The Gift of Gab

There is a dedicated couple that lives in my town. I see them walking together everyday. Sometimes twice a day. They appear whenever I head into town or am driving home.

 

I cannot figure out their routine and maybe they don’t have one. I’ve seen them in the morning, afternoon and evening, sometimes two or three times on the same day.

 

Whenever I spot them, the woman is talking while the man nods his head. Her face isn’t always turned toward him but her arms are usually gesticulating as she walks and talks. I never see him talking to her, just listening.

 

I pointed them out to my husband one day as we ran to Home Depot. Then again on the way home hours later. Now he notices them too.

 

“Poor guy”, he said one day.

 

“Why ‘poor’”?

 

“Because she talks too much”.

 

I immediately jumped to her defense.

 

“Well it doesn’t seem to bother him! Maybe he finds her fascinating.”

 

Ok that response was snarky. My husband’s comment struck a nerve and when I thought about it some more, I realized why.

 

I, too, have been told I talk “too much” and the criticism stings.

 

In fact while cleaning out my mother’s belongings, my sister and I came across a box of our old elementary school report cards. The die was cast early.

 

“Jo-Ann must control her tendency to talk.”

 

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With a “quiet” sister, mother and father, I was clearly labeled the “talker” in the family. And apparently in school as well. Seeing the report card and remembering how often my seat was changed for talking to the person next to me, was a little embarrassing, a little funny, and a whole lot of validating. Since I’ve made a living being a Speech-Language Pathologist, it’s safe to say words and I are long-standing and fast friends.

 

I’ve actually become more introverted as I’ve gotten older. Although I’ll still talk to the person behind me on the checkout line at Shoprite, I save most of my talking for one-on-one conversations, and shy away from large gatherings.

 

Maybe I am the equivalent of the Walking Woman with my family and friends.

 

But being a talker and talking “too much” are not the same. I am comfortable being a talker. It’s part of who I am. So I started to think about what it means to talk “too much”. Clearly it’s a judgment handed down by the listener. But what specific behaviors lead listeners to arrive at this conclusion? One or several of the following behaviors are probably involved:

 

  1. To give more detail than the listener is interested in hearing.

 

When I talk to several of my friends, we engage in what we affectionately call “he said/she said” conversations, meaning that exact dialogue is recounted and repeated and many specifics are included in our stories. Not everybody appreciates this degree of detail. Some people prefer a summary-in-a-sentence strategy, with additional information supplied for clarification when needed.

 

  1. To give more background information than is necessary.

 

Whenever we tell a story, we are making unconscious decisions about what background information is necessary for our listener to know and what needs to be included in our stories. People who talk “too much” may provide information that is already part of shared knowledge or experience and not necessary to include. Listeners fill in gaps and we can trust them to intuit certain aspects of a story without spelling them all out.

 

  1. To talk about topics that are uninteresting to the listener.

 

I think we’ve all had the experience of nodding our heads to lengthy and detailed stories about subjects that put us to sleep. Sometimes talkers do not notice non-verbal feedback that indicates a lack of interest (such as a loss of eye contact, sudden busyness, increasing physical distance), and so they continue to talk. And of course, sometimes listeners are good at hiding their boredom out of respect or because they have good manners.

 

  1. To talk about topics that our listener finds uncomfortable.

 

Religion and politics have long been the “tread-lightly and in the right company” topics we’ve been warned about. But there are others. Unfortunately we might not know what they are. Sharing our dream vacation with someone who yearns to travel but can’t, talking about our children to anyone dealing with infertility, or gushing about the wonderful gift our adoring spouse gave us to someone going through a divorce are a few examples. Of course when people are private about their struggles, talkers cannot be mind readers.

 

  1. To talk about things our listener doesn’t want to remember or discuss.

 

Sometimes bringing up a difficult topic is intentional and necessary. I trust I’m not alone in processing and understanding an issue better by talking about it. When you do this with another involved party who prefers to simply move on, it can be an unwelcomed conversation. In that case, you’re not talking too much; they’re not listening enough.

 

  1. To think out loud.

 

Some people verbalize their thought process, no matter what the topic. Sometimes it can be difficult to sustain attention while listening to someone weigh pros and cons, advantages or disadvantages, and possible scenarios.

 

  1. To repeat stories.

 

Sometimes while processing an event, talkers need to discuss it more than once. Sometimes it’s in the retelling that we have insights, think of alternatives and solutions to a problem, or see things from another perspective. Listeners may not see it this way.

 

  1. To talk when it is inconvenient for the listener.

 

Have you ever had someone start a conversation after saying you were running late to an appointment? Not notice the meeting has started and complete the story in hushed tones? Or talk through a movie? Yep, talking without regard for time, place or situation could lead others to say you talk too much.

 

  1. To talk about matters that most keep to themselves.

 

I’ve done this and learned the hard way that some things are best kept private. Sometimes a journal or therapist is the better recipient of some thoughts or feelings. Of course if you’re lucky enough to have a person or two in your life that you can tell anything, and know they’ll still love you, then fine. I am very blessed to have those people in my life and I hope you do too.

 

  1. To be self-absorbed.

 

Did you ever have a conversation with someone who is just waiting for you to finish so they can relate it back to their experience? Somehow the conversation always comes around to talking about them no matter what the topic started out to be.

 

  1. To be a topic-hopper.

 

This is a person who jumps from one topic to the next without giving the listener an opportunity to join the conversation. The listener can even feel like she’s interrupting when she tries to contribute.

 

So am I the Walking Women? Maybe. Sometimes. When you’re a talker, it’s a life-long journey to learn the who, when and what of a meaningful, comfortable, responsible, and respectful conversation.

 

Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.

Ecclesiastes 10:12

 

I certainly hope and pray to use my words judiciously, from a place of wisdom and grace. I don’t always get it right, but I try.

 

One more thing. As numerous studies have shown, it is a myth that women talk more than men. From the classroom to the boardroom, study after study disproves this gender bias and misperception. For those interested, click here for an excellent summary of the research on this topic.

 

The last thing I’d want to do is reinforce a stereotype and certainly don’t mean to do so in this post. The Walking Woman and I just happen to both be women.

 

And neither of us talks “too much”.

 

 

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in these descriptions of “talk too much” behaviors? Any that I missed and should add?

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