Let’s start out with a confession: my childhood nickname was “Mighty Mouth.” Turns out I’m still a talker. And a writer, which is why I force myself to keep my weekly blogs to a maximum of 500 words.
According to Patricia Marx, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, “One false word, one extra word, and somebody’s thinking about how they have to buy paper towels at the store. Brevity is important. If you’re going to be longwinded, it should be for a purpose. Not just because you like your words.”
It seems that everywhere I look, people are telling their stories. From “Shark Tank” to “American Idol” to every single cooking competition show I’ve ever watched (and believe me, I’ve watched a gazillion of them), the stories are what connect us to the storytellers.
This challenges me. How do we tell our stories without talking too much?
Recently, and for reasons I won’t explain here, I’ve become hyper-aware of my own “Mighty Mouth.” I am now paying attention to whether I am talking over people (sometimes), whether I tend to dominate most conversations (hopefully not), whether I interrupt others (yes, but with an apology for doing so), and whether I tend to say mean or offensive things (practically never). I’m also able to acknowledge that not everyone enjoys conversation.
Proactively, and in anticipation of writing this piece, I did quite a bit of research. Condensing several hours of reading into a few sentences (yes, Nancy, brevity is your friend) has been both challenging and interesting. The main thing I’ve learned is that excessive talking can either be a personality trait, or it can be a symptom of something else. In my case, I’ve decided it’s a personality trait. I’m an extrovert.
Talking too much can sometimes be attributed to social anxiety, narcissism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD-HD), or bipolar disorder. Any diagnosis should be made by a mental health professional, and not by an extroverted divorce mediator!
When sharing our stories, I think it’s beneficial to take a look at our audience. I remember being asked to speak to a group of middle school students about mediation. Instead of mentioning divorce, I focused on resolving conflicts in a peaceful, collaborative manner. They paid attention, and even asked me some follow-up questions.
On the other hand, when I spoke in front of a group of senior citizens about family conflict, my storytelling was more specific. I shared an example of a family who came to me after the father passed away, and his adult children were at odds with their stepmother for selling their childhood home. I went into detail about the forks, knives, and spoons (literally) because I perceived that my audience was engaged, and they were identifying with the story.
Is it sometimes a challenge for me to talk less? Yes. Do I give an adequate opportunity for others to chime in? I hope so.
In fact, I’m going to do that right now.