people, but especially for we who do it for a living -- must always be measured against whom the talking is for and how they are likely respond to it.

How much talking is too much?

One word more than you are certain your listener will be interested in hearing.

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