The Lost Art of Shutting Up

Published: Jan 24, 2019

It's an election year, and if there ever was a need for clarity in communication, it's now. And yet no matter how specific the question or how many times it's asked, the candidates from both parties just seem to drone on and on. Considering the multitude of consultants employed by each candidate, you'd think that at some point a briefing would start with the statement, “Let's actually try answering a question concisely and precisely during this debate and see if our numbers go up, what do ya say?”

If you think you don't suffer from the same problems as the candidates, think again. You probably do—and if you don't, you know someone who does. Have you ever been in a conversation with a person who has already made his point but just won't let it go? Worse yet, are you that person? Some people love the sound of their own voice, while others may simply chatter on out of nervousness or because they are uncomfortable with silence. Regardless, it's annoying and counterproductive.

Here's a simple truth: Shutting up is a valuable skill in business, in personal relationships—really, in all areas of life. By shutting up once in a while, you will appear more confident and intelligent. Plus, it's amazing how much you can learn when you stop talking and actually listen.

Here are some tips from my book Do You Know How to Shut Up? And 51 Other Life Lessons That Will Make You Uncomfortable (Mac Daddy Publishing, 2008) that will help you get your ideas across more efficiently:

  1. Be clear with yourself about what you are attempting to communicate.
  2. Share with the person (when it isn't obvious) what you want to accomplish.
  3. Avoid, at all costs, getting distracted by other issues, ideas, points, stories, and so forth.
  4. Use talk-ending techniques like:
    a. Saying, "So, what are the next steps?"
    b. Using an example that sums things up (if it is a public presentation). Then stop.
    c. Focusing on getting to the end of what you have to say in minimal time.
    d. Using as few words as possible.
  5. Give information in an amount the listener can reasonably digest—not the amount you personally feel compelled to share.
  6. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on the volume of words you use, the degree to which you are clear, and the degree to which you are concise. It is very important that you are both.

It really is that simple. Once you become comfortable speaking less and getting your information across more efficiently, shutting up will come naturally even to the most long-winded person. Start practicing today. You will become much less annoying and much more effective. In fact, shutting up can change your life!