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The Best Career Advice of All Time: Shut Up

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Think about some of the best opening conversations you’ve ever had – the ones where you walk away thinking, “Wow, that went great! What a guy!” Now think of the worst initial conversations you’ve had – the ones that seem to last forever without going anywhere, making you want to scream, “This guy SUCKS, get me out!”

Too often the difference between a good conversation and a terrible one is a matter of who did most of the talking. If it was you, you probably loved it. If it was the other person, it was probably awful.

Whether it’s first dates, interviews or introductions, no one wants to hear someone prattle on and on about him or herself. In fact, that’s the opposite of what people want. People enjoy talking about themselves, hearing themselves speak, so why get in the way of that, especially when networking or during an interview?

Why quiet is better

Taking a more measured approach and letting people indulge the desire to hear themselves speak can pay off in two ways. First, it lets the person do what they want, which is steer the conversation toward something they know well and like.

If you get a new contact or interviewer going on how great or exclusive or prestigious their company is, it makes them feel good because it’s (indirectly) about them. Now you’ve set the stage for them to form a favorable impression of you. It’s the same reason judges are more lenient after lunch – if their mood is elevated, your chances are way better.

The second way shutting up and letting people talk pays off is by preventing you from grabbing the conversation like a greedy kid. It also prevents the other person from having that negative feeling of “Ugh, when will this end!?” If a date, or new acquaintance, or interviewer starts looking at their watch, you’re toast.

Do the asking rather than the answering

So turn the mental filter on high, and whenever you get the urge to interject with something about yourself, just say nothing. Obviously you shouldn’t turn into a robot or ignore questions asked of you, but try not to take hold of the conversation.

Asking a lot of questions is a great way to not only shut yourself up, but to encourage the other person to talk about themselves. How to Win Friends and Influence People one of the oldest and most popular self-help books in history, advises “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” Again, we’re setting the stage to make you look good.

Now put it to practice

People love talking about themselves, and conversations can quickly become a zero-sum game. If one person is talking the whole time, the other person isn’t, and it becomes awkward quickly.

The more aware of this fact you are, the less likely you are to monopolize a conversation and make a bad impression. Just relax, ask good questions, and try to let them do the talking.

Tim Murphy is founder of ApplyMate.com, a free application tracking tool.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Guest

    this article is clearly geared to extroverts so I don’t agree at all it’s the best advice ever.
    Being too chatty isn’t every candidate’s problem, a good portion don’t open up enough and consequently, are forgettable interviews by a more extroverted hiring manager who did the bulk of the talking. The person who does the bulk of the talking does the least listening.

    But hiring managers are looking for someone like themselves anyway, so if you’re more introverted and quiet, they don’t get you, the introvert, at all. And they don’t care because there’s always more candidates.

    Thank god we live in an age where working for yourself is encouraged.

    • Tim

      I agree, the post is geared toward extroverts because, like you said, introverts don’t really have to worry about talking less :). It really is just meant as a reminder to those who get too excited (or self-centered, insecure) during an interview or first meeting.

      But even for introverts, the advice can still be helpful. Someone who is normally not inclined to do a lot of talking is likely to be compelled to talk more during an interview or networking event. In that case, the default subject is likely to be about them, because that’s what they are comfortable with. An introvert who finds himself or herself in a situation where they need to talk would be well advised to steer the conversation to the other person, at least occasionally.

      Your point is well taken though, and I really appreciate your input. Thanks a ton for reading!

      Tim

    • 619Suzanne

      An effective hiring manager is looking for the person who can do what needs to be done/fit into the culture of the organization

      Working for yourself~one must listen to the client/prospect to fill the need and gain the business

