"Your words make us tired." During a break in a workshop about fifteen years ago, an assistant teacher on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico said this to me. I know I'm a talker. I love conversation and I use words - spoken words — to help me think. I know there are times I talk too much.
It's easier to notice "too much talk" in others than it is to see it myself. I decided to write about it because too much talk is a challenge in our field of early childhood education. In classrooms we want to encourage children to use language. It is the foundation of literacy. We want young children to express their ideas and think critically. Yet, research shows that teachers typically dominate classroom talk and that too much of it is procedural.
When I observe teachers with children I want to say, please pause. During group time, invite children to take some time to think. Have them talk with a partner. Ask only one question at a time — one that invites lots of answers and then encourage many to respond. When working one-on-one with a child, share a simple observation. In a recent workshop, one teacher said: "My morning circle time always goes too long because I just love to talk."
Ironically - the pattern of too much talk continues when I when I observe coaches. They do the talking and teachers are quiet. I often suggest to coaches that they pause and talk less. What happens? The teachers talk more.
We know that the best conversations are a give and take - a back and forth balance between talk and listening — a genuine exchange. And when it happens it's incredibly satisfying. Yet the tendency to talk too much is prevalent. Here are some causes of talking too much.
Habit: For many, talking too much is simply a habit resulting from a lack of awareness. Deciding to listen more is a first step to changing the habit.
Anxiety: People often talk too much when they are nervous. Of course the opposite happens too. But when you're anxious about whether you are making sense, or you want to impress, or you feel nervous to fill the silence, you talk and talk and talk.
Anger or frustration: Some people become silent when they are mad. Others, talk more. The need to punish with words or continue to elaborate on the issue makes talkers go on and on.
Insensitivity: There are those who are so caught up in what they have to say that they forget the listener, failing to see the cues of the other person may give. The talker misses signals that the listener wants a turn to respond or ask a question. The talker's interest in her own ideas obstructs the ability to notice the body language, facial expressions or even sounds that the other person is antsy or ready for the conversation to end.
I have to pay attention to listening more and talking less. In some situations and with some people I'm better at it. Some tips that help me are:
Practice self-awareness. To use Powerful Interactions language, Be Present. Pause to prepare! Anticipate the situation. Who is your conversation partner(s)? Is she quieter than you? More talkative? What is the setting? A small or large group? An individual? Are you face to face or on the phone? How will you listen for cues?
Slow down. Sometimes people simply get excited and have so many details to share it leads to a monologue. But no one can listen and absorb so many details at once. Take a deep breath. Talk a little more slowly.
Allow for pauses and silence. Notice whether you are quick to fill a silence. Try allowing for pauses and silence and see what happens. When I'm with children in a classroom or if I'm coaching an adult, I'll write my observations or thoughts to help me remain quiet.
Be sensitive to cues. When speaking, listen and watch for cues that the other person wants to speak or move on. Watch and check in for interest and understanding.
As I was thinking about this topic, I read many other blogs about talking too much. Two that I found interesting are:
What do you think about talking too much? Do you do it? Or, do you notice it in others? Please share your comments.