Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

What I learned from the talkers

In which I explore a grumble about talkers… and then salute them.

I’ve written before about how normally my worst grumbling happens at home. However, during a workshop this year I caught myself grumbling excessively during my work day.

It was a group discussion with four women during a course. At one point I found myself wishing that one person in the group would just be quiet and let someone else have a turn. Her ideas had merit — but she monopolized the conversation. She had the quickest answer, the loudest voice, the most apparent confidence, and she didn’t leave room for the quiet ones to talk. There were two people at our table who hardly said a word. I tried subtly to direct the conversation to the quiet ones, to give them openings, but it just didn’t work.

Note to self: Another reason to avoid grumbling — it stops me from listening!

What surprised me about this experience was how much it bothered me. The groups shifted and I was no longer with the talker, but I found myself grumbling about it hours later. During the brief time we shared a group, I actually let it affect my engagement with the content. I was so busy thinking about how she wouldn’t let people have a chance to talk that I did very little listening myself. A humbling thought.

This episode was half a year or more ago, and I still think about it. Maybe because I remember being one of the quiet ones, one of the people not quite confident or sure enough to jump in and demand space in the conversation. I remember what it felt like to be frustrated because I never got the chance to be heard. Sometimes all I needed was a little bit of encouragement, a hint that someone was ready to listen to me.

I am filled with gratitude that now, if I really want to say something, I stake my claim to a piece of the conversation. It helps to have friends and colleagues who I know will listen and give me space to talk, even if they don’t always agree with me. Also, as I approach 50 I find that care less about what people think and more about being kind to myself and others. And, I’m getting sneakier. Hurray for getting older!

Sometimes I take the stealth approach: I bide my time until everyone else either winds down or has their mouth full.

I feel a renewed need to help encourage the quiet people to talk, even if only by offering a safe listening ear.

I value taking turns and being fair and calm in conversations.

But I have to admit that rowdy talkers zip things up and improve a conversation immensely. The people who say unexpected things, who surprise us, who interrupt and interject with new ideas and tangents — these people make things lively, and we need them! Talkers like the one I was grumbling about bring important things to conversations.

Recently I saw this in action. It was a planning meeting with other Scouters to talk about how we want things to work this year in our Cub Pack.

Past planning meetings have often been quiet affairs. We’d follow the agenda in an orderly fashion, and then the meeting would be over. No surprises. Animated discussions few and far between. No creative sparks triggering ideas. No-one talking over anyone else. I did most of the talking, and even I longed for the meetings to end. It felt like work to get through to the end. I couldn’t find a way to light people up. I was less experienced at leading meetings then, but I’m convinced that part of the reason for the dryness of the meetings is that we needed some talkers.

The past couple of times, the meetings have been different.

We had a different mix of people. There was energy, ideas flowed. Everyone was awake, and afterwards I felt excited and enthusiastic. I felt like we had all played an active part in the conversation, that there was lots of give-and-take.

A variety of people make discussions richer

The biggest difference is that we now have a talker on the leadership team.

She lit up the meeting. She shared ideas, spoke with enthusiasm, ran with and added to ideas presented by others. The level of noise at the meeting was probably triple that at the quiet meetings I mentioned earlier. Her tone of voice, her liveliness — these took the meeting from dull to fun. By being obviously and verbally enthusiastic and interested, she triggered interest and enthusiasm in the rest of us. She added an element of surprise to the conversation, and it made a huge difference.

It’s a great reminder that that to have a useful and lively discussion, we need a good mix of people. We need some talkers who’ll keep the conversation going and add the occasional element of chaos, who’ll digress and take unexpected paths. And we need the quiet ones to offer a counterpoint of steadiness to the high energy, and to help make sure everyone has a turn. Both kinds of people bring ideas, but they present them in different, and complementary, ways. It reminds me of how a simple tune becomes extraordinary when harmony is added to it.

When I grumble about something, I don’t pay attention to the value it brings. I focus on the negative. I grumbled about a talker, forgetting that quiet people like me enjoy having talkers around to spice up conversations and keep things lively.

Thanks, Grumblings, for giving me another lesson in humility and in the value of shifting perspective!

Comments? Stories? Share them in the comments or by email, at susan at goodbyegrumblings.ca.

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About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

2 Replies

  1. Being one of those “talkers,” I am particularly glad that our contributions are (sometimes) appreciated! The negative consequences of being lively, enthusiastic, engaged and expanding on ideas are much more frequently noted.
    On a slightly related topic –
    (Look, there I am, jumping around again!)
    While I was considering what to say in response to this cheery missive, I noticed that the term ‘perspective’ is getting bigger in the word-cloud thingy for the tags on your posts. Clearly it is pretty key to this grumble-busting effort…
    Keep it up!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Indeed it is getting bigger. Yet it’s so easy to lose! Thanks for your comment. (-:

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