WE ALL have that one friend, the one who launches into painfully long, rambling stories that never seem to end.
At first you listen eagerly, with an encouraging smile on your face, waiting for the punchline. Finally, after what feels like hours, your mind is miles away and you’re forced to fake off-cue polite noises that hopefully make it sound like you were listening. And definitely not thinking about Netflix, tonight’s dinner and the exact location of your nearest emergency exit.
Can’t think of any ‘over-talkers’ in your friends circle or workplace? Bad news: it’s probably you.
But never fear: If you suspect you may talk too much and lose people’s interest, “The Traffic Light Rule” will guarantee you keep your audience engaged, every time.
Created by career coach Marty Nemko, the rule dictates that you have around 60 seconds of your listener’s attention when you hold the spotlight.
“During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: your listener is probably paying attention,” he says. “During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow — your listener may be starting to wish you’d finish.”
If you go over a minute, it’s definitely time to wrap it up.
He does acknowledge the rare occasion where you can “run a red light” — when your listener is obviously fully engaged in what you’re saying. But here time is of the essence, because with each passing second, “you increase the risk of boring your listener.”
Worried you may be an over-talker? Here are some of the warning signs:
• Your utterances frequently exceed a minute in length.
• You have a tendency to express all your thoughts and ideas in one big speech.
• People tend to avoid eye contact with you while at their workspaces.
• You’re detail-oriented, meaning your stories may include time-consuming details listeners don’t feel is necessary.
If you’re feeling self-conscious, put it to the test the next time you’re engaged in conversation with someone. Nemko advises:
• Around the 30-second mark, look for a place to stop. If it’s interesting enough, your listener will press you for more details.
• If you need more airtime, break it up. Refer back to your listener and ask for their thoughts.
• Be aware of your listener’s non-verbal cues. Are they shifting their eyes? Yawning? Checking the time? If so, it’s time to wrap up fast.
Failing that, you could always just ask your listener outright if you’re boring them to death.
Unless of course they’re already asleep, in which case you have your answer.