STFU - A Guide For People Who Talk Too Much

Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll say I'm a talker. Ask anyone who has known me for a few years, and they will likely say I talk too much. Ask someone who just met me, and they might wonder where you got that idea.

Years ago, I started to evaluate TTM Syndrome (Talk To Much... don't look for it in medical journals, it ain't there, I'm sure) and as I started to look at other TTMs, I was surprised.

Yes, my self-diagnosis started with someone who actually talked more than I did (and had less of a filter; something I wasn't sure was possible). Make no mistake, this was one of the smartest people I had ever met. In our more meritocratic communities (my work in Technology, for example) this wasn't (always) seen as a bad thing, but that kind of behavior doesn't foster brainstorming and creative problem solving in others.

So, in light of the fact that I just "talked too much" in the intro, here is a guide I made for myself. Edited and updated over the last few months. It was intended to be a book, but I feel just the outline is probably suitable enough for the task.

And, rare for me, concise.

STFU - A Guide To Conversation For People Who Talk Too Much
  • How to identify if you talk too much
  • Co-workers turning away from you and focusing on the keyboard
  • Family and friends actively disengaging
  • Walking away
  • Cutting you short
  • Steering the conversation to something else
  • Spotting the “I want to say something” pose(s)
  • Look at the people around you. Quiz yourself:
  • What do they know about you.  Your spouse? Kids? Hobbies?
  • Do you know the same thing about each of them?
  • If you have been listening, you should!
  • (this applies to all situations with a “repeat audience” such as
  • Work
  • Friends
  • Social gatherings (Church, meetups)
  • Do you catch yourself repeating stories to the same people
  • Their body language will help you know (or tell you they aren’t interested)
  • Do you know THEIR stories?
  • Do people not respond to your hints about stories you want to tell?
  • “I had the strangest thing happen”
  • *crickets*
  • or “I was thinking of traveling to Europe”
  • *more crickets*
  • Toxic talking
  • Never, ever, ever one-up the other person or people
  • Them: My daughter just placed first in a dance competition!
  • You: I remember my son’s first gold medal in piano
  • And guitar
  • And swimming
  • Never ever demean someone or minimize their situation
  • ...and my son tried dance, but said it wasn’t challenging enough
  • He didn't like hockey
  • Or make excuses
  • He had a bad coach
  • Remember,  it's about THEIR STORY not yours
  • Instead, ask more.  Learn!
  • What kind of dance does she do?
  • Individual or team?
  • How long has she been doing it?
  • (you want to excel at conversation? Try these)
  • Who else dances in her family?
  • What’s next for her?
  • I would love to see a competition
  • (check the creepiness at the door, however)
  • Don't bring up other dancers you know… it's THEIR STORY
  • Eventually you will talk about yourself. It's called “relating”.
  • But not now. STFU about yourself
  • Meetings
  • Confident people help other people drive their agenda
  • If all the ideas are yours, you are talking “wrong”
  • Maybe not too much, but you need to learn to “muse” and get other’s juices flowing
  • Instead of “devil’s advocate”, avoid the adversarial and try “how can we make this work?”
  • Pay attention to interests which people show.  Take notes on people, not just facts
  • If you need a reminder to STFU in meetings,  offer to take notes
  • This is an area with significant gender inequality. Don't make the ladies take notes unless it is explicitly their job
  • If you are a lady and you are often in this role,  and it is not your job,  you probably don't talk to much.  You may just be outgoing and organized
  • Or you are a control freak who is the only one who can do it right.  Different problem.
  • One-on-One’s
  • Start with them.  Don’t press your agenda first
  • End with them!  Your agenda should be designed to loosen them up and get them thinking
  • Close with “any time you need something, my door is open”
  • Make sure they understand that a one-on-one is not their only forum
  • DO ONE-ON-ONE’s!  If you aren’t meeting with individuals as needed (weekly or bi-weekly) you aren’t doing it right
  • Direct your leadership team to do one-on-one’s, as well
  • Look around you for other people who talk to much
  • TTMs in personal life
  • TTMs in professional life
  • TTMs online (Facebook, Forums)
  • TTS at family get-togethers
  • STFU so you can find these others (after all, they need to talk so you may identify them) and watch how people react
  • If people react positively, maybe they are just outgoing and don't Tom
  • Over time, you will learn the difference. See the next section:
Talkers versus “talk too much”
  • Not all talkers talk too much.  You do, though
  • Nervous talkers. Often talk too much And aren't very good at it
  • (A bad combination)
  • Acceptably gregarious personalities
  • Life of the party who draws people in
  • Engaging story tellers who “share the stage”
  • VIPs in the room
  • I was once told, before a meeting with 20+ people who outranked me, including a CEO, “she needs to be the funniest in the room. You will be tempted to, but don't even TRY!”
  • This wasn't a negative comment about her, it was appropriate coaching for me to know my place. Harsh, but true.
Friendly versus good listeners
  • Your waitress isn’t flirting.  It’s her job
  • This is so many other people, as well
  • Your coworker  or acquaintance may feel the need to listen for many reasons
  • Don't trap them or prey on their good will/politeness/timidity
The Impact of Talking Too Much
  • Echo chambers
  • If you are the only one talking,  you will tend to think others agree with you because of the lack of dissent
  • I believe this to be a characteristic  of many “old school” leaders
  • And annoying people on Facebook  whose friends don't want to start a fight
  • Resentment
  • From other talkers. They want to tell their story
  • From non-talkers. They may feel left out or overpowered
  • Your words carry no weight
  • Ignorance
  • You don't learn with your mouth open
Some Possible Causes to be aware of
  • Medication
  • Hungry for Acceptance
  • Arrogance
  • Just friendly, but unobservant
Your path to insane popularity (well, at least social, conversational acceptance)
  • Stop dominating conversations
  • Call out others to contribute
  • Use your words to uplift others, NOT to reinforce your ideas
  • Never, ever, ever bullshit your way through a conversation
  • Never ever talk over someone else.  Cede the conversation
  • Exceptions: oppressed groups should not easily cede the conversation (usually)
  • Ex: Ladies, examine the patterns in your circle. don't cede too much, but don't use it as an excuse to never STFU.  
  • I know it's a controversial statement.  DWI
  • Interrupt yourself to see who’s listening
  • Consider stopping mid-story. You may be surprised when you aren't asked to continue. I call this “a hint”. STFU
  • If they don’t prompt you to continue, don’t get butthurt, just stop
  • Listen to stories.  The second you find yourself thinking “I can’t wait until I can tell MY story” then you are failing.  Don’t tell your story.
  • In time, you’ll learn when you CAN tell your story.  Not now, though.  STFU
  • Go Beyond Active Listening
  • Don’t just “repeat to show you understand”, but ask questions
  • This means you may not get the chance to tell your story
  • ...which is just fine


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