A few years back, I recall having dinner with my kids, and at that time my younger son (who was pre-teen then) kept babbling on at the table about nothing. He seemed to have an answer for everything, and acted as though he had the bank of eternal knowledge and wisdom tucked neatly between his ears. And his excessive talking was making me lose my appetite.
As much as I wanted to tell him to shut-up, I couldn’t do it. At one point, I interjected, “Okay Cliff! We get it!” Of course, my son’s name isn’t Cliff; rather I was referencing the know-it-all postal carrier Cliff Clavin from the eighties sitcom Cheers. Obviously, being a kid, he didn’t get it.
So, I tried appealing to his pre-teen interests: “Son,” I began, “You want girls to think you’re smart and to get them to notice you?” (This is NOT my area of expertise; I was merely getting desperate.)
He paused for a moment and looked at me (but he didn’t say no!). I relished the brief silence.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” I continued in a subdued voice. “The less you talk, the smarter people think you are,” I said with a wink.
One might have thought that the irony of that statement might have given him pause to quietly ponder the notion for a while, like a mathematical equation. But not my son. Instead, he just argued with me some more, telling me how that didn’t make sense.
And on the surface, he was right–it doesn’t make sense–not really. But it is true nonetheless, and I tried to explain that to him. I was unsuccessful: in my effort to get him to be quiet, I only had him talking more.
However I did become reminded of it a couple months ago during a meeting with some colleagues for a local networking organization. The host of the meeting, when introducing one of the other guests (no, not me), described the attendee as a man “…who talks the least, yet says the most.”
He was being complimentary of course. Indeed, I thought it was a compelling way to do so! But it did remind me of that experience with my son a few years ago, and also drove me to question whether or not I have, at times especially when I was feeling out of my league, spoken so much that I have revealed my own ignorance. As much as I try to be a good listener, there are still plenty of times, when attempting to connect with another, when I catch myself talking too much. While no one can deny the inherent value in being a good listener, we should not forget the strong impression we can give by talking less, and choosing our words wisely when we do speak.
On the note of choosing words wisely, please come back next week. I will share the “smartest” words in the English language.