Think of someone who's long-winded (we all know such people). Chances are you also think of him or her as boring and self-absorbed. But is it possible people think you are a long-winded Benny Blowhard or Chatty Cathy? The more questions to which you answer yes, the more concerned you should be.
First, the problem. Do your pronouncements routinely exceed one minute? Do you wander off on tangents rather than staying on topic? Do your listeners often show signs of lack of interest, such as fidgeting, looking away, interrupting you or frequently saying "uh-huh" to push you to get on with it? Yes, some people are poor listeners by nature. But if you observe a lack of interest among more than a fourth of the people you converse with, the problem is more likely you.
At work, do you talk a lot about non-work-related matters? Your co-workers are probably not very interested in hearing about your home renovations or your child's soccer game. Are you detail-oriented? Such people often blather about things that are important to them but that bore the pants off the typical listener. Are you able to come up with many ideas on the fly and want to express them all in one fell swoop? At work, do people tend to look away from you when you walk by because they're afraid you'll bend their ear for ten minutes?
Have your close friends and relatives ever called you oblivious, self-absorbed, narcissistic, selfish or egocentric? A conversation is not a monologue -- it's about sharing and paying attention to the needs of the person you're talking to.
Recognize that you'll pay a big price for talking too much at work. You will be held in low esteem and will be less likely to have close friends. Some bigmouths believe it's worth the price -- talking is pleasurable and helps them clarify their thoughts. But you should consciously decide, perhaps on a case-by-case basis, whether it's worth the price.
Now, some remedial advice. Keep saying to yourself, Be concise! As you're talking, ask yourself whether you might be boring your listener. Recognize that you're probably rationalizing that your long stories are interesting. Details and tangents are usually much more fascinating to you than they are to your listener.
Be alert to your listener's nonverbal cues, especially as you talk past the 30-second mark. Does your listener seem fully engaged? Remember that most people would rather talk than listen. Writer Fran Lebowitz says, only half-jokingly, "There is no listening. There's just waiting for the other person to stop talking."
Adopt the traffic-light rule when you talk. During the first 30 seconds, the light is green and your listener probably isn't bored. During the next 30 seconds, the light is yellow -- your risk of annoying the listener increases. Look for a place to stop. After 60 seconds, the light is red. There may be rare times when you should run a red light -- for example, when you're sharing a fascinating anecdote -- but, usually, you'd better stop.
When you pause, pose a question, such as, "What do you think?" or "Am I being clear -- really?" Adding really gives your listener permission to admit that he or she didn't understand or wasn't paying attention.
A rule of thumb. If, in any conversation, you're speaking more than 60% of the time, you're talking too much. Fifty percent is better. Thirty to forty percent is usually best.
Remember: If you care about other people, you'll make them part of the conversation. And if you tend to care more about yourself, know that you'll get further if you trade in your jibber-jabber self for someone who truly listens. Think of it this way: Big talkers learn little. Good listeners learn a lot.
Columnist Marty Nemko, PhD, is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies. Visit his Web site at www.martynemko.com.