Monday, August 18, 2014

WAIT - Why Am I Talking?

shhhh quiet

During my first week at Startup Institute, we discussed emotional intelligence, or EQ. The first and most important skill is self-awareness.

My classmate Nicole Nguyen shared a brilliant tactic that I want to trumpet from the heavens. It's called WAIT, which stands for "Why Am I Talking?"

Think you might be rambling? WAIT.

Sense some awkwardness? WAIT.

Feel like no one's listening? WAIT.

After you've paused to ask yourself "Why Am I Talking?", try answering these questions:

Who benefits from this conversation?

A conversation is only valuable if both parties benefit from it. For example, my friend and successful comedian Josh Gondelman hates it when people describe a crazy dream they had the other night. While it may be cathartic for the dreamer to recount their epic story, Josh gets nothing from it, since dreams aren't real. He resents the dreamer for being indulgent, even selfish. While Josh exaggerates this dynamic in his routine, he hits on a very salient point about how conversations should work.

Consider the topic of conversation. Are you providing useful information to the listener? Is this something that would interest them? If the answer is no, it's time to stop talking.

Who is hurt by this conversation?

Gossip is toxic. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! Because anything negative you say can and will be held against you.

Bad-mouthing people has obvious repercussions. If the subject would be hurt to overhear what you've said, it's best not to say it. Gossips damage their own reputation by degrading trust and confidentiality with their peers. Bad news all around.

Beyond gossip, there are subtler forms of harmful talk. Consider how the person you're talking to feels. If you're giving them criticism, would hearing what you have to say help them or hurt them? Are you the best person to deliver that message, at this time, in this place, and under these circumstances?

Also beware the back-handed compliment. For example, if you're on a team of 5 people, and you single out 3 of your teammates for public praise, omitting the fourth, that's insulting to your neglected teammate. Those you praised feel uncomfortable accepting such attention, and frankly, you'll look like an asshole. All things to consider.

Are people listening?

If no one's listening, you shouldn't be talking. How can you tell if they're listening? Observe the other person. Here are signs that they're listening:
  • Eye contact
  • Nodding
  • Smiling
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Verbal reactions ("mhm", "oh?", "huh")
  • Body language: facing towards you, especially if their feet/lower half are pointed at you.
If most of these are not happening, you've lost them. If you continue talking after all signs of listening have waned, you're wasting the person's time, and you'll look foolish while doing it. Once you notice their attention straying, you should wrap things up. Even better, strive for brevity next time.

Have I been listening?

It's tempting to want to share your thoughts and feelings and ideas with the world the moment they spring to mind. But first consider if sharing would be redundant. Ask yourself: am I sharing something new? Or am telling them something they already know/reiterating what's already been said/stating the obvious?

Live by the WAIT mantra, and you'll have more meaningful conversations with people that respect you for it.


Up next: "Sleeping Your Way to Success."

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