We live in a chatter-filled world. People will talk your ear off when you see them in person and everyone is constantly sharing their thoughts online. But my guest would say that all this chatter may be hurting us more than we know, and it would be better to close our pieholes and sit on our typing fingers a lot more often than we do.
His name is Dan Lyons, and he’s the author of STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World. Today on the show, Dan unpacks how being quiet and speaking with greater intention can improve your life. We discuss why some people tend to overtalk more than others and the six types of overtalkers out there, from the blurter to the most extreme case, the talkaholic, for whom overtalking is practically an addiction. We then discuss not getting sucked into spouting off online, avoiding conversational narcissism, the argument for spending less time working on your personal brand and more time doing quality work, how silence is power, how the best way to deal with issues in a marriage may be by not talking about them, and more.
Resources Related to the Podcast
- AoM Article: The Virtuous Life — Silence
- AoM Article: The Spiritual Disciplines — Silence
- AoM Article: The Quiet Man’s Power
- AoM Podcast #389: What It Means to Be a Quiet Professional
- AoM Article: How to Avoid Conversational Narcissism
- AoM Article: Why the Secret of a Happy, Successful Marriage Is Treating It Like a Bank Account
- AoM series on becoming a better listener
- Jonathan Haidt on how social media is causing a mental illness epidemic in teenage girls
- “Millions of Followers? For Book Sales, ‘It’s Unreliable'”
- International Listening Association
Connect With Dan Lyons
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We live in a chatter-filled world. People will talk your ear off when you see them in person and everyone is constantly sharing their thoughts online. But my guest would say that all this chatter may be hurting us more than we know. And it would be better to close our pie holes and sit on our typing fingers a lot more often than we do. His name is Dan Lyons and he’s the author of STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World. Today on the show, Dan impacts how being quiet and speaking with greater intention can improve your life. We discuss why some people tend to over-talk more than others, and the six types of over-talkers out there, from the blurter to the most extreme case, the talkaholic for whom over-talking is practically an addiction.
We then discuss not getting sucked into spouting off online, avoiding conversational narcissism, the argument for spending less time working on your personal brand and more time doing quality work, how silence is power, how the best way to deal with issues in a marriage may be by not talking about them, and more. After the show is over check out our show notes at aom.is/stoptalking.
All right, Dan Lyons, welcome to the show.
Dan Lyons: Hey, thank you for having me.
Brett McKay: So you got a new book out called STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in a world that won’t stop talking. And this is a book about over-talking and the problems of it. There’s been a lot of research done about the downsides of not talking enough, right? Shyness, for example, and books about how to overcome shyness, but very little has been done about over-talking. Why do you think that is? What’s going on there?
Dan Lyons: Well, I think part of it is that people who are extremely shy or communicatively apprehensive really struggle in life, and they also can be helped. You can actually work with them and practice and help them overcome some of that shyness. And there’s been a lot of work in communication research about that. And oddly enough, the first research that I came across on over-talkers, was done by the people who had done the most on very, very shy people. But I think part of it is that over-talking people are mostly just seen as annoying. You don’t feel pity for them, or not pity. You don’t wanna help them, right? You don’t feel bad for them. I think people who are very, very shy, you want to help get them out of their shell.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And I think too in the United States, we’re extroverted. We value the people who are out there talking. And so we don’t think there’s as much of a problem with people who talk more as opposed to less.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, one of the researchers who came up with this thing called the talkaholic scale, which I write about in the book, it’s very interesting. She is extremely, extremely shy, way, way, way out on that end of really does not like to talk to strangers or people she doesn’t know. And her husband was the exact opposite. He was like me. He was a complete talkaholic. But she made a point to me about our culture and how we value and reward people who can speak well. And this is something very interesting. She said, think about kindergarten. When I was in kindergarten, when you were too, they had show and tell. So from the very start of the earliest part of your life you’re rewarding kids for getting up, for being able to get up in front of other people and talk.
Brett McKay: So you talk about one of the reasons why it doesn’t get researched all that often is that the problem of over-talking is that people are just annoying, but you actually went deep into this. There’s actually been research done by people trying to figure out what happens if you’re an over-talker. So kind of give us a summary. What does the research say? What are the downsides of over-talking besides just being annoying?
Dan Lyons: Well, sooner or later, if you’re someone who talks too much, you’re gonna talk your way into trouble. Now, it may be that you offend someone, or you hurt someone’s feelings and maybe someone you really care about. But at the other end you lose your job or you wreck a relationship with someone you care about and love. So the consequences of that lack of impulse control can be really extreme. And if they start happening over and over again, which was my case, they start to add up and you start to go, oh this is really a problem. This is really interfering with my life.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You talk about the interview, do surveys of people at work and they’ll talk about what do you think about the over-talker? And they’re just like, oh, super annoying. And I do what I can just to avoid them as much as possible. ‘Cause I know if I start talking to them, I’m gonna be stuck for 15, 20 minutes and it just saps my productivity.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, dude. That’s an amazing study. It’s from, I don’t know, a couple of decades ago but I actually tracked down the guy who did it in grad school, who had no idea that this study had been cited and downloaded so many times, which tells you how much it resonates. But yeah, he studied people in the workplace. Do you have someone in the workplace who annoys everybody by talking too much? And everybody had one, right? And yeah, the other interesting thing is at first, they’re often seen as great and you like them and that guy really can tell a story and boy, they’re so lively and funny. And then after a while, yeah, you start to want to escape them. People will actually see you coming and turn and go the other direction, or they’ll pretend their phone is ringing or, oh God, I have to get this text message or this email.
