“I said I needed to work on listening more and talking less, and not interrupting. I worried that questions I asked about the substance of journalism can come off as being critical.”
Jill Abramson, Executive Editor of The New York Times, said this during her interview with Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger when she was campaigning for the job. Her admittance of areas where she needed to work on helped land her the job, along with her many other strengths as an editor. Jill isn’t the only person who struggles with this. Though women are often told we don’t speak up enough, especially when it comes to self-promotion, sometimes the best strategy is to know when to stop speaking.
In an Interview
“One of the biggest things that I do a lot of coaching on that is people saying they talk too much. It ties in with taking things too personally because when you hvae the tendency to do that or think you have said something wrong you try to make up for it by talking more and more,” said Lisa McDonald, a former manager with McDonald Investments and Merrill Lynch, now runs her own career transition and management company, Career Polish, Inc. “When we aren’t in control of something we get a feeling of uneasiness and if you see a look come across the face of someone you are talking to, especially in an interview setting, you take the cue as negative and try to expand on a subject you don’t know about.” The look that was construed as negative really may have been them just thinking that you brought up something they hadn’t thought of but now you are already trailing off. “Instead of backing out of a situation you are digging a whole deeper.”
In a Meeting with your Boss
McDonald said in a situation where you may be talking with a boss or upper management, trailing off on a subject instead of finishing your sentences succinctly can also hurt you. “If you are talking about your position then you have the power in the conversation and you need to take the ownership. If you think the boss is questioning something you said that is when you need to stop explaining and say, ‘I have a feeling you have a question or is there something you need me to clarify so I don’t waste your time.’ Take the control back,” she said.
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In a Social Setting with Clients or Colleagues
McDonald says it is very natural when meeting with a client, co-worker or boss in a more casual setting that it is human instinct to try to impress people. “We want people to like us and sometimes that comes across as telling them too much information, whether it be about yourself, your family or even the company. The main people will respond to is being allowed to talk about themselves. The easiest way in an interview or personal setting in a workplace environment is to make it more lighthearted. If you realize you have gone down a rabbit hole telling them too much information say ‘OK, I’ve talked enough about myself, tell me about you?’ Put the focus directly back on them. Ask them a question which opens the line for them to continue to talk. The more they fell comfortable opening up, the more of a connection you can make,” she said.
Another talking trap people fall into is when they may hear a client tell a story and realize they have a similar story. People tend to get very excited to share and cut the person who is speaking off. “You need to wait a few beats, make sure they are not just taking a pause and then speak. If you jump in on everything, they will stop wanted to talk to you because they will think you are more interested in talking about yourself. If you realize that you have interrupted immediately apologize and that will hopefully start to rebuild communication. It really is a dance. If you don’t let them lead the dance they won’t ask you for another one,” she said.
McDonald also mentioned being aware of how you sound when speaking. Many people, especially women, when they are excited or passionate about a subject tend to get high-pitched and talk really fast. I do this all the time. I could have been the third Gilmore Girl. But you really need to be aware of how you sound and make sure you are speaking clearly and succinctly.
CEO adviser Peter Bregman wrote a post for Forbes yesterday in which he provided some tips for how to really listen in both a business and personal setting. He suggested:
- Actually listening. This means not e-mailing, texting and surfing the web at the same time.
- Repeat back. This feels a little silly at first but works magic. If someone says she is angry about the decision you just made, you can say “you’re angry about the decision I just made.” It shows you’re listening and it communicates to the other person that she’s been heard. If you don’t have the courage to try it with an adult, try it with a child. You’ll see what a difference it makes and it will embolden you to try it with a colleague or your spouse.
- Ask questions. Explore the other person’s thoughts and feelings more deeply. And “You don’t really believe that, do you?” does not count as a question. You are not using the Socratic method to prove your point; you are trying to better understand what’s going on so you can better understand your partner in this conversation.