How to stop myself from talking?
August 31, 2017 3:23 PM   Subscribe

When I try to argue a position or advocate for myself, I blather on and on so the message gets lost and I lose credibility. How do I keep things concise?

I've noticed it's especially bad if I'm not feeling heard, but it doesn't help matters when I just keep saying the same things over and over. Had anyone else experienced this and conquered it? Thanks for your thoughts!
posted by bighappyhairydog to Human Relations (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I do this sometimes. Anxiety and uncertainly about my point can cause me to ramble.

In the perfect situation, I can prepare beforehand by thinking about the conversation, the position and personality of the other party, what's most important for me to convey and the most effective way to present my message.

However I usually find myself only recognizing after the fact that I flubbed an opportunity. It's often okay to go back and say "X is really important to me. I was not sure that came through in the conversation, so I wanted to circle back."

If I've inadvertently screwed up by offending someone who is rather sensitive to criticism while trying to make what I felt was a valid point, it has sometimes worked to wait a while for it to blow over, and then go back and make the same point in a non-critical way. For me this applies primarily at work.

Assuming that anxiety is the primary issue here, but not knowing much about how that works for you, there are tons of resources on managing anxiety and grounding yourself.
posted by bunderful at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Practice. Literally rehearse. It's best if you can do it with another person (maybe you and someone else with a similar problem can practice together) and not just practicing high-stakes topics but literally do debates where you just need to take A Position on something and speak on it with the goal of making a concise point.

You will start to get a feel for the rhythms and patterns of persuasive speech, the more you do it, and you'll train your brain to prioritize information more quickly and proficiently in the moment.

It may help to watch videos of people doing it, too. TED talks are great for this because they're prepared but time-limited and use a lot of the same techniques.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Read poetry to learn where to stop and breathe and emphasize and slow down, not in that order.
posted by vrakatar at 4:21 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay, this is me to some extent. I think this comes from two things for me. One, I'm an external processor. That is, I think things through best as I'm talking them out, rather than thinking it all out in my head before speaking. As such, I find myself refining it as I go along. Second, I feel as if I can say something just right, I might be able to be persuasive. If the person I'm talking to isn't very much into non-verbal (or even verbal) feedback, it feels like I haven't been persuasive, and I have a temptation to tweak and say it again.

I think what's helped me over time is internalizing a couple of things. If I talk slower and more quietly, people actually seem to listen more attentively. I think this has taken some of the pressure off. Also, I've internalized this idea: the person who talks the most sometimes "loses." Saying more with an economy of words is sometimes (sometimes) received better. Have you ever noticed that those who talk less are sometimes perceived as more intelligent? Or that if people blather on and on with an excuse, you start to doubt its veracity? It's not the same thing, but it's the same "species" of reaction to perceived overtalkativeness. (This isn't the same as really enjoying talking, by the way. Talking is a healthy past-time that some people enjoy indulging in quite a bit. I'm thinking primarily of talking that is a "spinning of wheels" in a situation in which something is at stake.)

Also, I've learned that over-advocating for myself is a thing. I've had to learn to be okay with not having everyone think correctly about me. There is a discipline of "silence" that has been around for awhile in some religious communities. What I discovered recently was that we have a certain perception of why this is practiced (as if not talking is itself a sort of virtue). However, there has been a long tradition of practicing it in a way that counteracts defensiveness, or the need to always be seen in the best light possible, and as such, feel a need to educate others on our correct motives, intentions, etc. So, the idea is that we don't necessarily stop speaking for long periods of time. But we hold off on speaking when we perceive our intentions as being a bit overly defensive. The more we practice, the more we realize that the world doesn't fall apart if I'm not constantly defending my ideas or my reputation. I'm not sure if that is any inclination for you, but I've found it really helpful for me: simply learning to be okay with not having the world and its perceptions of me being perfectly aligned to my preferences.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:32 PM on August 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure you have people around you that are willing to hear where you're coming from. I can be really guilty of this, and therapy helped a lot. It helped me create a distinction between needing to be heard and needing [x] action. I need both, but I don't need both from the same person.

I don't think you specifically need therapy. I'm there for other anxiety related symptoms, and this was somewhat incidental. I found that I would always discuss issues in my life in a way that would minimize my problems, and my friends would mirror that back to me. It could always be worse, first world problems, etc. But my therapist would have none of that, since we were specifically there to deal with my issues.