Yeah. And people really start to resent them to the point where here’s another interesting thing. If you ask them early on, is that person intelligent? They’ll say, yeah, highly intelligent. If you ask them later about the same person and their estimate of that person’s intelligence has actually gone down. And there’s a great story in there about a guy who is a very annoying over-talker who gets made a manager and put in charge of five people. And he’s driving them all so nuts that they finally go to management and say, “Look, either you gotta get rid of him or we’re gonna quit or something.” And so management goes to this guy and says, “Hey, you’re a great guy. You have this problem. If you can’t stop doing this, you can’t be a manager anymore.” Now you would think the guy would say, “Okay I’ll work on it.” This guy literally chose the demotion. He said, “I don’t want to change who I am. I like who I am,” and actually hurt his own career willingly.
Brett McKay: Yeah. ‘Cause he wanted to over-talk.
Dan Lyons: Yeah. He didn’t wanna give it up. And also to me, it was like, that’s how strong for some people, it’s an addiction, right? It really is. And it’s hard to break an addiction and people don’t wanna confront it. Yeah. And they’ll actually wreck their own lives, which is also the definition of a talkaholic. A talkaholic is someone who’s not just gregarious, not just maybe talks a little too much or blurts things out. A talkaholic is someone who knows that the thing they’re about to say will hurt them and will say it anyway.
Brett McKay: And also, maybe we should be clear by talking, it’s not just talking, talking. It could be just any type of communication, be tweeting or texting or just really long tons of emails. It’s the same thing. Over-communication basically is what it is.
Dan Lyons: Yeah. Actually, a lot of it is online now because a lot of how we communicate is. And I should say, we’re here on a podcast and we’re talking about not talking, right? But the idea is not to never talk, but it’s to speak with intention. So to know why you’re having a conversation. So we’re having a good conversation where we’re both gonna take turns talking. We’re talking about something important that we find interesting. And there was actually research that shows that kind of conversation literally makes people happier and even healthier. It makes your immune system better. You respond to good conversations. Small talk and chit chat, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. But yeah, if you’re online tweeting a hundred times a day, thats… It’s weakening you. It’s not helping you.
Brett McKay: Okay. So the downside is you annoy people. People wanna avoid you. It could get in the way of work. You might end up saying something that could hurt your career, offend somebody, could damage a relationship. When did you realize, this book is part kind of memoir here. You’re trying to figure out the source of your over-talking. When did you learn that over-talking was a problem for you? Was there a moment you’re like, oh boy, I gotta do something about this.
Dan Lyons: It’s really funny. There was, there was one specific moment that I remember very clearly, but it had been building to it for a long time. But there was a moment when I was literally, I was texting with my agent, my book agent about something else. And then we’re kind of going back and forth about life and I’m complaining about something and saying, well this person did that and blah, blah, it was their fault. And then I just blurted out, I can complain about all of that, but if I had never said X, this one sentence, then none of the rest of this could have ever happened. And so maybe I should need to learn how to STFU. And we both had this moment of like, that’s a… That could be a pretty good book. And as I thought about it, I thought, for the last few years, I’ve been getting worried before I go to a party or… I have kids and they were little, you go to the kids birthday party with all the neighbors and I would be terrified before I went like, don’t talk too much, don’t talk too much, and I’d get there and I’d get nervous or something and I’d, I just get going. And I didn’t let anybody else have a chance to talk or I would say things that were… I didn’t read the room very well and they kind of offended people.
And so I realized that this dread had been building, but it was that moment where I just blurted it out in a text and also in a text, you’re looking at it in writing. And I thought, yeah, yeah, this is really a problem, that’s my problem right there. And I had thought of it always as kind of a good thing. I’m gregarious and I, when I get in an Uber, I talk to the driver and I get their whole life story and I just love talking to people. I love meeting people, which is true, but too much of a good thing.
Brett McKay: And so there’s, yeah, there was a small group of researchers who were studying over-talking and they developed this scale, this, you actually, you have it in the book, there’s a test you can take to see your talkaholic level. So the people who studied this, do they know why people are talkaholics? Is it socialization? Is it you’re just born with a genetic thing? What’s going on there?
Dan Lyons: Yeah, that’s really interesting. For a long time, people thought it was just nurture versus nature. And the researchers who first devised that talkaholic scale couldn’t figure out the why behind it. But one of their colleagues spent another 10, 20 years working on it from a biological perspective and found that it correlates with an imbalance in brainwave in the prefrontal cortex. And so if there’s an imbalance between the right and left lobe, it makes you either more talkative or less talkative. Right side is more talkative and the degree to which you’re an over-talker or an under-talker corresponds to how far out the imbalance is between right and left. But there are also causes that… Anxiety is a big one and we live in a culture of anxiety and it’s actually some kinds of over-talking like hyper-verbal speech are correlated with ADHD, for example. So there are people who are really, really, really over-talkative. They start working on ADHD. They maybe start taking meds and they see that it’s easier for them to control their speaking.
