Management Matters: Shhhh - Stop Answering Questions That Haven’t Been Asked

Most people are social beings and enjoy and often need, interaction with others. That’s usually not a problem.

The challenge is that most people like to talk about themselves. In fact, studies indicate that 60% of someone’s interaction is focused on themselves (and it goes up to 80% on social media). Why? Because it feels good. Add in our decreasing attention spans and you may see the problem. While an ideal conversation would be a 50/50 split of give and take, most people simply can’t stay quiet for 50% of the interaction.

Being quiet or asking questions of others is a vastly underestimated skill and an underrated source of power and influence. Several of my clients are over-talkers. They simply talk too much. It is a terrific tension reliever for them and they get to show-off their knowledge and experience but they rarely even notice that the other party has stopped listening. And rather that re-engaging by listening, their impulse is to talk even more.

If this sounds like you, try the following strategies:

  • Watch Your Time:
    • Allow yourself to talk for the first 20-30 seconds. The other person is eager to hear what you have to say that is relevant to the topic of conversation.
    • The next 20-30 seconds, look for cues that you are talking too much and they are starting to lose interest.
    • After 45-60 seconds – stop talking.
  • Ask an open-ended question (one that can’t be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Don’t answer it yourself (it’s NOT rhetorical) you should ask more open-ended questions than closed questions). Do NOT answer your own questions.
  • Get more comfortable with silence (the other person may be thinking).
  • Practice speaking ONLY when you are asked a question. Avoid speaking to fill up silence.
  • Answer only what’s been asked. Work on being concise. If someone wants more information, let them ask. Don’t shower anyone with everything you know about a topic.
  • People are not impressed by how much you speak and how much you know. They are impressed with how you speak about what you know. Work on being concise. If it takes practice, then take the time and practice.
  • Focus on the other person. Make eye contact. Look for cues (leaning forward often indicates interest. Fidgeting can mean impatience.)
  • Clarify what the other person is saying. It indicates that you were paying attention (instead of waiting for them to finish so you could start talking again)

We often over talk due to insecurity. We use conversations to as a vehicle to improve our image. We extoll our accomplishments, name-drop to impress, and provide details that we think makes us appear successful, knowledgeable, or make us appear more glamorous. All of this is done in an attempt to bolster our self-image, either in our own eyes or the eyes of others. Rather than work so hard to convince others of how great you are, spend more time letting your accomplishments serve as the evidence.

Most people know how to be quiet. If you talk too much (or someone has suggested that you do), work on dealing more effectively with the pressure to talk.

It may not feel great at first but a bit of discomfort can yield some really good results. Others will want to talk with you.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 25 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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