Archive for September, 2009

Hear Yourself Listen

September 24, 2009

My highly spirited and extroverted 7-year-old daughter can be a good listener when the mood strikes her.  Luckily, she reserves most of her good listening behavior for school (lucky teacher!).  As with many kids, she has been reminded plenty of times that she has one mouth and two ears for a reason.

Children learn the fine art of listening early on in life.  They learn the importance of listening as it pertains to having good manners or in school as part of everyday rules.  Eventually, kids come to an innate realization that in order to feed their curious minds, they must stop talking at some point and take in what’s going on around them.  So why does this natural life lesson seem to dissipate throughout the adult masses?

Everyone builds insecurities as they go through life.  Some of these insecurities can grow from the lack of attention, or as a corollary, the need to compete for attention.  As a means to fit in, many people fight for their fair share.  More often than not, this seems to manifest itself in excessive talk.  Whether at a networking event, client meeting, or job interview, I’ve noticed a propensity for people to dominate a conversation.  They love to hear themselves talk.  Perhaps it makes them feel more competent.  Maybe it helps them feel more connected, like they fit in.

In my world, a great source of frustration comes from seeing highly qualified candidates blow an interview due to excessive talking, if not outright rambling.  Of course, it’s easily understandable how nerves can have this effect.  When nervous, many people risk morphing into a rambling talk monster.  Similarly, some hiring managers, who bathe in bravado and control, love to hear themselves talk on and on about their organization, business philosophies, and impressive record of success.  With all this excessive talk, how can one party learn about the other?  The interaction becomes lopsided, disjointed, disingenuous, and unproductive.  Under these circumstances, how in the world can people establish rapport and more importantly, learn about one another?

For candidates that may have a tendency to talk too much when nervous, I coach them to keep their responses concise.  The key is if it feels too brief, then it’s probably just right.  The two things to avoid are rambling and TMI (too much information).  For example, if a hiring manager asks you for a recent relevant situation that would demonstrate your ability to do the job you’re vying for, why would you take them to Canada via China, Australia, Antarctica, and Indonesia?  That’s rambling.  Likewise, in taking them to Canada, does it really make sense to talk about the number of times you stopped for gas, the weather along the way, how the lunch at the diner made you feel bloated, how many purple cars you saw along the way, and which of your favorite ‘80s songs played on the radio?  That’s TMI.  Try starting with the 10,000 foot concise answer and follow-up by asking if a deeper dive into the details would be helpful.

Excessive talking carries several unintended impressions.  It can connote a know-it-all, someone who doesn’t value others’ thoughts, or a low level of self-awareness/emotional intelligence.  It’s the verbal equivalent of body odor.  Just think of the effect BO has on establishing rapport.

Along with keeping explanations concise, the best way to stop or avoid excessive talking is to ask a question.  This forces you to listen.  Also, an interesting barometer to gauge talk quantity is to compare how much of the talking you’re doing vs. the person you’re interacting with.  Hear yourself listen.  And at the end of the day, if you’re listening, you’re learning.  If kids can do it (albeit occasionally), so can we.

Action items:

*  Avoid rambling or TMI by starting off concise and following up to see if a deeper dive into the weeds is warranted.

*  When nervous, if you reduce your talking to a point that feels like it’s not enough, it’s probably just right.

*  A great way to reduce excessive talking is to ask questions.

*  During a meeting, try to be cognizant of how much you’re talking vs. the person you’re interacting with.