And then, yeah, then there is the nurture, which we just talked about. Our culture just rewards speaking and encourages. Look, social media practically makes you over-talk, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse here ’cause it’s been covered and you probably have written and talked about it. But social media apps are designed by design to make you engage, to get you engaged, to make you post and share and like and tweet rather than just read. And to do that, they know how to do that is to provoke you and usually it’s to make you angry and outraged. And so they intentionally are doing that and they’re using the same techniques that casinos use with slot machines. Only this is, a kind of anger machine. They wanna keep you at the machine and they keep getting you angry and that does terrible things for your health and it gets you blabbing. Suddenly you realize you’re on Twitter for hours and you’re joining in every rant that goes on and you’re dogpiling and you’re doing all this stuff. If you step back and think about like, why am I doing, how did I become this person? And it’s because you’ve been programmed by a machine. So there are a range of reasons from your brain waves to the culture we live in.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I’d like to dig in a little bit more on the social media aspect ’cause I thought that was interesting. We won’t beat the dead horse too much, but before we do, you also talk about they’ve categorized over-talkers into six different types. What are the six different types of over-talkers out there?
Dan Lyons: So the first kind that I identify is called the ego talker. And the ego talker is almost always a guy and it’s a certain kind of guy who, but not always, but who just thinks they’re smarter than everyone else. They know more than everyone else. Maybe they’ve made more money than everybody else. It’s a thing that happens a lot to really rich Silicon Valley guys who then think they know everything about everything because they made money on Bitcoin say, but… And they just suck up the oxygen because they think they deserve it. Right. It’s narcissism and the smartest guy in the room syndrome. They’re my least sympathetic type. I identify nervous talkers or people who are just more situational over-talkers. They don’t go through life annoying everybody, but in certain situations they get nervous and they talk too much.
I call one category blabbers. And those are people who just go on and on and on and on. And they often tell the same story many many times. You’ve heard the whole story and you have to listen to it again. Right. Then there are blurters who I think typically are very, very highly intelligent people and very very quick witted and have a funny remark very quickly, almost so fast that they don’t… There’s not enough time for the filter to come up. And they’ll often blurt out things that are really funny, but not to everyone. I have a friend who’s a blurter and I think she’s hilarious. Like, man, every, every joke kills me, but not everybody is in that same camp.
I think there are ruminators who are people who just think out loud. They like to… They’re just thinking out loud. And then talkaholics who are in a different category in the sense that they are self-destructive. They have a propensity for self-destruction that is akin say to an alcoholic or any other kind of addict where there’s the chance of just really, really harming yourself.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned social media. You have a couple of chapters dedicated to social media. I think we kind of hit on why social media encourages over-talking. It encourages over-sharing because that gets engagement, right? The outrageous stuff, it encourages people to disclose extremely personal information ’cause people love to see that. And so you see people say things or type things. You’re like, man, probably shouldn’t have said that, but it gets them engagement. But beyond the just over-sharing aspect of social media, what have been the down… What has it done to us mentally, physically, spiritually? What have you seen?
Dan Lyons: Well, in a very high level sense, I think the last 10 or 20 years we’ve seen the emergence of a kind of mental illness at a societal scale that our entire culture has got a little bit crazy. And it’s happened in such a way that we don’t even realize how crazy it is. It’s not the frog in the boiling water thing, but just that the way our brains have been rewired is such that it makes it very difficult for us to see how our brains have been rewired. So I had this thought experiment. I thought if I can go back to 2000 and imagine myself then and the world then, and then see the 2023 version of me and of the world, I think I would be kind of shocked and in some ways impressed by all the amazing things we can do. But then in other ways, being really distressed by the way that we’ve cut ourselves off from each other in certain ways, we’ve become meaner, we’ve become angrier.
There was a time and it might’ve been 10, 15 years ago, I remember when people would say that oh, people say things online that they would never say to your face. And now they say them to your face, right? That anger that began online has seeped back into the real world. And so you have statistics on incidents on airplanes, right? People getting rowdy on an airplane, getting physically violent, attacking a flight attendant. Those are up like 5X from a few years ago. It’s not a subtle change. And we have this phenomenon of the videos of people going nuts in Karen videos, people going nuts in stores or whatever. And we have this polarization, we demonize each other. We’re unable to have conversations across political divides, for example. Now, I don’t think you can blame all of that on social media, but it all happened in lockstep with the emergence of social media.
Brett McKay: Yes, and you also highlight research, whenever we’re engaging on social media, these apps, our cortisol goes up and then depression can go up because… I think there’s some studies coming out too, we’ve actually confirmed that social media use, particularly for teenage girls, is really terrible. They’re pretty convinced that it’s made teenage girls more depressed, social media has.
Dan Lyons: Oh yeah, there’s a professor at NYU named Jonathan Haidt, I think that’s how he pronounces it, and a professor at Stanford named Anna Lembke. Oh my God, the statistics, the numbers are insane. Jonathan Haidt’s numbers on teenage girls and, I think maybe it’s suicidal ideation or suicide attempts or actual suicide, and the rise of, say, Instagram, and you chart those two and it’s terrifying. They go right up. So he has no doubt that that’s what’s happening, that there is this terrible effect and… That’s the worst end of it, but if you think of the rest of us, it creates anxiety, depression, you’re right, cortisol. So we have this rush of cortisol in our systems all the time. And the interesting thing about cortisol is that it’s the kind of thing where when you’re a caveman and a saber-toothed tiger lept out at you, you needed that burst to go get going and run, but if you have a low level all the time, it’s actually worse. It’s like this chronic level of low-grade stress that just wrecks your brain.
