A Dose of Self-Deprecation
I talk a lot. My conversations with certain people (other talkers) tend to spin off into six hour summit meetings where we try to solve the problems of the world. Or, at least, our little slice of the world.
Lately, I’ve forced myself to listen more – not only to others but also to my own words. I pay attention to my tone, my word choice, and the general approach I have when I talk. In doing so, I’ve also begun to pick up on others doing the same thing. I guess it works both ways – you pick up on a habit or phrase and suddenly you catch yourself doing the same.
I give speeches
I tend to launch into a mini-speech, carefully making eye contact and presenting points. This happens all the time. It almost certainly comes off as “he likes to hear himself talk.”
I am a story teller
I try to weave a tale out everything, and I do a pretty darn good job at it. I use inflection, timing, evenÂ suspense. The problem is when the story is about something mundane – there’s no conflict, no development, not even a moral to draw out. This has the effect of leaving the listener hanging, like I told a joke and the punch line didn’t make any sense. Among my friends, such mediocrity rarely goes unnoticed.
I think out loud
A lot of what I say is practically stream of consciousness as I formulate opinions and come to conclusions. I don’t always think through my position before I open my mouth. But as I develop in my career and relationships, I have to be more careful – what I say will be taken a lot more seriously, so thinking out loud can come back to hurt me.
I try to solve problems
I have to admit, this is one of my worst listening faults. When a friend (or my wife) is complaining, I immediately jump to a solution. I offer advice, unsolicited. Not only do people rarely take the advice (not that it’s bad), they sometimes get mad at me for offering it. I realized two things. First, sometimes people just need to vent. They don’t want advice, they just need a friend to sympathize. Second, instantly offering a solution says “your problem is stupid and this is what you should do, duh.” People have a right to their feelings, so reactions like this are insulting.
I disagree with everyone about everything
This is an amazing trait that I share with John Nunemaker. I like arguing and have no problem voicing my opinions. But sometimes my opinion isn’t really that strong – or I actually agree with someone – and I catch myself arguing for the sake of arguing. I’ll call it “playing the devil’s advocate” or worse – I’ll pretend I actually believe it. I’ve gotten much better at not doing this.
What gets measured gets improved
By observing these habits and flaws, I find it easier to adjust. I ask myself “is this something I need to say, or is this something other people need to hear?” I force myself to take a few seconds to decide whether I really believe what I’m about to say or if I’m just reacting in opposition to someone else’s opinion. And for the love of God, I make sure my story has a direction before I launch into it.