The art of shutting up

Are you sharing too much? Then you need to read this...

There’s an old cliché that men don’t like talking about their feelings and all that “fluffy stuff”. It might not be true for all males, but where there is smoke, there is fire. While you can share every detail of every micro-second with your closest female friends, some guys will be running for the exit if you try and pull that with them. And what about the boss? When are you being anti-social and when is entertaining your co-workers with tales of Saturday night going too far? It can be hard to tell when sharing doesn’t equal caring. But we’ve asked the experts to help shed some light.

What is over communication?

Clinical psychologist Jo Lamble says if you give more info than is needed (or wanted) or go over and over the same topic, chances are you’re over communicating.

“I like to think of layers of relationships,” says Lamble.

“We have acquaintances with whom we stick to small talk, then we have our friends, best friends and S.O.s. With each layer you share more and more personal information. It’s not right to divulge the same amount of detail with an acquaintance as you would with your boyfriend,” she says.

So why do we do it?

According to psychotherapist Phil Owens:

We think what we’re saying is important. Like a tourist yelling and speaking slowly in English, we think if we just repeat ourselves and use the right volume or tone, the other person will understand its significance.

We’re unsure about the answer. We’ve all babbled when we’re nervousness, right? If we’re insecure about the response we’re going to get, we can keep talking to “block” the communication channels. They can’t respond, if we don’t shut up. Genius.

We’re self-absorbed. We don’t notice if the message is being received, so we continue to send the message over and over (like an emergency beacon) regardless of what’s going on – or if they’re even still there.

We want to feel significant or in control. Like the guy who bores you by going on about his car non-stop, we can care more about satisfying our social need for recognition through talking (endlessly), rather than what we’re saying.

We have other agendas we’re trying to push through. You might keep raising the same old debate because it niggles at you, but is that because you haven’t put the real ghosts to rest? If you don’t like your boyfriend going out all the time: does it upset you because it’s selfish or really because you feel insecure in the relationship? Until you can address the insecurity, you will keep harping on about the surface issue and nothing can be resolved.

Oversharing at work:

Some bosses love to be your BFF and want to hear about everything going on in your world. That isn’t always the case so use your common sense and suss them out. Be open to their social cues. Give as much as you get: if they don’t talk about their personal life, then don’t talk about yours. Even if they like to tell you about the sordid details of their life, don’t ever forget they are your boss, make sure to censor yourself. When you’re going for a promotion, you don’t want them thinking you’re hot-tempered because you always talk about family fights.

Watch their body language through their behaviour, language and attitude so you can see how the message is being received and if they’ve had enough, says Owens.

Oversharing with the boyfriend:

If you’re boyfriend gets annoyed when you’re sharing, does this mean that he doesn't want to hear what is worrying you? “Not at all,” says relationship expert Dr. Matthew Bambling, from the University of Queensland.

What they are reacting to, he says, is often the way you communicate: “If you tell him the same things you have told him many times before in exquisite detail, don't be surprised if his eyes glass over and he starts looking at the TV more than you.”

As you become more upset, don’t think he’s immune either. His stress levels will go up, which will lead him to just try and placate you with a few nice words.

If that doesn’t work, Bambling jokes, “He may be contemplating leaping out a window, ending the relationship, or self-harm by this stage as a way of ending the conversation, although he would know better than to admit this to you. If his hints aren’t received, he may end up shutting down the communication politely or impolitely.”

We all know conversation shutdowns don’t end well. Boys, they really will do the “darndest” things (like set off a world war three-scale domestic. Oops).

How to avoid it:

“If you think that maybe you shouldn't raise an issue as it’s not reasonable, then don't. Practice not having to raise everything for discussion. If you have other agendas, decide if you should address these things up front, be clear and to the point. You may initially feel a little more anxious and insecure when making these changes, but if you stick to it you will soon feel relaxed and won't need to do it anymore,” says Bambling.

The art of conversation is like a tango. It takes two people, so listen to their cues. If they start to look awkward, that would be a good sign to hold back.