I’ll be honest: I’m a “Chatty Kathy.” Being a talkative programmer is unusual, but alas it’s who I am. And the struggle to be quiet increases significantly when I have some new technology that I’m excited to share. Or at least I tell myself that my fear of silence stems from noble goals. Even still, how can I talk to my coworkers when our careers demand that we remain quiet and focused?
Should the team be ready and willing to learn about some new technique or pattern whenever I feel like sharing? Heck no. Context switching is a killer for productivity in most careers (and especially software). It’s not respectful to my peers who often need silence so that they can produce good work. I get it. Look, I also have no problem voicing my frustration when people interrupt me if I’m working on some complex algorithm. So I understand the need for quiet.
But recognizing the need for silence does not make it easy for me (or any Type A person) to be quiet. As always, I reach out to my favorite Buddhist monk to help me understand this pathological fear of conversational lulls:
“What are we so afraid of? We may feel an inner void, a sense of isolation, of sorrow, of restlessness. We may feel desolate and unloved. We may feel that we lack something important. Some of these feelings are very old and have been with us always, underneath all our doing and our thinking. Having plenty of stimuli makes it easy for us to distract ourselves from what were feeling. But when there is silence, all these things present themselves clearly.”
When I allow myself to be silent even for a few uncomfortable moments, my mind does exactly what Thich Nhat Hanh described above– it tells me that I’m trying to avoid something. Which brings us to Tip #1:
- Ask yourself why you want to talk so badly. Before opening your mouth, it helps to recognize if your desire to talk stems from the goal of sharing valuable information or from a desire to satisfy that Type A personality itch. Buddhists call this process “mindful communication,” and Socrates would call this “knowing thyself.” Giving myself the opportunity to clarify my desires allows me to fully enjoy conversation when I recognize that my quota for human connection is low. However, if I allow myself to be quiet and the magic-eight ball of my mind pops up and says, “you’re just talking to avoid your problems” then I know to cut myself off from mindless talking. Look, I have come to terms with the fact that I often get up to chat with coworkers as a way of procrastinating on a task that isn’t exciting me. My desire to seek a better stimuli doesn’t make my distraction fair for the other person. But sometimes you’ve just got to talk, and you should embrace that talkative part of yourself if you need to. CubicleBuddha.com is dedicated to evangelizing self-care, so if you need to talk… then we have tips further down on how to find the right time and place to let loose your chatterbox. However, finding the right time can be challenging in an office; so, sometimes the best choice is to seek alternative stimuli such as…
- Choose music as an alternative to expending talkative energy. Music, especially songs without words, can help to dampen the desire to be chatty. I always recommend video game soundtracks (because I’m a nerd). And if it’s conversation you miss, there are tons of incredible podcasts.
- Choose exercise as an alternative way to expend energy. Go for a walk, run up the stairwell, or go to the gym. Sometimes getting energy out of your system will help you to leave behind any negative feelings that were making you feel chatty. Furthermore, exercise has been known to give focus and increase productivity.
- Write notes to yourself on what you want to talk about. Writing notes, gratitude journaling, or even blogging can help you to organize your thoughts so you feel less of a need to share them with people who might not appreciate them at that moment
- Learn the body language of the person you want to talk to. If they have headphones on, then they might be trying to concentrate. Probably not a good time. Or maybe they’re someone who always has headphones on. In which case, you can test if their eyes are incredibly focused or if they see you walking by. If they’re not incredibly focused on the computer screen, then they might be open to a chat. You can simply observe how far their chair swings around when you enter their cubicle as a measure of how much they would like to talk. The fact that you care enough to think of this makes you a better coworker and friend.
- Share at the right moment. Here’s an easy technique: go to lunch! People might not want to talk at their desk, but once they agree to go to lunch, it’s go time to be as talkative as you’d like.
- Set up a lunch and learn meeting or a book club at your job. By declaring your intention to give back, you know that any employees that show up are giving you the go-ahead to share your excitement and knowledge with them. This knowledge-sharing solution works wonders because it solves a problem that Thich Nhat Hanh refers to as “an inquisitive mind which is wrongly directed.” So go and direct yourself wisely!
- Scratch your talking itch outside of work. There will be some days that you come into work and genuinely miss talking to your work friends and there is some kind of important deadline that prevents people from being able to chat with you. Don’t let the loneliness get to you. Remind yourself that work is not the only time and place that you can interact with others. Other great opportunities include:
- Volunteering. An easy volunteering activity is spending time with the elderly or sick at nursing homes or rehab hospitals. These patients are lonely too and could really benefit from your time. And maybe you’ll find yourself less lonely too. VolunteerMatch.org makes it easy to find local opportunities that match what you’re looking experience.
- Calling a friend or family member. Setting up a time to speak to distant friends who you’ve fallen out of touch with is a simple but powerful way to replenish your Type-A reservoir. In our increasingly text-based world, we often forget that FaceTime and phone calls exist.
- Playing online video games with voice chat, and preferably with old friends so you can feel more connected.
- Finally… forgive yourself for being talkative. At the core of most of our advice is self-care, because we know that by accepting the good and bad traits in yourself can lead to better behavior in the future. Don’t disparage yourself for this talkative nature that you have– because this quality makes you great, too! Type A personalities are rare in software engineering and in many technical trades, but we’re often a very helpful bunch. We tend to lead change in the office, but if we don’t watch it we can just end up being annoying. So tell yourself that you’re not being annoying. Forgiving yourself will give you the confidence to behave naturally. A confident mind is a quiet mind. In an interview entitled “Be Yourself, Be Beautiful,” Thich Nhat Hanh said:
The Buddha recommended that we should not try to run away from ourselves, but learn to take good care of ourselves and transform our suffering.
If you take the above steps to listen to your mind and to give yourself healthy doses of your needs, then I promise that you will be happier at work and your coworkers will thank you. You now have a myriad of options on how you can recognize what your mind is asking for and new techniques on how you can channel that energy positively. Lastly, we here at CubicleBuddha.com would like to repeat that this talkative nature makes you who you are– and we love you for that.