When I was deciding I would talk no matter what—even if I stuttered—I was making a core decision not only to be heard, but to be understood. Looking back on how I determined to change things, I realized that was a key decision in the direction of my life—and I had empowered myself.
That I could express myself without the gripping fear of talking was a milestone. Very freeing, and something I’m proud that I accomplished. But once I was speaking like everyone else, I wasn’t so sure that the subject matter was all that interesting.
I found that I connected with others—and felt like I fit in—around shared complaints, so that I would feel like I belonged. “Aren’t they awful; Can’t wait till Friday; Can you believe she said that?” And, on and on. This kind of conversing is actually outlined in one of Dr. Judith Wright’s books, The Soft Addiction Solution. Yes, complaining and other behaviors are bad habits—and I’ve found they can be unlearned.
As I looked deeper at my dissatisfaction with my conversations, I found I longed for something more meaningful. It isn’t just how I speak, but what I choose to talk about that started getting my attention.
It’s a point that Julian Treasure, an expert on powerful speaking and listening, went over in one of his recent TED Talks, “How To Speak So That People Want To Listen.” I also relate this to having meaningful conversations in my networking—and his tips help me steer the conversation toward things that I find more inspiring. I’ve found I get to know people faster by talking about things that matter to me and to them.
Here’s a shorthand list from Treasure on what to avoid in his “Seven deadly sins of speaking.” (These are taken nearly verbatim from his 2014 TED Talk.)
1. Gossip: Treasure says that speaking ill of somebody who’s not present. Not a nice habit, and we know perfectly well the person gossiping, five minutes later, will be gossiping about us.
2. Judging: We know people who are like this in conversation, and it’s very hard to listen to somebody if you know that you’re being judged and found wanting at the same time.
3. Negativity: We all can fall into this. Treasure says, “My mother, in the last years of her life, became very negative, and it’s hard to listen. I remember one day, I said to her, ‘It’s October 1 today,’ and she said, ‘I know, isn’t it dreadful?’ ”
4. Complaining: This is the national art of the U.K., according to Treasure. It’s our national sport. We complain about the weather, sport, about politics, about everything. Actually, he says, complaining is viral misery. It’s not spreading sunshine and lightness in the world.
5. Excuses: We’ve all met this guy. Maybe we’ve all been this guy. Some people have a blame-thrower. They just pass it on to everybody else and don’t take responsibility for their actions, and again, hard to listen to somebody who is being like that.
6. Exaggeration: It demeans our language. For example, if I see something that really is awesome, what do I call it?
7. Dogmatism: This is the confusion of facts with opinions. When those two things get conflated, we’re listening into the wind. Somebody is bombarding you with their opinions as if they were true. It’s difficult to listen to that.
I follow these guidelines in most conversations now, and I have found my networking to be much more memorable. I feel so much more enriched when I intend to get to know others and what they care about. It’s one thing to talk and quite another to create mutually satisfying meaning in the process.