Creative Leadership

Do You Talk Too Much? Here’s How to Tell.

Most people talk too much. That’s a given. People love the sound of their own voice, and truthfully it happens for a number of reasons. As Mark Goulston says in the Harvard Business Review:  “First, is the very simple reason that all human beings have a hunger to be listened to. But second, because the process of talking about ourselves releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone. One of the reasons gabby people keep gabbing is because they become addicted to that pleasure.”  But overly chatty people drive everyone else crazy. So how can you tell you’re talking too much?

Goulston gives us a formula for figuring it out.  He says that, “In the first 20 seconds of talking, your light is green: your listener is liking you, as long as your statement is relevant to the conversation and hopefully in service of the other person. But unless you are an extremely gifted raconteur, people who talk for more than roughly half minute at a time are boring and often perceived as too chatty. So the light turns yellow for the next 20 seconds— now the risk is increasing that the other person is beginning to lose interest or think you’re long-winded. At the 40-second mark, your light is red. Yes, there’s an occasional time you want to run that red light and keep talking, but the vast majority of the time, you’d better stop or you’re in danger.”

This is incredibly important because dominating a conversation can damage your likability. We talk too much for a number of reasons – the need to impress others with our credentials or expertise, the need to seem interesting, or out of insecurity. And Goulston’s assertion about releasing Dopamine makes perfect sense. But whatever the reason, if we don’t control our conversation, it will do exactly the opposite and expose us as a terrible bore.

If you don’t have the ability to read a room accurately and know when people are mentally turning you off, use the “Red Light” rule above. It’s a good benchmark, and could save you a great deal of embarrassment.

If you have any other suggestions for monitoring your conversation, I’d love to hear it.

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  1. Wow! Good stuff. Personally, I’ve not been much of a run away talker in conversation. My problem is that I tend to interrupt people so I can get a comment in. For years I’ve tried to monitor this and not do it, but I still interrupt some. Got any ideas to help me?

  2. Interesting. Does this rule apply to conversations with unknown people only? Because when I talk with friends, they and I are often talking longer than that and we are still listening.

    1. That’s a great question. I would say yes – in most cases. Certainly with best friends we’re much more forgiving, but even then, I’d rather err on the side of sensitivity.

  3. Some good points. Got a question. Does this mean that by listening to somoeone for any length of time one is encouraging addiction to Dopamine? I think the greater truth is we have a need to rediscover the art of being a real listener if our attention span is restricted to just 20 second blocks, that too is no less a problem.

    1. Ha! Interesting thought Oliver… I DO agree with you that we need to be better listeners. My philosophy is that I need to focus more on ME, and keep my conversation in check. The question of length ultimately comes down to how interesting a person’s conversation is – but sadly, most of us think we’re a lot more interesting than we actually are… 🙂

  4. Here’s to the Sound of silence….sheer bliss! Thanks for making us think. Love the provoking question!

    1. We should never be held hostage by people who can’t shut up. I use all kinds of tactics – I try to inject a word into the conversation, look bored, pick up a book, or physically turn away. I’m not afraid to say, “I have a ton of work to finish so please excuse me” and then walk. I don’t ever want to be rude, but I’ll walk right up to the edge… 🙂

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