I like to ask questions and listen. (Good leaders do the same.)
It must have been my mother’s influence. Or, maybe the nuns at St. Matthias. Regardless of the sources, I’ve always considered it to be common courtesy in social and business settings to strive to create dialog.
Unfortunately, I regularly encounter people who missed this lesson. Instead of engaging and talking, they prattle on incessantly about their favorite topic—themselves.
You know the type. There the ones who shake your hand, smile at you and then proceed to unload an “I” filled stream of effluent.
I’ve been present when a puffed up board of director type has gone to extraordinary lengths to exert a gravitational pull over everyone in the room by regaling the adoring crowd with stories of their business prowess.
I’ve been on interviews where no questions were asked, as the executive rattled on about his career and accomplishments.
What’s the point?
Some bosses never enter a room where they don’t feel compelled to consume all of the available oxygen with their monologues.
What can they possibly learn by talking? The answer, of course, is nothing.
We’ve all been in social settings where people we encounter talk about themselves as if they’ve got a personal teleprompter streaming a personal narrative in front of their eyes.
I did, I bought, I went, I only…I, I, I, I, I, I. Aaaaaahhhh! (Scream of anguish.)
There was an individual I would see on occasion who never failed to tell me how much he made last year.
That’s awkward. How do you respond?
My inner-voice laughed and wanted to offer, “Good for you. I make that by February.” But of course, that would be jerkish and the very thing I am railing against. Instead, I offered, something like: “Congratulations. You obviously work very hard.”
Mom and the nuns again.
In moments of weakness and after growing fatigued by particularly obnoxious monologues, I confess to trying to mess with these people. I will offer random, out of context comments, just to see if I can derail the train.
Them: “And then we hiked Everest blindfolded.”
Me: “That’s fantastic. It reminds me of the time my wife and I had cocktails with Elon Musk and discussed traveling to Mars with him for our 50th anniversary.”
The best I’ve ever achieved with these non sequiturs has been a momentary pause, a blink of the eyes as if they had hit a bump on the tracks, followed by a resumption of their monologues.
Impressive control on their part.
OK, I said those were moments of weakness. I rationalize them as field research.
I am certain there are some deep-seated issues that motivate people to incessantly puff themselves up and ignore the opportunity to connect, learn, and share. Insecurity, bad childhoods, psychological scarring from the nuns and mom, are just a few suspects.
Know that you won’t cure this malady. These individuals are not conscious of the impact they have on others (low emotional and social intelligence), and they care little to nothing about you. You are just another outlet for their endless loop of self-indulgent talk.
It’s all about them.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
I encourage you to try and promote dialog in all situations. Ask questions. Listen and show respect. Offer appropriate personal relates. However, if the strategies fail, extract yourself before your ears melt, or before you feel compelled to mess with them. Life is short, and self-regulation is a sign of high intelligence. I’m working on the latter!