I wrote the following piece a while ago and didn’t post it for fear of seeming catty. But in the 7 months since I moved and have been hardcore networking, the number of alpha talkers I’ve encountered boggles. my. mind. I’m not blaming geography – truth be told I didn’t do a lot of networking in NYC and may have had the same experiences there if I had.
Time and again, I’m trapped. A prisoner in a jail of my own politeness, I nod and make appropriate sounds. I try to indicate through body language – feet pointing elsewhere, leaning back – that I want out. But the type of people who swing from self-aggrandizing story to story like monkeys through the jungle are not attentive to my subtle, non-verbal cries for help.
So. Rather than selecting from one of the anecdotes I could share about grandstanding strangers, I provide you with this social illustration from a ways back in a faraway place.
We were at a dinner party on a Saturday night. There were 6 of us. We were invited by a couple we knew well; they had also invited another couple they wanted to introduce us to. We met for the first time that evening and have not seen them again. Here’s why.
Over cocktails and a three course dinner, my husband and I and our friends probably took 20% of the airtime. That means each of us spoke 5% of a 5 hour evening. Assuming .5 hours of silence for serving/clearing/moving between rooms/potty breaks, that means each of us spoke 13.5 minutes over the duration of the entire evening.
The third couple took up the other 80% of the audible space. The wife probably dominated 75% of that, which means she spoke a total of 202 minutes, or, 3.3 hours. That actually sounds pretty conservative. One story, which could be summed up in the 5 words “my kid woke up today” lasted about 15 minutes. I wanted to kill myself, then her, in that order.
If we’re going to hold up the truth mirror for a second, most of us can probably acknowledge we’ve been the chatterbox in a situation with the right mix of strangers, cocktails and insecurity. But while I learned her preferred method of preparing cauliflower (mashed), about her dress for a holiday party they hosted (black strapless, we didn’t go) and her upcoming trip to the Bahamas (harbor bay, for her 40th), she did not learn more than 13.5 minutes worth of headlines about any of the rest of us. At least half of whom are downright fascinating.
I doubt this woman or any of the good folks that have word-vomited on me have any malicious intent. Perhaps they even think they do me a favor by filling the air waves and taking pressure off me to hold my own. But I’d posit a better approach to meeting new people, whether personally or professionally; contribute to the discussion and be ready with your highlight reel of anecdotes if the conversation runs dry. But, more importantly, have your list of probing and follow up questions so you can actually learn something about those you interact with. Many of the new contacts I’ve had the “best” feedback from are people I simply showed an interest in and then listened to. Its become clear to me through these interactions that the best impression I can leave is often that I really want to know someone.