I like to have a cup of coffee early in the morning at my favorite greasy spoon. It's a great time to do some reading, and it revs me up for the day ahead. I usually sit at the counter because the service is quicker. Every once in a while somebody will come along, sit down and start talking to me about the weather, the Chicago Bulls or whatever. I always try to be polite and exchange some comments briefly with my newfound friend, but if the person persists I try to make it clear I simply want to get back to my newspaper. That usually works, but there have been times when the person doesn't take the hint and just keeps on talking. When this happens, I just head to the office. It's no big deal, but it can be irksome.
The other day I was talking on the phone to a good friend of mine who is in consulting. She was bemoaning the fact that a very competent ex-CEO has been having trouble getting a new job comparable to the one he recently lost. It seems he isn't even getting on the short list of finalists for jobs for which he is well-qualified. I know this fellow; he's a great guy. But he does have one noticeable problem: He talks too much.
It's obviously not an easy task to tell someone he talks too much. Most of us don't like hurting another person's feelings. But as I've warned people many times over the years, while this problem may sound funny, it can become a serious matter. I know many people who are either out of work or on their way out because they suffer from this problem. In sales, talking too much can be devastating. Who wants to do business with someone who is disrespectful of a person's time? It's such a precious commodity for all of us.
Yet, some people just don't get it. In fact, when I know certain long-winded people are going to be stopping by my office, I don't expect to get much work done. For instance, I know that if I have a meeting with a certain individual, it will take at least an hour no matter what the topic. Nothing I do will speed the meeting along. Then there are those who love to talk endlessly on the phone, droning on and on about nothing. Even when you give a strong hint that you need to hang up, they're still oblivious to your wishes.
I don't think I'm blowing this out of proportion. Think of a salesperson making a call and overstaying his welcome. It will probably be the last time he gets in to see that customer. Top sales pros spend more time listening than talking. That's because they know from experience that by listening they learn what the customer truly needs. My motto is this: Always remember you are the customer's guest. Don't flout good manners by being a bore and wasting the customer's time. Cut to the chase.
The same principle applies whether you're making a presentation, leading a meeting or writing a letter. I've received letters two or three pages long that could have been summarized in a single paragraph. And I've attended meetings during which some people try to impress everyone else with their expertise. A meeting that should have lasted 10 minutes drags on for an hour. Sometimes people leave the meeting so frustrated they forget what it was all about.
If you know some people who talk too much, be honest with them. Of course, you want to be as diplomatic as possible, but remember that in the long run you're helping them. It's a tough call, but isn't that what friends are for?
Less is more,
Charles S. Lauer