To help you be a better team member, colleague and boss, I’m bringing you a pointed lesson in the art of being quiet. Today I’m conjuring up the spirit of Run DMC. To quote the immortal Rev Run:
You talk too much! You never shut up!
Run DMC nailed the heart of the issue with this verse:
You’re the instigator,
the orator of the town.
You’re the worst when you converse,
just a big mouth clown.
You talk when you’re awake,
I heard you talk when you sleep
Has anyone ever told you,
that talk is cheap?
Now let’s take DMC to the workplace. You know the person they’re singing about. It’s that guy on the team who can’t shut up about anything. Hopefully he simply blathers on about his antique smurf collection (and boy is he jazzed about the upcoming movie). More likely though, he’s the guy who is talking about everyone and everything going on in the office.
But guess what? YOU might be that person. If you are, you’ve got a big problem. First let’s discuss your symptoms then some ways to fix it.
Diagnosing the Issue
Do you have an opinion about everyone and everything going on in the office? I hope so. That’s the heart of a personal belief system and critical thought. Now let me ask you this – do you share all those opinions with others in the office? Problem!
Call it gossip. Call it whining. Call it backstabbing. Call it whatever you want. When you overshare, two things happen. First, you’re not giving others a chance to share their ideas, beliefs, or opinions because you’re too busy moving your mouth. Second (and more importantly) you’re not likely adding productively to the conversation. Sure, it’s great to have opinions about things but none of us is a smart enough expert to have solutions for everything.
When you blather on with your fix for everything in the world, people start rolling their eyes and thinking exactly what Run DMC said above. Even worse is when you don’t listen to the members of your team. They’ll be frustrated about not being heard. They’ll feel devalued and unmotivated. They’ll view you as a dictator (think about the Latin root of that word). And worst of all, you won’t know anything about them thereby hampering your ability to lead them effectively.
Solving for the Issue
I talk about shutting up a lot (probably because I have a hard time doing it myself). It’s hard to shut up. We like sharing our ideas, opinions, and stories. We enjoy the fact that others are interested enough in us to listen. But reverse that feeling – don’t you think those around you crave that same kind of feeling where they’re listened to?
To get to know your people, you need to remember you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. If you’d like more detail on how to understand their personal wants and needs, read more about knowing your people in this post. For an even deeper perspective on getting to know them personally by listening more than talking, this post offers some good guidance.
If you simply want others around you to think you’re brilliant, there’s an easy and elegant way to do so. Just shut up and listen. When others get to share their opinions and ideas, they feel important. You should actively solicit those thoughts from them and listen in an engaged manner. By listening, you can come across as exponentially more brilliant than you already are as I cover in this post.
If none of this resonates for you and you have that compulsive need to talk all the time about whatever opinion comes to mind, you have two choices: start writing a blog (moment of self-awareness: gee… maybe that’s why I write this thing every week) or just shut up and quit. No one likes to hear your complaining. You’re dragging all of us down. Don’t believe me? Try reading this for a deeper perspective on why you should seek greener pastures.
Have you found it difficult at times to keep your mouth shut (personal admission: I struggle with that all the time)? Do you actively monitor your talking to listening ratio in conversations? Do you routinely ask yourself “what have I learned from this person in the last 5 minutes?” and when the answer is “nothing” do you shut up and ask a question?
Shutting up needs to be a self-moderating behavior. It’s hard. How do you deal with the dynamic? Note – I’ll probably steal a few of your techniques to help me with my chronic non-shutting-up condition. And on that note, I’m going to shut up now and invite you to talk by sharing your comments below.