One evening when I was thirteen years old my family and I were at home watching television. Suddenly my father sat up in his leather chair. He looked over at my mother and said, “Pat, something’s wrong. I think it’s my heart.”
My mother called 9-1-1 and we huddled around Dad until the medics arrived. Thankfully, he survived the heart attack. Part of his recovery included learning how to curtail his hard charging, impatient personality. An administrative law judge and former Marine, Dad was the classic “Type A” personality. He’d gun it to make a yellow traffic light. He’d finish people’s sentences for them. He was acutely aware of the time and his many obligations and responsibilities.
Do people really want to hear your story?
Part of Dad’s therapy included Type A “behavior modification.” He learned to slow down and control his impatience. He once shared an interesting tip with me. “Next time you’re telling friends a story, excuse yourself to use the restroom,” he said. “When you come back, don’t say anything. Wait and see if anyone asks you to finish your story. If they don’t, let it go,” he added.
Most people aren’t that interested in what you have to say. In fact, most people are fairly egocentric. It’s not that they’re trying to be mean. They may genuinely like you. But they’re busy. They’re thinking about themselves, their families and their personal affairs. They may smile and nod as you tell them all about your weekend. Because they’re being polite. But really, they probably just want to get on with their day.
Sure, there are times when people truly want to hear what you have to say. But trust me, it’s not as often as you think. Part of the problem is that there is so much noise in our lives now. Between cell phones, texts, Facebook, email and the pace of life, a lot of folks are frazzled. And the last thing they need is someone talking their ears off.
The fool chatters, while the wise man listens
Years ago I attended a dinner affair at a winery. My wife and I were seated at a table with six other people. Conversation ensued. One woman, an opionated attorney, delved into politics and made statements counter to my views. Naturally, I dove in. Before long others joined the debate. Except for the attorney’s date, a distinguished and older Irish gentleman.
Eventually someone asked the Irish gentleman his opinion. He sat back, quietly brought up a relevant point of history and then elegantly changed the subject. It was pretty cool. He had everyone’s attention. We remembered what he said. All because he was brief and to the point.
When I completed graduate school I fancied myself quite the writer. I liked to use impressive words and detailed descriptions. Why write that I “enrolled” at a university when “matriculated” sounded so much more erudite.
Fortunately I went into law enforcement. The police academy report writing instructors and field training officers relieved me of my literary grandeur. ” Cut out all that unnecessary crap in your report,” one sergeant told me.
Get to the point
Here’s the point to which I’ve done a poor job getting to. The one quality in writing and life people appreciate is brevity. Think about it in your own life. We all know people who are time takers. The coworker who barges into your office with no thought to what you’re doing, and then launches into a soliloquy. Or the chatter bug on a plane flight that spills his life story. Some people are quite consumed with their world and unable to edit what they have to say. The problem is that they talk so much people tend not to listen. Or if they do listen, it’s only superficially.
The pace of life is partly to blame. People don’t read books like they used to. They’re more impatient now. The short comments on Facebook and Twitter are about all people can digest. As a blogger I’ve learned to avoid long paragraphs and use subheadings. All to keep people’s interest. But I also learned that spare writing is valued. It’s harder to convey a concept briefly than at length.
Readers today do a lot of scanning. They appreciate brevity. Especially in an age when schedules are full and time is thin. So, take my Dad’s advice. The next time you’re chattering away about something, briefly excuse yourself. When you get back, don’t resume your story. Wait and see if anyone asks. Often, they’ve moved on.
Do the same with your writing. Keep it short and to the point. Brevity in speech and writing can be honed. If you work at it, you might find people becoming more interested in what have to say. And in the end, that’s what we all want. To be heard and understood in this busy, noisy world.