      • http://kenid.myopenid.com/ Ken

        I love this theoretical textbook adage. This should be the case when a potential employee is interviewed. When I go to an interview, I want to force the incompetent interviewer to submit to my questionnaire or checklist. But out of courtesy, I have not done so. A job candidate at an interview is not much different from an ad agency exec interviewing the client for what he or she wants the ad agency to do. Unfortunately, many job interviewers do not take human resources course or just basic Organizational Behavior in college. I find it so humorous that some try to analyze me using scenarios that do not relate to actual work situations. I graduated with a major in Psychology for my undergrad, and I had taken Psychological Testing and Measurements. I know that they cannot predict my behaviors based on the types of questions that they use to ask me. For example, on hindsight from two previous jobs, I now know the job better; so I can ask better questions than they previously did to disclose to the prospects what is expected of them and let them decide if they want to take these jobs. That will definitely save both the interviewer representing the employer and the employee grief later when either that employee quits unexpectedly or the employer terminates him or her. For example, I can tell prospect about my previous job “real” performance-based questions. “Are you willing to put in overtime without pay?”, “Are you willing to be a janitor occasionally for the establishment?”, “Are you willing to work regular hours and be on call after you leave the office, allowing callers to interrupt you at midnight or the early hours of the morning?” These questions should be asked, not the pop interview-type of questions that these interviewers love to read out to me. Interviewers should remember that not asking (and disclosing performance-based expectations) upfront can result in a court case later when the unhappy ex-employee goes to court with the labor law attorney to sue the former employer for maltreatment (over and beyond what is stipulated in the labor law).

        • 619Suzanne

          After presenting numerous candidates to senior exec’s over the course of seventeen years, I can assure you, these exec’s want “The Perfect Match” Silly irrelevant questions may be asked, yes~but more important underlying core issues are~Can you do what I need to have accomplished in this role? Have you performed these responsibly at your former company? Will you fit within our culture?

          Ken, I like your questions! Good ones.

  • http://www.website-maintenance.com/ Website Maintenance

    Great article. Its hard if you are an A personality. Its not so easy to shutup but the truth is, I now approach every conversation with everyone differently. Listen, listen, listen. People love to talk and love to talk about themselves. Listening is learning and often times you can get the information you want without even asking for it. Make an effort to shut up. It will pay off. It has for me…

    • Tim

      Listen, Listen, Listen – great advice. Thanks for reading!

      Tim

  • 619Suzanne

    Many talk too much, yes, it’s true.

    In an interview situation, the goal is an exchange of information. The communication is meant to discover if the interviewing professional’s experience and personality fit is a match. So, both or all of the individuals must ask and talk~finding the right balance of this exchange depends upon the personalities!

  • Anonymous

    Really like this article; it makes perfect sense. Here’s a question though: what do you do when it’s not you who’s doing all the talking, but the interviewer, or the person in charge? Like, they want you to talk, but will LITERALLY not let you get a word in edgewise. It leaves me quite drained and confused when they’re done, and by then I don’t even WANT to talk because I don’t know where to begin (and I’m an EXTROVERT, so it’s not that I don’t know how to talk about myself!). Perhaps there’s an obvious answer (leaving the situation altogether…?); just wanted to read others’ thoughts on it.

    • Tim

      Great question, because this advice definitely isn’t absolute and if you go through an interview without speaking, you’ve got a problem. If it’s really getting out of hand (you’ll have to use your judgement here), I’d raise your hand slightly and say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but you said something really important just now and I’d really like to address it.” That way you acknowledge that you are stopping the conversation but highlight that you are doing so because whatever he or she said (and just blew by) is noteworthy/smart/important. Be on your toes and on the lookout for an opening – you might have to push a bit, but there’s always a way to do so diplomatically.

      Thanks for the great question and good luck!

      Tim

  • Katie Sloane

    I really enjoyed this post. I am currently a senior at West Virginia University, and with graduation approaching in May, my priority has become my toughest yet to date- the job hunt. I have held internships in the past, and although no two interviews are the same, I have an idea of what the process is like. My question to you is what happens when you simply have run out of questions to ask during an interview? For my most recent job, I was interviewed separately by three different people. By the third employee I was worried that I sounded a bit repetitive with my questions. What do you advise to do when this happens, and what questions do you think a future employer would want to be asked?

    http://katielsloane.wordpress.com/
    KatieLSloane@gmail.com

  • Pingback: The best career advice of all time: shut Up « Management Briefs()

  • http://www.sollicitatiebriefvoorbeeldcv.nl/ CV Voorbeeld

    If I can I try to think of some questions even before the conversation/interview. It makes it a lot easier.

  • atta

    A great article indeed and a very detailed, realistic and superb analysis of the current and past scenarios.

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  • Bomsn

    i don’t agree at all

  • http://www.frivmini.com/ friv

    Very impressive article. I have read each and every point and found it very interesting. i think i need it. I will share with my friends.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rickreppin Rick Reppin

    Just wanted to say great Advice here! Its so true it’s funny when you put this into practice on how you really works. Thanks for the great post!