We humans start our lives at the peak of your popularity. Everyone loves babies. The trouble starts when we learn to speak. Talking is the process by which we transform from adorable to insufferable. The more we talk, the less appealing we become.
No topic is safe. If things are going well for you, and you make the mistake of talking about it, others will think you’re a self-absorbed bragger. If things are going poorly for you, and you talk about it, others will think you’re a gloomy downer. If you talk about other people, you’re a gossip. If you freely offer your opinion on the pros and cons of things, you’ll be seen as too critical or too opinionated.
If you talk about politics, the people who disagree with you will see you as either an immoral ass hat or a superstitious simpleton. The people who share your viewpoint will see you as a bore because you’re stating the obvious and probably taking too long to do it.
The old saying is that it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. It’s unambiguously true that the more you talk, the higher your odds of saying something that is memorably stupid, cruel, selfish, or evil.
Telling amusing stories is okay in small doses. But storytelling is a rare skill. And the people who know you well have heard all of your best stories. Every story you tell will lower your average.
One situation in which talking works well is when two analytical or academic people share opinions and information on topics of common interest. That can be stimulating, especially if one or both people has a sense of humor. But if those two people spend much time together, they start running out of fresh topics. The more they talk, the less interesting they become to each other.
The rules of conversation are a bit different for people who don’t know each other well or don’t see each other often. In those cases, a bit of extra chatter is useful to keep the awkwardness at bay. But as you spend more time with an individual, every word you utter makes you less desirable.
Lately I have been wondering if there’s an antidote for the social decay caused by talking. One fix is to spend more time with strangers. But that would be exhausting and hollow.
You could try doing more listening and less talking. People like that. But listening with empathy has the perverse effect of rewarding the talker for sharing his woes. That’s a problem because if you cause someone to focus on his own misfortune, you make things worse for him. In time, the talker will associate you with all of his most unpleasant thoughts because that’s the connection you keep reinforcing.
My best solution for the scourge of talking is this: Be brief and say something positive.
Brevity will slow the inevitable decline in your popularity caused by talking. And saying something positive as often as possible will be a mood booster to whoever is in the room with you. Humans are followers, and if you set a positive tone, it rubs off.
You’ll never regain the personal appeal you enjoyed as a baby. But if you say nice things, and don’t say much, you might become relatively less unappealing than the people around you. And that’s not nothing.