We talk. A lot. Let's face it. I would even argue that we just talk too damn much. We are addicted to compulsive communication. By “compulsive”, I mean uncontrollable and unconscious. But it’s not just face-to-face conversations.
We have long, drawn-out meetings at work. We incessantly email, text and post on Facebook. We senselessly Tweet every 30 minutes throughout the day. We write long, rambling blog posts that could be more impactful if they were:
Shorter. And concise.
Writer, Seth Godin, is a great example of someone who is very lean with his blog posts, and yet has an extremely popular blog. Every sentence he writes is potent with meaning.
Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits, is another excellent writer who purposeful with his words. When I read his posts, it creates a semi-meditative state for me. His articles actually have a calming effect on my mind.
Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person does almost 100% of the talking? Sure you have. You probably just cringed a little now thinking about it.
Have you felt as though you could have replaced yourself with a cardboard replica, disappear into the kitchen, blend up a smoothie, return to where you were standing a few minutes later, and the other person wouldn’t have even really noticed?
They were so wrapped up in what they were saying, it's almost like they didn't even need you to be there.
Another odd phenomenon is that conversations often become nothing more than monologue-ing: Two people, each thinking out loud, not really engaging or listening to each other. They are almost having two separate conversations. Watch for this over the next few days. It's surprisingly common. And watch for it in your own behaviour too.
Our discontent with silence and our tendency to almost incessantly babble is a direct reflection of our inner state: Anxious and feeling emotionally ungrounded.
Do we need to communicate? Sure. Is talking about our fears, problems, dreams, and events in our lives a useful thing to do? Yep. Is it helpful to have another person listen to us, to be our sounding board? Definitely.
What I'm suggesting is that we become more balanced in the way we communicate.
Calm, confident people do not need to be talking all the time. They don’t need to have an audience. They don’t need to be acknowledged, praised, or even listened to. They work on being grounded and they cultivate purpose.
They choose their words carefully and they use communication thoughtfully. They listen a lot more than they talk. They enjoy listening to people and being supportive. Of course, there are reasonable limits to how long a person can sit and listen, depending on their time-constraints and energy. To truly listen to another person is worth cultivating, but it can be energy-consuming at times. As always, it's all about striking a balance that feels right for you.
We are often frantic and scattered in our communication. Our verbal communication mirrors the way we think.
Is it possible to be purposeful, serene and organized in thought, but be a babbling mess verbally? Not likely.
If you’re scattered and inattentive when you speak, you are most likely scattered in your thought processes.
Being addicted to over-communicating also keeps the unhealthy aspects of your ego alive and kicking - kind of like a spoiled toddler. We talk because we want attention and praise. We talk because we hate to be ignored, even for a minute. We talk because we're full of doubt and need reassurance.
It can be difficult to see why we over-communicate because it is often very unconscious. We don’t think to ourselves, “I’m going to dominate this conversation because I want to feel acknowledged.” or “I’m going to text Sarah because I want to make sure that she still cares about me.” (even if we just spoke earlier that day).
There's an underground, somewhat invisible force directing our outer actions and behaviour. Watch for it and begin to understand what's really happening inside you, what's driving you. Watch those squirrelly thoughts, those illusory stories that have no basis in reality.
Take a breath. Think. Before you decide to speak. Quite often, you will realize that you don't even need to say anything.
The practice of restraining my speech has helped me so much in avoiding creating negative interactions and in managing negative interactions that have come up.
A dedicated Buddhist teacher introduced me to this filter:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
If you get a “no” answer for any of the questions, then don’t say it! Hard to do? Maybe. Worth it? Definitely.
Work towards developing more restraint and verbal self-discipline. If you can successfully do this, you will develop great inner strength. You will become a better thinker, a better communicator. People will love the fact that you are present and truly listening to them. Not just waiting for your turn to speak. You will feel less inner struggle to always be demanding other people’s attention.
Apply these ideas throughout your day and watch your relationships begin to flourish.
I'll leave you with this Japanese zen scroll:
There is really nothing you must be.
And there is nothing you must do.
There is really nothing you must have.
And there is nothing you must know.
There is really nothing you must become.
However, it helps to understand that fire burns,
and when it rains, the earth gets wet.
See? That's what I'm talking about.
Ok, I'll shut up now.