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In a world of blabber, shutting up and listening is a superpower

The solution is both simple and not easy: figuring out why we’re talking in the first place.

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Threads, Meta’s Pepsi to Twitter’s — sorry, X’s — Coke, made a big debut in early July and leveled off fast. Maybe it was too clunky. Maybe all people needed was a short, hot fling before returning to the devil they know. Or maybe it’s a sign that we’re done having to share immediate opinions about immigration and burritos.

Or maybe not. We love the chance to talk in any setting, and also because words are just like chocolate chips — the more the better, except when they’re not. I’m a big fan of words. I’ve made my living with them, but you know what else is cool? Not making words.


Yeah, silence. It builds suspense, allows people to catch up and eat their burritos. It also makes things quiet, which is scary as hell. We have one second of tolerance for unspoken moments, according to actual scientific research, before we have to fill them.

It’s time to face our fear, so I’m here to make a proposal: Let’s shut up more often. And I’ll start, because I’ve been known to run long. My wife and kids often experience this, and the reason is always the same: I have some awesome point to make, and it’s so awesome that they can’t handle it. I’ll get going and know that I’m on the verge of a massive breakthrough, the moment when their whole lives are about to change, and one of my sons will hit me with, “Got it,” which, because I’m massively self-aware is code for “Please stop.” (I might have added the please.)

How do I know I talk too much with my wife? Her saying, “You tend to talk too much” is a hint.

Does any of this cause me to consider, Maybe it’s time to stop hogging the conversation? That would be a big nope.


My problem is, I don’t have this problem when I write. I have word counts that I’m vicious in getting down to. (I probably went over that last sentence six times.) You know where I especially rule? Greeting cards. I see the entire playing field. When there’s no more space, I seal the envelope.

My goal is to get more greeting-card-like, and quit when I’ve said enough, even if I have more to say. I know it’s not apples to apples. The page doesn’t talk back. Conversations are a constant give-and-take and where to start and stop or make a turn isn’t always obvious.

I also know I didn’t invent blabbing. Some people just like to talk. Some want to affirm their opinions by hearing them out loud, maybe picking up fellow believers along the way. There’s a control aspect with dictating the conversational pace and making everyone else respond to your thoughts. And some people just like to be right, me included. “Who doesn’t want to be right? It feels so good,” says Heidi Kevoe-Feldman, associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University.

I’ll add one more to the list: the desire to be seen as not a complete moron. I don’t always feel I have much in the way of “expertise,” and I want to be kept around. A little secret? When my wife says, “That’s a good point,” it’s like scratching me under the chin.

With my kids, I tend to ramble because I’m driven by a sense of urgency. They must know the importance of writing neatly or not kicking each other in the ribs, and it must be known right now. By morning it will be too late. Too late, I say.


The problem with this equation? “Kids don’t see the stakes,” says Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins, associate director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Mass General Hospital.

And honestly, why should they? Parents act like kids are “going to prom tomorrow,” she says, but that’s only true for one day in their lives. In reality, there’s time; the people we usually talk to — we’re going to see them again pretty soon.

My kids? Even sooner. It would serve me well to ease up and take the layering approach, as Booth Watkins calls it. Say a little. Let it take. Come back at another time. Say a little more. Keep repeating.

But, but, but they don’t seem to be accepting this gold I’m offering.

Yeah, because they’re kids. They’re designed to oppose anything that sounds really boring — sorry, I mean responsible. “It’s part of their resistance,” Kevoe-Feldman says.

It’s part of a lot of people’s resistance.

Nobody wants to be sold something they’re not looking to buy. The solution is both simple and not easy: figuring out why we’re talking in the first place. If it’s to convert someone, you’d have better luck cleaning a beach. Mostly, our intent is to connect, belong, be understood, maybe learn something, Kevoe-Feldman says.


I usually do better when I pause and think for a second about what I want to say. But that means one second of silence. Noooooooooooo. Can’t take it. Must be filled with words, any words. Just make words and make lots of them.

Maybe it’s time to resist that urge. We all like data and wear watches that track our progress. I say we try for one and a half seconds of quiet and see the chaos that doesn’t ensue.

I’ll stop now.

Steve Calechman is a writer on the North Shore. Send comments to