Shut Up. Why talking too much can damage your career by Steve Blakeman

“You have two ears and one mouth. You should use them in that ratio”. My old boss, the late (great) Ray Sale often reminded a younger (and considerably more verbose) version of myself of this on a fairly regular basis.

Ray’s sagely advice was brought flooding back to me this week when I saw this picture on LinkedIn…


The WAIT (Why Am I Talking?) mnemonic was remarkably resonant with a considerable number of LinkedIn users given the high viewing figures, likes and shares I received for the posting. So I decided to do a little more research into the subject to see whether people agree with me that we simply talk too much in business. And I also pondered if being overly garrulous could be detrimental to our careers. What I discovered was actually quite telling…

I’m not sure where the common convention started but it seems to be quite widely accepted that the people who are the most effusive in meetings or on conference calls are considered to be the most influential. Admit it, as a consequence of this unwritten rule we have all been guilty of saying something just so that our voice is heard irrespective of whether we actually had something vital to say. Mea culpa.


So why should it be that talking in business is more revered than listening? Well if you read the research into the matter, it seems that the notion is actually rather superfluous…

In his book ‘Just Listen’ the author, Dr Mark Goulston, outlines his rather handy Traffic Light Rule. Basically you are on ‘green’ for the first 20 seconds of anything you have to say. Then you need to watch for the classic signs of boredom from the listener (e.g. fidgeting, looking at their phone, eyes glazing over, snoring etc.). If you don’t detect any of these signs then for the next 20 seconds, you are on ‘amber’ – you can continue but be warned that you are pushing your luck. Beyond 40 seconds? You are on ‘red’ – so just stop. The problem though is that most of us have no idea how long 40 seconds actually is when we are gas-bagging. Our ability for time recognition is rendered redundant by the physiological release of dopamine into the brain which provides a natural high and encourages us to continue. Goulston suggests that to combat the urge to be voluble we should practice timing ourselves when talking to ensure that we don’t succumb to the desire to filibuster. His basic advice isn’t rocket science:

“You need to talk less and listen more”

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