The end result pre-therapy was that problem solving wasn't just problem solving, but the only time I was really acknowledging that something needed to happen. So I was shoehorning the emotional labor in with the practical labor, and with someone who was usually not equipped or appropriate to do that emotional labor piece. Once I felt comfortable knowing I could whinge to my therapist about hurtful but not end of the world problems, I didn't need that from the authority people in my life.
posted by politikitty at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding practicing. Practice making a concise point and then sitting in uncomfortable silence. Practice making a concise point and have someone tell you youre wrong and still sit in silence before disagreeing. Practice being the one who can hold a silence longest. You'll be surprised by the power you'll earn. But it is hard. So task your friends with testing you until you get good at holding the silence.
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 4:49 PM on August 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When you feel like you're not being heard, there's usually some truth to it: the other person is not convinced or doesn't think your stance is warranted, and is unwilling to listen. So I suggest playing a bit of a mind trick...
1. Ask them questions about the situation that might make them see it from your point of view without letting on that youre arguing. For example: what do you think we need to do to make X happen? What is a better way to do X considering that there's a roadblock of Y? I feel this works because most people need to convince themselves and they do this when they think they thought of an idea themselves.

2. Just be silent and listen. Know when to choose your battles. Tough to do sometimes but it saves energy and you might learn something new in the long run...
posted by watrlily at 5:08 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: I tend to do this too, I particularly have battled this bad habit with speaking in metaphor (I am a songwriter, so... it comes naturally). Then I find at the end of some of these rambly, lofty journeys through my thoughts, I look at whomever I'm speaking to and find myself saying "did I lose you?" and they just nod, wide eyed.

I also often form my thoughts as I am talking, and then -- oh this really relevant other thing just popped in my brain so let me take you on a tangent -- but don't worry, I'm getting to the point, I promise...

So - I feel your pain.

There is very good advice here about planning in advance, and practicing, and remembering to listen. Some things that have worked for me in the past have been to:

- Think about the person that I am about to talk to. What do I want them to know? What do I want them to walk away from our conversation understanding? What can I illuminate for them? How do I think they are most likely to hear me, and listen to me?
- What do I think this person might want to tell me? Have I listened to them the last few times we've spoken? Do they think I am hearing them? What makes them feel like they've been heard?
- Write down the key points I want to get across.
- Isolate things that I might want to say, but really should not. Agree with myself to "not go there".

- It's cheesy but the old addage to say something plainly, and then count to 10 before saying anything else can really work.
- Remind myself that awkward silences are better than torpedoing my point. It's ok to just let something sit out there for a while until I can think of the right thing to say next.

So, what if you don't know what to plan for, or how to prepare, or what you should be focusing on? There are several books about how to better advocate for yourself or your position, give 'em a read or a listen!

I enjoyed Crucial Conversations.

People have recommended Difficult Conversations and Radical Candor to me, though I haven't had a chance to pick them up.

I would also recommend working on thinking of yourself as a direct communicator. When I have a tough conversation coming up, I often prepare by thinking of what message I really want to land, and then just repeating to myself:

"I value direct communication."
"I don't speak in metaphors."
"I don't need to fill awkward silences."

Good luck!
posted by pazazygeek at 5:56 PM on August 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I also want to point out that your question here is beautifully short and to the point and very likely to garner lots of helpful answers. You are probably better at advocating for yourself than you think. :)
posted by pazazygeek at 5:58 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: Where you think you might have more control of a conversation consider writing a script.

My wife taught me this method when a washing-machine guy tried to rip us off by overcharging. She basically walked him up the garden path and we didn't get ripped off. I do it quite often where I have an interview, and sometimes for cold-call face-to-face sales. Even if things get derailed you always have a mental blueprint to get you back on the rails.
posted by unearthed at 8:00 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: If part of the problem is that you have a LOT of reasons why your point is valid then force yourself to remember (and yes, practice), it is much better to make ONE point very well than to make EVERY point.

Hit 'em with your big gun. Leave the pea shooters at the door. Then be quiet and let them ponder.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 8:18 PM on August 31, 2017

Best answer: no matter the approach. this takes practice, repetition. also - and this is key - listen to yourself as you talk. there is a lot of information there. it's harder than it sounds.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:47 AM on September 1, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you! So much great food for thought here. This gives me lots to work on!
posted by bighappyhairydog at 1:10 AM on September 1, 2017

Best answer: Think of the silence as being just as persuasive as the words. It's influential to suggest an idea gently (some of the most powerful leaders I know do this), and reiteration can dilute the impact of your message. So it might help you to cut off the flow of words if you think of the quiet space between them as just as important. Give people space to listen, think, process.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:12 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Neither of these are conversation-based methods of improvement, but I've found that public speaking training and writing for publication has really improved my ability to speak in concise and persuasive ways at a personal, daily level.

You can find public speaking training through Toastmasters - most TM clubs actually have a "traffic light" style timer for all speeches. As you work through the program, you'll almost certainly get better at organizing your thoughts in a coherent way and coming in at the accepted time.

If you find some writing outlets that go beyond blogging, where it involves some kind of peer review and/or editor, you will learn how to kill your darlings.

In other words - sometimes finding indirect ways to learn how to form your internal thoughts into public messaging can go really far in terms of improving your conversational skills.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:18 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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