Brett McKay: And I think the other danger of social media and just digital communication, why it encourages over-talking, it’s so easy to do. So if you feel like spouting off to somebody, you can do it right away. Back before the internet or social media, if you wanted to talk to a friend, you had to call them up and they might not be there. Or you had to arrange a conversation, get together, and that… There’s a lot of friction there. With digital communication, if you wanna say something to anybody, you can get there in a second. And I think oftentimes, the things we say that we regret the most, it happens when we’re feeling angry. So anger is a really hot emotion and it makes you wanna do something. And if people would just let that… If there’s just a little buffer zone between the anger and you spouting off, usually the anger just goes away and then you’re like, “I’m not gonna say it.” But with digital technology, you can just… “I’m feeling it, I’m gonna do it right now,” and then you end up regretting it.
And I don’t know, my whole business is online, so I get a lot of people talking back to me and you get the trolls, people who just say snippy things to you. I usually ignore, but every now and then, I’ll respond to an email where it’s just this… Someone is just really angry and just saying all this crazy stuff, and I just respond, “Hey, I’m sorry you’re feeling this way but I’m really not understanding the reaction that you’re having here. It seems little overblown.” I don’t say overblown, I try to be really diplomatic. And they always respond like, “Oh man, I’m really sorry. I had a bad day, I started drinking and I just sent out that missive, and I really regret it.” And I imagine if that guy had just had a bit of buffer, if he had to just write me a letter, he would’ve been like, “Well, it’s not worth it, it’s dumb. I’m just gonna move on with my life.”
Dan Lyons: But that’s amazing that the way you handle it, works, ’cause I wouldn’t have thought of that. But when you tell me, it makes absolute sense. But is it because when you don’t respond with anger, in other words, if you had gone back at him like, “Blah, blah, blah,” that just escalates it.
Brett McKay: It’s gonna escalate it, it’s gonna escalate.
Dan Lyons: But somehow, you’re taking that energy that he’s pushing toward you, and what, absorbing it?
Brett McKay: Yeah, whenever people blow off at me or say something, I’m just like, “They probably had a bad day. There’s something going on. And so I’m not gonna respond to that.” I don’t wanna be patronizing, but it’s like kids. If you have a kid who’s having a meltdown, you can’t take it personally. They’re just, they’re hungry, they’re tired. Adults, we’re still kind of kids, and we get hungry, we get tired, we get stressed out, we do and say stupid things. But I think if you slow things… That’s the problem with the internet. It’s too fast. If you can just slow things down a little bit, I think it would solve a lot of the problems.
Dan Lyons: So the thing where you say… You write that angry email, then you go, “Oh, you know what, I’m gonna wait. I’m gonna wait till tomorrow, if I still feel this way, I’ll send it. But not right now.” I can’t tell you how many times in the last year, I’ve done it with text messages where I start to write something, and then I look at it, the whole thing, I go zz-zip and I hit delete and go backwards through all the letters just gobbling them all up, like, “Nope, not gonna do that.” And same with email. And I have developed better discipline about it. And you’re right, I think I’ve saved myself trouble. ’cause I sometimes say to myself, “Okay, I could… ” Someone zings you, like that guy did to you. And you’re probably really good at it, right? You know, like, “Dude, this is what I do for a living.” Like, “I can zing you back way better.” It’s like dealing with a heckler. But you know if you do, then he’s coming back with more. So does that help you? Now you’ve had… Now, you’re gonna have to listen to two of his emails, right?
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Dan Lyons: I sometimes think of it as I’m saving myself all the anxiety of… The minute I hit send, I’m sitting there waiting for the angry thing to come back, right?
Brett McKay: Right. And that’s true to an extent to all communication. The more you send out, the more you get back. And it turns into this vicious time suck cycle. Okay, so you give advice on quieting yourself on social media, reducing how much you talk there, so get rid of Twitter, just view Instagram in the browser instead of the app, text less. There’s all sorts of tactics that I think are good ones to reduce how much you spend on social media. And not only will it help you reduce your over-talking online, but you say that over-talking online carries over to over-talking offline. So curbing your online chatter can maybe help you break that habit of always having to give your two cents offline too.
We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors. And now back to the show. So you have a chapter on interrupting over-talking, where you interrupt people a lot. Did you have that issue of interrupting?
Dan Lyons: Oh, yeah, yeah. And often, wasn’t even aware of it. But yeah, I had that problem. And I tend now, to try to go into a conversation, or… Like this, or a work conversation, and prepare myself before it. Just take a minute just to kind of take some deep breaths, but also think, “Okay, don’t interrupt.” I also put little stickers, little yellow pads above my desk to say things like, “Quiet”, “Listen”, “Wrap it up”. But some interruptions are not at all bad, it’s just that you get a little excited. Like, you’re talking… We have like a mind meld, and you’re saying something, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” and I jump in, and I really just want to agree with you, those are the hardest ones for me to avoid where they’re… It’s genuine enthusiasm, rather than rudeness. But yeah, I just try to be proactively aware of that, and also try to catch myself if I do start to interrupt. ‘Cause here’s the other one, you’re talking to someone and they take a breath, but they’re not finished speaking and you leap in, and then they start to talk… You know the thing where you’re both talking at the same time, and then you both go, “Oh no, no. You go. Oh no, no. You go.” So I try to catch those and really sit back and say, “No, no, no, really, you were saying something interesting. I’d like to hear more of it.” But yeah, I think it’s just being aware.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and on the chapter on interruption, it reminded me, we wrote an article a really long time ago about this idea of conversational narcissism. Have you heard of this?
