After one of my mother's conversational benders, I once begged a boyfriend for reassurance. ‘I’m not that bad, am I?’ I asked. ‘You’re more interesting,’ he answered, poking me unpleasantly in the ribs.
I got the message – I talk a lot. So now I (nearly) always say, ‘How are you?’ and try to follow up with another question, especially with people I don’t know very well. When I hear a pause, instead of giving my reaction, I ask a question. If I catch myself rambling, I ask: ‘Am I making sense?’
Sometimes I even apologise. I slow down, shift my attention to the food, the room, the view – then back to the human being I’ve been rambling on to.
I’ve been working on this for a couple of years now, and think I’m much improved. But, like a former smoker who sniffs at the very sight of cigarette ash, my resentment of other overtalkers has intensified, especially if they also happen to be boring. On occasion, I’ve gone disciplinarian, most recently at a friend’s birthday dinner, where she was chattering away. After 10 minutes, I calmly and forcefully made sure that everybody else got a turn. Afterwards, she complained.
‘Someone had to run the conversation,’ I defended.
‘Why?’ she asked me. ‘It was my birthday!’
True. Why shouldn’t she get to hold court on her birthday? So what if I was a bit bored? I had put myself in the centre all over again, this time as the conversation leader.
Self-awareness can be exhausting. I much prefer quiet people these days…
Might you be an overtalker?
Read The call of silence by Mark Vernon on LifeLabs