Is it cruel to call people out when they talk too much?
I’ve been scolded (to put it mildly) a few times over my post "An Open Letter to People Who Talk Too Much." I hurt people’s feelings—one woman even said it made her want to kill herself. For that, I am truly sorry and a little bit frightened. I hope anyone who was that badly hurt will perhaps put it in better perspective: Someone you don’t know said something that made you feel bad. But how much do I really matter, in the big picture? Not so much. Your friends and family love you. To hell with me.
I keep trying to talk myself into retracting that ranty post—except I heard from even more people who related to my side of the situation, who understand that desperate and, yes, angry and trapped feeling we sometimes get when pinned by an overtalker.
It’s hard to know what to do in that situation. Trying to wrestle the conversation back into balance doesn’t always work. Sometimes I can do it, and sometimes I get a polite few seconds to try to formulate my thought and a blank stare when I articulate it. Then my time is up and the monologue continues.
Usually, I try to just go to a quiet place in my brain and let the words wash over me like water. That works for a while. And it’s probably the most polite way to handle the situation. But at the same time, it is not conducive to any kind of true connection. (Is that the point? Avoiding connection?)
I talked to Ty Tashiro, author of Awkward, for a follow-up post to the open letter, and he suggested some ways to get the conversation back on track—including being upfront with the person and saying something along the lines of, “My turn to talk.” With a couple of good friends, I have said, "Let me talk now." (Admittedly, not always in a kind and patient voice.) And that usually works. But I can't imagine doing that with a new acquaintance.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. It reminds me of a conversation I’ve had about people with children versus childless people (such as myself). People feel free to say to someone who has decided to remain childless, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll regret it?” But you would never dream of saying that to a pregnant woman.
How often do quiet people take heat for being quiet? How often are we teased or criticized for just sitting silently? Dragged onto dance floors? Told we have to get out there and mingle to succeed?
But have you ever asked someone to stop talking, already? Or told them that their chatterboxiness is affecting their social or professional life? Or dragged them off the dance floor and told them to just sit quietly for a while?
Nope. Because that would be rude. And mean.
But maybe it's OK if people who struggle with back-and-forth conversation hear what the experience is like for those of us on the other side of the word deluge. Maybe, even though it hurts—and I do understand why it hurts—it’s not so terrible if they think about what they’re doing and why, and consider how it might affect others.
If you recognized yourself in my open letter, maybe you can swallow hard and think about ways to rein in your anxiety to allow some air into your conversations. Maybe your loved ones can help you when you start losing control of your words. Maybe you can say something as you enter social situations that acknowledges that you tend to get wordy and invites people to butt in when necessary. Your audience is being polite when they let you talk unfettered. If you can lightly give them permission to slow you down, you open up the opportunity for compassion, and for genuine interactions.
Or maybe just start wondering what other people might say if you give them a chance. You never know--they might be interesting.
I doubt I’ll ever have the nerve to tell someone face to face that he or she talks too much. I just can’t do it. I can’t hurt someone who is right in front of me. And I’m sorry I hurt strangers, I truly am. But the experience of those of us on the other side of the wordstorm is valid, too. We needed to speak up.
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