Dan Lyons: No.
Brett McKay: This is really interesting. So there’s a sociologist, Charles Derber, he wrote this book called, The Pursuit of Attention. And he found that despite good intentions, and often without being aware of it, most people struggle with conversational narcissism. And it’s basically when you’re in a conversation… So there’ll be someone who will subtly shift the conversation to them. So there’s this thing called a shift response. So it’s like this: Dan says, “Hey, I’m thinking about buying a new car.” A shift response would be like I would say, “Oh yeah? I’m thinking about buying a new car too.” And then you’re like, “Really?” And then I’m like, “Yeah. I just test-drove a Mustang yesterday and it was awesome.” It’s like, you started off… If I wasn’t a narcissist, a conversational narcissist, I would have been like, “Oh, damn. What kind of car are you looking at?” But I just immediately, I turned it to myself.
Dan Lyons: I didn’t know those terms, but I was just talking about this yesterday to someone. The example I was using when someone says… And I do this a lot. I hope less than I used to. But you say, “Oh, we’re just planning a vacation where we’re gonna go to Italy.” And the good response would be, “Oh, hey, Brett. Where are you going? And when are you going?” Or we can say, “Have you’ve been there before? And blah, blah.” But yeah, the one I do is like, “Oh, we went to Italy once. We went here, and we did that.” Oh my God. How awful is that?
Brett McKay: Yeah. So it is kind of a subtle interruption. I didn’t interrupt you, I didn’t like say, “Hold the horses, I’m gonna talk about… ” But it was, like, subtly, I go, “Okay, I’m gonna take control of this conversation now.”
Dan Lyons: But do you think people are doing it out of a bad reason? Is Derber’s argument that this is… Obviously, it’s a problem because it’s not nice. But is it motivated by a bad thing or just motivated by carelessness?
Brett McKay: I think it’s carelessness. And he’s basically saying that people are just starved for attention. People want attention, but they’re looking for it in an unhealthy way. I think that’s the argument he’s making. I think that’s going on with a lot of social media, people just… They wanna be noticed and they might not be getting that ’cause they don’t… A lot of us, that we don’t belong to… I think there was this statistics say a third of people are living alone, now, in America, adults that is. We don’t go to church anymore. We don’t belong to the Rotary Club. And so I think a lot of us crave like… We just want someone to notice us, like, “Hey, I matter.” And I think maybe we do that in a conversation. It’s like, “Oh, here’s someone. There’s a chance for me to get attention.” I think this is… Again, I’m just… This is me just doing my Freudian theorizing, but I think people… That’s a way for them to get some attention that they might need.
Dan Lyons: Yeah. No, I agree. And that’s an idea that someone else picked up, her name is Sherry Turkle at MIT, and she wrote a book called Alone Together, and was putting some of this on social media, saying that, “Yeah, we’re together online. But we’re cut off from each other in personal life.” And I think there’s some research that shows using a lot of social media actually interferes with your in-person relationships. But I hadn’t thought of that, what you just said about church and the Rotary Club. And yeah, that must have been a real, kind of, social glue. You went out on Tuesday night ’cause you had your Rotary Club meeting.
Brett McKay: Right, yeah.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, and we don’t do that.
Brett McKay: You don’t do that. Okay, so be aware of interruption. Don’t do it, try not to do it. You also talk of a chapter about shutting your mouth at work, which goes against most of the career advice you see out there. ‘Cause most of the career advice you see out there is about building your personal brand by constantly creating content and sharing your thoughts on social media. And I always read that stuff and I’m like, “Does that actually do anything?” You posting a LinkedIn thing, is that gonna help you move ahead in your career, what is… What did you find? Is it doing anything?
Dan Lyons: Yeah, I sometimes worry that I seem too much like a curmudgeon, and that there is some value in building your brand or establishing yourself as an expert in a field, someone that has something to say. But I do think that, yeah, we spend too much time doing that and we have been sold this idea of building the brand of You. And I think, what if the brand of Me is just that I’m really good at what I do and I’m quietly competent, and I get my stuff in on time and I get stuff done? Can that be the brand of Me?
Brett McKay: And I think… For example, I had a guy tell me that he measures people’s value by how many Twitter followers they have. And I thought, “Well, that’s… ” Because you can gin that number up, you can go out and buy followers, or you can get a lot of Twitter followers just by posting a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, and you’ll build your number count. But does it make you really more important, more intelligent, more insightful? I don’t know. But the other thing is, it’s a real tight wire. There’s a journalist at The Wall Street Journal who said once that journalists are almost all on Twitter. Less so now, but… And he would never get on it. “People”, he would say, “because you’re always 140 characters away from losing your job.” Like, “I’m just not going there. I do my job, I write for The Wall Street Journal. That’s where my work goes and I don’t need it to go anywhere else.” Yeah, I think people are afraid that if they’re not on social media, they become invisible and they don’t exist or they don’t have value.
