Note: I have not been writing much on content management because there are other aspects of my job that have been consuming my thoughts of late. Following is a bit of therapeutic writing to get these random thoughts out of my head.
This may be one of the most unnecessary confessions in history. I talk too much. If you ever met me it is obvious.
I know this is a problem but it gives me some comfort to know I am not alone. A great many of you do too. Specifically in the context of technical sales but in all aspects of business. Here are some thoughts on what I try to do myself to get better and how I coach others. And yes, this post is too long. I get the irony.
Answer The Question
This is my best advice. Whenever you are asked a question – just answer it. Then – for the sake of all that is holy – stop talking. Don’t reiterate. Don’t repeat. Don’t EVER use the phrase “in other words.” (I hate that phrase). The first words you used were fine.
Especially when you are in a role that requires answering technical questions, there is a risk that you say too much. This generally comes from a good place internally. We want to be thorough, transparent and helpful. The problem is that our “extra” information can create more problems.
The interaction usually goes something like this. “Can you do x with y?” The expected response is a simple “yes” or “no.” I’ll explain in a later post why “it depends” is not an answer. Your confident and clearly delivered yes or no should be followed up with “would you like me to explain more?” This is perfectly ok. We get into trouble when uninvited we begin to spin into monologues of minutia and options that, while they may fascinate and entertain us, usually end up just confusing the person that just wanted a binary response. We turn “can” questions into “how.” That is not always the objective of the questioner. Get permission before taking that leap and be as succinct as possible.
Recognizing you are going on too much is a very important skill for the hyper-loquacious. The warning signs are sometimes hard to interpret. To the untrained or just plain self-absorbed eye they can look suspiciously like you need to talk more. Once upon a time when we met in person it could be the slight head tilt followed by a squinting of the eyes. Clearly this person doesn’t understand so I need to clarify. More often than not YOU DON’T. The font may be too small on the screen but you misread and just brought up something that derails the entire conversation.
After giving your answer you must reengage. Don’t just say “does this make sense?” and keep talking. Ask for input and pause. Create space for interaction. Address someone by name when asking for permission to continue.
The most important lesson in all this though is to resist the monologue. It is the fatal mistake of both Bond villains and sales engineers.
Villains never listen. They are more interested in what they have to say than anyone else. You have to embrace a genuine interest in what your audience thinks and feels about what they just heard and respond to it. It is not always easy but sincere listening makes a difference even when talking to an antisocial software architect for a Fortune 50.
Lastly I have tactic I discovered many years ago when yes and no cannot be used. Answer in lists. If you are ever asked a complex question try and respond by beginning with “there are two (or three) things about that.” Even if you do not know what they are when you begin. It helps order your thoughts when speaking off the cuff. This pattern constrains you and keeps you from wandering because you have self limited in how many points you will make. When I get to two if there is another important point I make it but then I stop. Rarely if ever does an answer require more than three points in response. What’s more, talk more than that and most people will stop listening anyway.
Talking too much is a real problem I have struggled with for most of my career. I have train wrecked presentations, confused people and lost credibility from it. I have seen others do it too and it is painful to watch. To be sure, this is not something I will ever really get over. It is a daily discipline.
Lately, as I have tried to improve I have been asking myself why I do this in the first place. What triggers my monologues? Because this post is already too long I will continue that thought in the next one.
Next : Why did I REALLY say that? & Depends is a Cowardly Answer