Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Good Talking

Through the years I've had countless discussions with close friends about various social, cultural, and political topics. A few themes and ideas truly stand out as novel and interesting. One of these is good talking. Here's why it's original -- any bookstore or library in America has an entire shelf somewhere full of "business" or "self-help" books that advise people that in order to become more liked, better at sales, more influential, etc. they need to be better listeners. It's advice given so much that it's almost cliched -- there aren't enough good listeners out there, stand out by being a good listener, be a great leader by being a great listener, etc. However, not a single one of these books -- and I've read plenty more than my share -- ever challenges its readers to be better talkers.

Well, what is a good talker? I would argue that being a good talker has no correlation with how much or how little one talks. I realize this runs contrary to popular perceptions -- many garrulous people fancy themselves to be 'good talkers' (maybe they're enamored of the sound of their own voices), and many quiet people are perceived by others (often wrongly) as the "talks little, says much" types.

Instead, being a good talker means being aware of your audience and adjusting accordingly. It's all about reading a room and reacting to other people's expressions and body language. It's also having a basic awareness of what might interest your listener.

If I walked into my office and gave a ten-minute monologue about how much I used to love Lucky Charms, but now exclusively eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that'd be quintessential bad talk. Could I honestly expect anyone to care?

However, if someone was speaking about the Super Bowl to a room full of rapt sports fans, he or she could go on for an hour without even stopping to take a breath, and that would not necessarily be bad talk. In fact, if the room were really held captive that long, I would call that good talk.

This is a theme that I'll return to again and again on this blog. But the bottom line is that there's no static definition of what good versus bad talk is. It's always going to change based on the people in the room and the circumstances at hand.

If you want to be better-liked and thereby more influential in your field, listening never hurts. But if you want to really square the circle with empathetic communication, try focusing on being a better talker as well.

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