But I don’t think it’s true.
Dan Lyons: No.
Brett McKay: And I think it’s interesting. I think I read an article about this a couple of years ago. So, back in the early 2000s, and then I guess social media got bigger, when publishers… Or when editors were trying to figure out which authors or manuscripts to accept, they started looking at your social media following. They wanted to make sure that you had a strong social media following, ’cause the idea is, “Well, if they got a big… ” So they already have an audience, these are customers, so if they… We’re gonna pick authors… And then again, there was an article, I think it was maybe a year or two ago, came out and basically, that it’s not true. People have a huge, ginormous social media following, but it doesn’t translate to sales.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, I didn’t know that study, but that makes absolute sense, but they do still look for that if you’re selling a book. If you have, I don’t know, a million Instagram followers, that actually does still get their attention, and people, I think, still do sell books based on the social media following. And conversely, if you’re like me and you’re selling a book and you say, “Well, I don’t really have… I have a small number of followers everywhere.” But yeah, I think it makes them think, “Well, you’re less of a sure bet.” But, yeah, I don’t think… I’ll put it this way, I had a blog in the 2000s called, The fake Steve Jobs blog, and I had one-and-a-half million monthly readers. And I sold a book, and I think partly they were like, “Well, this guy is… Look at all those readers.” But it was like, “Yeah, there are people who will read stuff for free on a blog, they’re not people who are gonna go buy a book.” And I would use the blog, “Go buy my book” But yeah, it didn’t convert.
Brett McKay: Now, see a lot of people like companies or even entrepreneurs, they spend a lot of time on that social media stuff, when they… Maybe they should be spending more time just being competent at the actual thing that they’re selling.
Dan Lyons: Well, you have a huge audience. But you built it up over time, I’d imagine. But you probably didn’t build it up by just selling the hell out of it on Twitter. You built it up by creating good content. The content, the product is what sells itself. I don’t think you can flog your way into success through hype.
Brett McKay: No, maybe in the short term. In the long run, maybe not. And we have… So I guess, again, I don’t want people to think we’re both curmudgeons. We’re like, “Oh, social media… ” Yeah, we use social media. Art of Manliness has a Twitter account, we’ve got a Facebook page, we have an Instagram account, we have a LinkedIn account. But I’m not particularly active there, we just use it to broadcast our content. Instagram, we post once a week, that’s it. Facebook, you’re gonna get two posts a day. And then Twitter, I just automate that, I use Buffer and I just throw in links for the month, and it just spits it out. Like, “Here’s this article, here’s a link, read the thing”, and that’s it. There was a time where I was like, “I’m gonna be really interactive,” and it was exhausting, and I didn’t see much from it.
Dan Lyons: Is that right?
Brett McKay: Oh yeah, yeah. There was a period… Every now and then I’ll go, “I’m gonna be really active.” And you just… You spend… It really is a… It takes a lot of time, it’s tiring. And then it’s… At the end you’re like, “Well, that didn’t really move the needle much. I’m gonna go spend some more time getting ready for a great podcast, or writing a great article.”
Dan Lyons: Yeah. So I was gonna say, what did move the needle?
Brett McKay: Yeah, just putting just good content, spending time on the content.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, and some of it, I think is persistence too. You can’t write an article on your blog, and then six weeks later you write another one. There’s no cadence, right, there’s no… But I feel that way with movies. You’ll see movies that they advertise really, really heavily. But if the movie comes out and the movie itself doesn’t deliver, no amount of ads are really gonna move the needle. And then, the way I discover shows… I don’t know if you do this. I binge watch shows. And it’s usually… I have to hear it… I don’t know… A bunch of times from different people. Like, White Lotus was one. I kept hearing it, hearing it. Finally I thought, “All right, I better take a… I’m gonna take a look at this because so many people I’ve heard say it was good.” But it took me a while, but it was word of mouth, it wasn’t, “I saw a bunch of ads for that show,” you know what I mean? I heard from people who had watched the show and liked it.
Brett McKay: Yeah. No, word of mouth is definitely the most powerful. And then the other way shutting up can help you move forward in your career… So the idea is, instead of spending so much time… We’re not saying, “Don’t do it.” Maybe do the LinkedIn thing every now and then, but spend more time just being really competent at what you do, that quiet competence. But another way of shutting up can get you ahead in your work is, it can help in negotiations. I think it makes everyone uncomfortable, salary negotiation. So what you’d end up doing, you just start talking, talking, talking. And then you basically agree to a not-great-package. And if you just shut up, the other party is gonna start getting nervous and they’re gonna start talking and talking and talking. And then, you’re gonna walk away with something pretty good.
Dan Lyons: Yeah. Yeah, and that’s… I interviewed a bunch of people who do negotiation and talked about it. I think it’s pretty well known. Car salesmen have done this forever. They hand you the deal, and then they stop and just say nothing. And they just… You’re sitting there and you kinda go… You don’t really wanna… You’re nervous. So if you can use it back on them, it usually kind of blows their mind. But it’s part of a larger point though, which this kind of struck me, which is that silence is power, and you can use silence as a weapon. And really, smart people or powerful people often do this. They say less than they need to, and they hold back instead of speaking more. So yeah, in negotiations, it’s a really, really powerful tool for salaries or closing a deal. Yeah, and sometimes it’s extreme silence. It can go on for minutes. And most of us just find that unbearable.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I guess there’s been a lot of studies about that. People who are in positions of power speak less.
