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Mike Staver

Quality Insider

The Lost Art of Shutting Up

What all of us need to know

Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2008 - 22:00

It’s an election year in the United States, and if there ever was a need for clarity in communication, it’s now. Yet no matter how specific the question or how many times it’s asked, the candidates from both parties just seem to drone on and on. If you think you don’t suffer from the same problems as the presidential candidates, think again. You probably do, and if you don’t, you know someone who does.

With all the consultants and advisors the candidates are using to win their party’s nomination, you’d think that at some point there would be a briefing that started, “Let’s try to answer questions concisely and precisely during this debate and see if our numbers go up.”

Have you ever been in a conversation with a person who has already made his point but just won’t let it go? Worse yet, are you that person? Some people love the sound of their own voices, while others may simply chatter on out of nervousness or because they are uncomfortable with silence. Regardless, it’s annoying and counterproductive.

Many people unconsciously, repetitively make decisions to keep talking until the anxiety of silence goes away, or they’re convinced that the dead horse is sufficiently beaten. Underlying this behavior is often a lack of confidence and clarity around their point or position.

It’s a problem that can affect practically any adult. Parents notoriously say ‘I’m only going to say this once’ and then proceed to lecture until the kid’s eyes glaze over. Bosses drone on and on when their points could have been made in five minutes. Politicians answer yes-or-no questions with a monologue on everything but the answer.

Here’s the thing: Shutting up is a valuable skill to learn in business, in personal relationships—in all areas of life, really. By shutting up once in a while, you will appear more confident and intelligent to everyone you come in contact with. Plus, it’s amazing how much you can learn when you stop running your mouth.

Do you want to learn how to just shut up once and for all? Here are some tips:

    1. Be clear with yourself about what you’re attempting to communicate.
    2. Share with the person (when it isn’t obvious) what you want to accomplish.
    3. Avoid, at all costs, getting distracted by other issues, ideas, points, stories, and so forth.
    4. Use talk-ending techniques such as:
      a. Saying, “So, what are the next steps?”
      b. Using an example that sums up your thoughts (if it’s a public presentation). Then stop.
      c. Focusing on getting to the end of what you have to say in minimal time.
      d. Using as few words as possible.
    5. Give information in an amount the listener can reasonably digest, not the amount you personally feel compelled to share.
    6. Ask someone you know and trust to give you feedback on the volume of words you use, the degree to which you are clear, and the degree to which you are concise. It’s very important that you’re both.

It’s that simple. Once you’re comfortable speaking less and getting your information across better, shutting up will come naturally even to the most long-winded person. Start practicing today. You’ll be much less annoying and much more effective. Shutting up can change your life.


About The Author

Mike Staver’s picture

Mike Staver

Mike Staver is CEO of The Staver Group, a national team of strategic business advisors and coaches. Staver travels the country speaking to Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, and works as a confidential advisor to top-level executives and CEOs. His focus is on helping people move from where they are in business and life to where they want to be. Staver has a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in psychology as well as more than 25 years of experience. He is the author of Leadership Isn’t for Cowards (Wiley, 2012) and Do You Know How to Shut Up? And 51 Other Life Lessons That Will Make You Uncomfortable (Mac Daddy Publishing, 2008).