COLUMN: Do you talk too much or too little?

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By John Lapp

Have you noticed how many people seem to have a never-ending supply of words, often spoken rapidly, even at warp speed, trying to say as many words as possible in the shortest length of time.
Well, maybe if you are one of those, it would be helpful to give your listener a chance to respond to your long presentation. While there are many like I just described, there are also many who have so few words, that some elaboration is needed. One or two words is not enough.
So, that being said, why is this the case? Well, I have a few of my own theories, not gleaned from any experts, but from four decades of being in private practice. I have come to believe that there are as many people who talk too much (and often too long, even dominating conversations), as there are people who don’t have to say much, and believe that too many words are not necessary to convey a worthwhile thought.
One of the more irritating things in my personal and professional experience, is when one or both of the parties in conversations with one another seem to lack common courtesy in allowing the first party to finish what he or she is saying before abruptly interrupting. Why can’t a few more seconds be sufficiently granted before the interruption takes place? Maybe it is because the first party is elaborating beyond what is necessary and has enough energy to continue forever, without a break in the continuous flow of words.
On one memorable occasion, the wife had presented for nearly 20 minutes non-stop, covering many areas that she believed needed to be addressed. When I interjected myself into the conversation, I asked the husband to respond. His response apparently took too long to even begin with what he was to present, so the wife abruptly and angrily interrupted his slow and deliberate response with, “See, Dr. Lapp, he does this all of the time when we get into these discussions.” To which I softly and kindly replied, “Well, he may have been thinking about what part of your lengthy presentation is the most important area in which he should respond.” The husband nodded his head, stating, “This is not a discussion because she always goes on and on endlessly and then gets mad at me when I think before I respond because in the past I have responded to what I thought was important, only to be faulted for not stating what part was the most important.”
She then stood up in anger, stated that we were “ganging up” on her, stormed out of the room, slamming a total of three doors, exiting the building, and very shortly thereafter coming back into my office, ready to start talking, although her husband and I were in conversation with each other.
When I asked to her to wait because we were already in conversation, she again became angry, again stormed out of the office, and this time proceeded to get in her car and go home. With that episode, her husband said, “Thank you for trying to help us. It’s over for me, I’ve had enough of this for 20-plus years.”
They never rescheduled, and several months later, divorced.
Now I know that this is just one example, and it was about a problem that had gone on too many times, for too long a period of time and should have been addressed years before these few sessions we engaged in. The point is still, that while this is only an example, she was a product of too many words, and he admitted that the only method he had utilized for those years is to be patient and wait until she is finished and hope that he would be given sufficient time, with her exercising patience, coupled with loving acceptance, that whatever he had to say was equally important although he usually responded with fewer words than was needed.
By the way, one of the many counseling “tools” I have used in marriage therapy is actually teaching the couple how to have a healthy and happy marriage by learning better ways to communicate. Many people have never learned how this can transform the marriage because communication is not just words, too many or too little, but body language, and even properly presented times of silence.
Many years ago I came across a poster with these words: “Be sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.” This should be a theme all of us should follow.
Finally, most people know how to talk, but the patterns they have used to date have not been effective in gaining better relationships. These patterns can be adjusted and some of them can actually be discarded, and new patterns can be learned and applied. Try it, especially those of you who have a pattern of “TMI,” a term I first heard about in 2012. It means “too much information,” and has somewhat, replaced a term I had used for decades, “oral diarrhea,” the full presentation being “running at the mouth.” Somewhat crude, perhaps, but in my estimation equally as meaningful.
You choose which you prefer, but don’t be gross about its use. Another reminder, taken from the pages of the Bible, is “be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.” Good advice indeed. I only wish that that wife in the example used in this column would have been able to grasp that concept and been better able to apply it with her husband.
Perhaps they would be celebrating their 45th anniversary. That incident happened nearly 25 years ago, but similar cases have since taken place in these many years of trying to help people to live their lives in a healthier way.
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