It never ceases to amaze me how many people can speak without saying anything at all. I know quite a few of them and sometimes I am one of them. Here, in writing, I can cut words and delete paragraphs so as to get my points across as concisely as possible. Conversation can be more difficult.

My dad has always been a fan of saying as much as he can in as few words as possible. It wasn’t until I let my cousin edit a story I’d been writing that the lesson really stuck. She crossed out nearly every adverb, extra description, and many of my speech tags. I don’t remember her exact words but it was along the same lines as my father’s advice: eliminate the unnecessary to get to the point.

It’s solid writing advice. It’s a good way to edit your first couple drafts because it lets you get down to the absolute bare bones of a story. You get to see exactly what’s needed for your work and then your second or third draft can be fleshed out as opposed to needing both cutting and fleshing at the same time.

I have a habit of thinking out loud during conversation. This means that there are a lot of moments where I repeat myself, in different ways, because I’m still thinking about it. Or I’ll stop the whole conversation and stare into the distance as I repeat it in my head to get the right vocabulary and inflection. I also talk to myself, usually when I’m driving alone so that I don’t have to think so hard when I am in conversation. Essentially, I’m figuring out how to say what I want in the way easiest for others to understand. I do it with blog post ideas a ton.

I do catch myself when I start the repetition and I think, for the most part, some repetition is okay as long as it’s clear you’re trying to say something with different connotations. So I’m always working on it.

There are those, however, who really don’t even try.

It’s not even that they repeat themselves, it’s more that they have nothing to say but keep talking. You know who I’m talking about. You’re telling a story about some hilarious misunderstanding you had with your grandma to illustrate your feelings on the generation gap and they suddenly break in with a story about their cat. The cat has nothing to do with the generation gap, it’s not a funny or particularly interesting tale, and it isn’t furthering the conversation. It’s actually slowing the discussion to a crawl. You try to guide the topic back to generational divide but somehow they come up with another completely unrelated story.

They’re conveying information but that information is not entertaining, educational, or thought-provoking. It’s not doing anything productive. It’s them talking to talk. You gain nothing from the conversation and they get to hold your attention for a few minutes. On the whole, I think that’s what they want the most: attention. It’s not about saying anything important or sharing ideas or making the other person smile. It’s about them. They’ve been given a platform and haven’t prepared a worthwhile speech so they say whatever they can to hang onto their podium.

Listen to the other person and listen to yourself. What are you trying to say? Is there a point? If there’s no other reason except that it popped into your head then keep your mouth shut. It may become relevant later but wait for that moment. Sometimes you never get to share a story or anecdote because there’s no good moment for it. Don’t panic. There will be other conversations.

There will be meandering conversation that isn’t about anything particularly deep or intensely interesting. But even in those moments, use your words wisely. Make sure it’s worth it to break the silence.


One thought on “Speak Only If You Must

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