Know when to stop talking

Good teamwork requires consultation, but keep in mind : by orating for 40 seconds you can thoroughly ruin a conversation. The traffic light rule can help you to stop on time. But there is more to do, such as: check why you talk so much.

We all come across them at work (and beyond) from time to time: the talkatives. Colleagues who, once in their talking chair, barely realize that you also want to say something. Or be blind to any subtle hint that you need to spend your time doing something else. Even if only to get out of earshot of that chatterbox.

Well, it’s also just difficult for most of us to know when you’ve used up the other person’s patience and interest and should stop talking. The traffic light rule can help you with that.

Your speaking time in three phases

Mark Goulston, much sought-after speaker and author of ‘ Just Listen ‘, distinguishes three phases in our speaking with others. In the first phase, we are hard at work as a speaker. We really do our best to convey relevant information. Succinctly. But then phase two begins: we unconsciously begin to experience that talking is a relief. It is a pleasant and relaxing activity. But we often don’t notice that the other is no longer listening. Then we get to the third phase – and it can take a while before we get there – when we start to feel that we have lost the common thread in our argument. That we no longer have contact with the other person and that we must restore this as soon as possible.

And what do we usually do? Instead of freeing the other person from our verbal hold by letting her or him talk, listen, and ask short questions, we start talking even more in an effort to regain her or his interest.

Why is this happening? First, for the very simple reason that every human being wants to be listened to. Second, because talking about ourselves releases dopamine, the ‘happiness hormone’. One of the reasons chatterboxes keep talking is because they enjoy that experience of happiness.

The traffic light rule

Goulston describes how, shortly after the publication of the first edition of ‘Just Listen’, he himself caused annoyance in a colleague friend by ignoring his signals to stop talking. And that colleague struck a chord with him when he said, “Mark, as an expert on listening, you should talk less and listen more .”

That colleague also pointed out to Goulston a useful way to develop more self-control in that regard and to be more effective in conversations with others. Especially in conversations with people who quickly become impatient and action-oriented, such as people with the Belbin team role Shaper or who are busy and easily distracted, such as Source Researchers.

The traffic light rule works as follows. In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is green: the person listening to you is benevolent, as long as what you say benefits the conversation and if possible, what you say is also useful to the other person.

But unless you’re a race storyteller, people who talk for more than about half a minute at a time are boring and often perceived as verbose. So the traffic light turns yellow for the next 20 seconds – now the risk increases that the other person will start to lose interest or find you long-winded. After 40 seconds your light will be red. OK, every once in a while you want to ignore that red light and keep talking. But usually you’d better stop quickly because you’re in the communicative danger zone.

Find out why you talk so much

Applying the traffic light rule is just the first step to avoid talking too much. What is your underlying motivation for speaking so much? Does it just feel good to just go ahead and vent? Do you speak to clarify your thinking? Or do you talk so much because you often have to listen to others? And when you’ve finally found someone willing to give you the talk time you crave, what else can you do?

Whatever the cause, giving a speech is usually a clincher for conversation and can lead to both of you falling into monologues back and forth. That won’t do your conversation and understanding any good.

One of the reasons why some people are long dusted is that they try to impress their interlocutor with how smart they are. Often to mask their insecurity. If this also bothers you, it is good to remember that if you continue to talk for that reason, the other person will often be less impressed.

Use a stopwatch

Sure, some people who talk too much may just not have a good sense of the passage of time. If this is the case, the remedy is not necessarily to gain more psychological insight about yourself. You can just develop a better internal clock on how long 20 and 40 seconds are. Use a stopwatch to keep track of yourself, for example when you are making a (video) call. You then get used to having your say as long as your light is still green. Or at least yellow.

Even talking for 20 seconds can be a turn off if you don’t involve the other person in the conversation. For that, you can ask questions , try to build on what the other person is saying, and look for ways to involve him or her in the conversation so that it becomes a real dialogue rather than a lecture.

So, our 40 seconds are up. So we’ll leave it at that.

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