Communication or Silence?
January 30, 2007 4:40am CST
Here?s a tip that a lot of us, myself included, seem to have trouble remembering: When you have nothing to say, say nothing. Particularly when we're new in an organization or when we're uncomfortable in a job or in a situation, there's a tendency to want to speak up, to speak up for the sake of speaking up, especially in meetings. We feel if we keep our mouths shut, people will think we know little or nothing about the subject under discussion. If we actually do know little or nothing about it, the desire becomes especially strong. Get me around a bunch of guys at a construction site, and I can't shut my mouth. In communications training, we call this panic blathering. The less you know, the more you want to interject something, anything, and usually what you interject proves just how little you actually do know. In an astonishingly short period of time, you can damage your credibility in a way that can take months and even years to repair. Panic blathering. I know it's difficult, but when the impulse to panic blather seizes you, take a deep breath and think before you speak. Weigh your words carefully and contribute only when you have something worthy of contribution. A penetrating question, or even an admission of what you don't know, is a greater sign of intelligence and even expertise than a transparent pretense of knowledge. Tip: No matter who you are or how new or experienced you might be, if you don't know, that's usually the correct answer. My father was an attorney and a man who had an answer for everything. Ask him to elucidate the difference between Einstein's concept of special relativity and just ordinary run-of-the-mill, day to day relativity and he'd give you a 20 minutes oration: without having any more of a clue about any of it than you or me. But he was an excellent attorney, trained at Harvard Law, loved by his clients, and if you asked him a question concerning the law, the response could well be, "I don't know." "I don't know," is powerful expert testimony. It makes everything you do know that much more believable. If you know where to find the answer and you can promise to do so, even better. "Let me find out and I'll get back to you on this by Friday, if that's soon enough." Then do it. When Gary Ames was president of U.S. West, whenever he was addressing a group and got a tough question, he'd say something like, "Excellent question. While I generalize for the next thirty seconds, Jake Hanes who's sitting out there in the back of the room, will be coming up with the correct answer. When I stop talking, Jake will give you all the specifics, because I don't have the slightest idea." When Gary Ames told you what he did know, you believed him.
2 people like this
30 Jan 07
Another one is "put brain in gear first and leave mouth in neutral". I do however like your phrase "panic blathering" as it is so true really and people do tend to say something to appear knowledgeable when in fact they know nothing and appear to be an idiot. My Dad used to say "sit back, listen and learn. Then you can speak if you have something to add but until that time you are better off saying nothing. People will think you are either absorbing what they are saying or that you are intelligent. Open your mouth and you will self-destruct." I have taken those words to heart and generally put brain into gear while my mouth is in neutral till I can understand what is being said.
• United States
31 Jan 07
I always heard that in a sales or other negotiating situation, "he who talks first loses." To be most persuasive you should speak your case and then shut up. The silence often makes the other person uncomfortable enough to get them to start talking just to fill the silence. In my own experience, it can be hard to do, because the silence also makes me uncomfortable sometimes, even if I initiated it! But it is very effective.
31 Jan 07
Um, okay. Ya know what? You don't have to be anyone special in order to have good diction and know what you're talking about. There are people out there who are very capable of talking, and making people believe what they are saying. You don't have to ask penetrating questions, and you don't have to contribute something only if you have something 'worthy' to contribute. You're basically telling people if you don't know the answer, then shut up. I don't think that's right at all. I think you should tell people that you don't know the right answer. If someone asks you something that you don't know, tell them that you don't know it, but you'll find out about it. I'm no one special. I don't have a degree, and I have a big mouth. But when I talk, people listen, and people come to me for advice from everything to getting out stains, to how to approach an employer, because I'm honest, and I tell them that if I don't know the answer, I will find it for them.
30 Jan 07
People talk when they are supposed to be silent, and keep silent when they are supposed to be talking. The trite expression says "little" learning is a dangerous thing and people often display their ignorance this way. There is an old Jewish proverb that says "Teach your tonque to say "I don't know"