Steal. Cheat. Lie.
These are just a few examples of things most of us would never consider doing.
Interestingly enough, many people do not hesitate a second to commit a cardinal sin in personal, and particularly professional, life: waste people’s time.
In the merry family of time-wasting sins, one stands taller than the others. I present to you: Meaningless Talk.
To illustrate, I would like for you to meet my colleague Bill.
Bill is a nice guy who likes to organise and join meetings. During these meetings, Bill talks. A lot. The problem is, not much useful information comes out of his mouth.
It is quite brilliant when you think about it – the man can utter 100, 200, 500 words without saying anything. He sure would be a hard nut to crack if ever taken a hostage. Imagine how he’d traumatize the interrogator.
I don’t understand, this guy won’t shut up, but he doesn’t give us s**t!!
You get the point.
What troubles me is how it seems like Bill is trying to fill up a void resulting from his lack of genuine skill by talking a lot.
Ouch, that was harsh.
Let me reformulate.
Coincidentally, Bill could help us out here.
As a one-time, #SpeakStraight exclusive, I give you:
Bill’s Ultimate 4-Step Guide to Successful Paraphrasing
Step 1: Listen very carefully to what is being said. You will need to remember it, not to reflect on the actual content, but to use it as material for Step 4.
Step 2: When the person stops talking, make a sound to acknowledge that you indeed recorded the content, such as “hmmm,” “aah,” or “yeees.”
Step 3: Tell the person he/she made a good point.
Step 4: Time to get to work. Basing your discourse on the content from Step 1, this involves using any or all of the following tools: change the wording, switch the order of the arguments, introduce poor counterarguments and immediately refute them, add the occasional “like you said….” and “I agree that…”For optimal confusion, make sure that the ratio of original/added (useless) content is something like 1:2. This will at least add some originality to your statement.
BONUS (caution: for experienced talkers only): make people forget what you are actually talking about by introducing a slightly related yet completely irrelevant topic. Ideally this peripheral topic should be something that makes you sound clever.
So what are we actually dealing with here – Does Bill have an unnatural sense of grandiosity? Or is he simply – excuse my French – bullshitting?
Not so fast there cowboy.
The (unfortunate) truth is this: Using words to express yourself is not like breathing or sleeping – it is a skill that requires conscious effort, and as such, not all people master it.
Worse yet, we live in a culture that puts a great premium on being extrovert. Translation: the louder you speak and the more space you take up, the more you affirm your existence. It is as if we consider expression as something that should pay a dividend to our self-esteem rather than have value for the listener.
When you think about it, it should naturally follow that at one point during a given time-frame (unless you are the reincarnation of Socrates) you will most likely run out of interesting things to say. However, because you need to continue reaffirming your existence, your only solution is to fill the void with nonsense talk. It’s like keeping the bonfire going by throwing in trash once you’re out of logs.
So we have an urgent need to speak.
Coupled with a potential (read: likely) lack of skill to do so.
And a disregard of whether the message will have value for the listener.
We get time-waste.
So how then, do we deal with Bill and people like him?
Duck-tape for all!
Though the change in communication style will have to come from the person in question, there is nothing stopping you from giving a slight push in the right direction. This includes, for example:
- Not hesitating to make polite interruptions in the form of directed questions when needed in order to guide the person to the actual point.
- Being very clear on the time-frame, purpose, and goal of each discussion you enter. Clarity on the structure gives less room for useless talk.
- Not being afraid to stop the Bill in mid-talk if the person is clearly not contributing with any new information.
- Setting a good example, something that can help particularly if you are at a managerial level.
Though these things may seem difficult to do, remember that unless you feel like spending your precious time and energy on Bills, it lies in your interest to make an effort.
And finally, never forget that it’s the substance of the message, not the amount of talk, that will enable you to capture people’s minds and hearts.