Dan Lyons: Well, that’s what struck me in the very beginning of this whole journey was I was looking about over-talking, am I talking too much, and then I thought, oh, we live in this noisy age and everybody’s seeking attention. Then I thought, well, wait a minute, but look at really, really powerful people, for the most part, they’re not out selling too hard. I was a huge fan of Steve Jobs and I admired him in many ways. In person, at work, he was a shouter, kind of a screamer. He was a very passionate guy. But the way he managed himself in public was that he was super reclusive, very secretive. When he spoke, it was because he knew why he was speaking, usually had something to sell, and he chose every word really carefully. And I was a journalist, and he was one of the gets, you always wanted to get. If you could get Steve Jobs on the cover of your magazine, first, you knew you’re gonna sell a lot of magazines and you wanted him to talk to you because he never talked to anyone, and the more he said no, the more you wanted to get him as a guest. And I can tell you, having been a business journalist, you’d be surprised at the kind of CEOs who are big CEOs, who have PR people out trying to get their boss on the cover of Forbes or Fortune, and Jobs was the complete opposite.
But other people, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, Anna Wintour, Barack Obama. You look around and you go, wow, these are people who always really held back, and that’s their power.
Brett McKay: So another way that shutting up can make our lives better can help our relationships, our marriage, but that goes counter to a lot of the common advice, when couples have a problem, the common advice is, oh, you just need to talk more. And often, that talking is facilitated by a therapist, but you share an experience from your own marriage where you and your wife decided to talk less, and it actually saved your marriage. What went on there?
Dan Lyons: Yeah, this still amazes me, even though it happened to me. So we had separated and it wasn’t just because I was such an annoying talker, but whatever, various things. But not because one of us wanted to marry someone else, it was just… We just had trouble dealing with each other, and we had gone to a lot of talk therapy, say, and one after another after another, until we got to the final one, it was just… They said, “You know what? My advice to you is break up. Forget about it.”
And so we did. But I don’t think either of us really, really wanted to get divorced, and this was just also when I started writing this book and researching the book and looking at silence and looking at all these different things, and I started reaching out to my wife and saying, “Can we go walk the dog?” We have a dog who likes to go out in the woods and swim, and we would go and I would just prepare myself and just not talk or talk a little bit, mostly ask questions and really sit… We’re talking about how silence is uncomfortable, just sit in silence, and I ended up calling this non-talk therapy that it somehow allowed us to come back together in a way we didn’t re-litigate the old fights or the old differences. We didn’t go back at all to any of that. And we just spent time together, and I thought of it as non-talk therapy, and it worked for us in a way that all that talk therapy hadn’t worked and we ended up getting back together and it’s gone really well.
And I think a huge amount of it, maybe the most important thing is my ability to hold back and to not respond quickly with something mean, but just to allow silence to exist in the relationship. I think it’s… I’ve come to believe that it’s enormously powerful in an interpersonal relationship.
Brett McKay: Well, you highlight research, it’s nearly half of married couples go to couples counseling, but it’s like 25% of couples who go to therapy end up worse than they were before. There’s actually a psychologist, William Doherty. He wrote an article how therapy could be hazardous for your marital health. And I think the point he was making, one of the problems with couples counseling is that it can reinforce stuff that’s going outside the marriage inside the… In the therapy session. Especially just couples are just kvetching about each other inside the therapy session. And that’s not helpful.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s true. You go in and you’re okay, it’s like your Wednesday night, you go to your meeting, you drive over together, and you go in and you walk out hating each other, you get in the car and now you’re all mad. That happened. That happened a lot. Doherty’s point is that, yeah, people often end up worse after couples therapy. And yeah, part of it is ’cause you go in and you just re-open all this stuff and maybe you don’t need to. Doherty’s point is that a lot of therapists who do couples therapy are not trained specifically to do couples therapy and that couples therapy is a unique thing, and it’s very different and it’s really hard. And so people will hang out a shingle to do it, and they’re not really qualified to do. I think his analogy was you have a broken leg and you go to a brain surgeon or something, or something like that. But there’s another idea, this one really intrigued me, so Ruth Bader Ginsburg had this great line that she said her mother-in-law told her this on her wedding day, and she had lived by this rule her entire life, which is, to have a happy marriage, sometimes it helps to be a little deaf.
And I was like, “wow, that’s amazing,” ’cause you can unpack that, so to speak. And what does she really mean? And he’s like, well, she even says in her biography, so you know when an unkind word is said, just leave it alone. Just like you said, that guy had a bad day. Just don’t fire back, just be deaf to that, and then it occurred to me that we have this idea, and it may be true, but that you have to learn how to fight. If you’re a couple, you need to learn how to have a fight, and RBG seemed to be saying, no, you need to just avoid having fights, sidestep that fight, get around it. Now suppose if someone’s really awful all the time, you end up having to break up, but I just thought that was such an amazing little piece of wisdom, and my wife and I have both really, really tried to do that, and it’s again, been amazingly helpful.
Brett McKay: Yeah. And I think the advice that couples often get is you gotta work on your communication style, you gotta… Instead of making you statements, you gotta make I statements, but I don’t know how helpful that is. What you’re saying about talking less in your marriage reminded me of research from Dr. John Gottman, he’s that famous marriage researcher, and he’s found that couples can be really bad at communication and really bad at conflict resolution, but they can still have happy marriages. And he’s found that really the key is just to have more positive interactions than negative interactions. I think the ratio is like five positive interactions to one negative interaction. And what this does, when you take this idea, you start thinking of your relationship as a bank account, as long as you put a lot of positive deposits in there, just by you enjoying each other, having fun, having good conversations when you’re not fighting or arguing, then when you do argue, which is like… It’s like making a withdrawal from the account, it’s not a big deal because you have that surplus in the account, that buffer. So the important thing isn’t how you talk when you argue, but what you’re doing the rest of the time.
So if you have that flush relationship bank account, when you do argue, there’s no stakes, it’s not fraud, it’s not like, what does this mean for our relationship? The arguments can just dissolve quickly, and you can just avoid arguments in the first place, because most are just about the dumbest stuff, the dumbest stuff, and it’s really… A lot of it is just not even worth talking about.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, you know what we’ve become gone at is, we veer, we step right close to the line where maybe someone’s about to, and we’ve become very good at kinda going, oh, by the way, when is that thing? Is that Tuesday? Oh yeah. Oh gosh, I need to take the car. We just change the subject or we’ll even sometimes get up and be like, oh, I gotta go do something, I’m gonna to the other room, we’ll just walk away from it. You got close to that line, and I think we both… We never say it, we just both realize whoo and to walk away, ’cause I also think and Mia might feel this way too, like you said, most of the stuff you fight over, it’s like rubbish. Who cares really, really, who cares?
I’ll tell you one thing that drives me crazy. My wife likes to leave also to stuff out in the kitchen counter, the mixer and all this like… And I like everything clean and empty, and I find at point I was like, who cares? Who cares? Am I gonna have a fight about this? Yeah.
Brett McKay: So all this, if we were to focus on just talking less, but then you also encourage people to listen more, what research-backed tips that you came across writing this book can help people be better listeners?
Dan Lyons: Well, there’s a lot of exercises you can do. There’s an organization called the International Listening Association, which is amazing, and the head of that organization and I have become quite good friends, but there are exercises you can do, you go have a conversation with someone and you let them talk for five minutes, you don’t speak and then you do the same, and then afterwards you talk about what you remembered from the other person’s conversation. Yeah, listening, just turns out to be this amazing super power in every aspect of your life, with your kids and at work, and yet it’s really, really hard to do. Incredibly hard to be a good listener. So I took online courses, I found exercises, interviewed experts, but yeah, in the book, I have a list of exercises that I gathered up from various sources, like here’s something you can do to work on your listening skills.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and as you said, it’s cognitively taxing. So if you feel like, man, that was, that whooped me. You’re doing it right. Listening isn’t easy.
Dan Lyons: Yeah, that’s a great line from Tom Peters, who is this famous business guru. And he says, “If you get to the end of a 30-minute conversation and you’re not exhausted, then you didn’t listen enough,” but then I think, “Well, how do you have five of those in a day?” But yeah, it’s really hard, but that was one thing for me, if I could stop just talking for the sake of talking, it opens up the space in your life where you can listen and what I’ve found is when people are listened to, they really open up, they really dazzle, they become really fascinating and interesting, so that was the ultimate thing for me in this book, was that not the what can I get out of talking less like, oh, I can get a better deal on my car if I’m silent. What you realize is, oh man, I can make my wife’s life really better, I can make my daughter’s life really better, and then that’s the biggest gift you can give to the world, right?
Brett McKay: Yeah, no, for sure. I think so. People wanna feel noticed, people wanna feel like they’re important.
Dan Lyons: There’s a story about… This is one I just love this anecdote, Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, she described the experience of having dinner with two different big shot British politicians, and one was William Gladstone and the other was Benjamin Disraeli, and the great quote was, “When I left dinner with Gladstone, I left thinking he was the cleverest man in England, and when I left dinner with Disraeli, I left feeling like I was the cleverest woman.” And you think, wouldn’t it be great if you could make everybody you talk to feel that way? Wow, that would be… What a powerful gift that would be.
Brett McKay: It all starts off with just shutting up. That’s the first step.
Dan Lyons: [chuckle] Yeah, that’s where it all starts.
Brett McKay: That’s where it all starts.
Dan Lyons: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Well, Dan, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Dan Lyons: Oh, well, my website is danlyons.io, and yeah, there’s information there. That’s probably the best place to go.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Dan Lyons, thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Dan Lyons: Hey, it was great meeting you. Thank you so much.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Dan Lyons. He’s the author of the book, STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisy World. It’s available on amazon.com and book stores everywhere. You can find more information about his work at his website, danlyons.io. Also check in our show notes at aom.is/stoptalking where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast, make sure to check our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archives as well as thousands of articles re-written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium, head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code “manliness” to check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS and you can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple podcast or Spotify, it helps out a lot, and if you’ve done already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think could get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, it’s Brett McKay reminding you to not only listen to the AOM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.