Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gift of the gab

The Irish are famous for their gift of the gab, but it's not a trait I share. I can be embarr-assingly inarticulate in company, struck dumb while everyone else is rabbiting away non-stop.

I'm just too self-conscious, too aware of what I'm saying and of how it might be received. Might I offend someone? Might I say something inappropriate? Might I blurt out something utterly stupid?

Other people can blather away effortlessly about anything under the sun, the words pouring out like water from a tap, totally confident they'll say the right thing. Nothing seems to put them off.

How I envy that remarkable ability when I'm standing awkwardly next to some total stranger (or even someone I know well) wondering what to say next and filling the silence with nervous ear-tugging or head-scratching.

Of course I'm aware that being tongue-tied can be just as off-putting as saying the wrong thing, but that doesn't seem to help. I only have to realise I'm tongue-tied to become even more so.

I can't see off that little policeman in the back of my brain watching my every word like a hawk, waiting to nick me for some petty social offence. Why won't he just go away?

They say as you get older you get less shy, because you simply don't care any more what other people think. Well, I keep waiting for this magical quality to kick in, but there's no sign of it yet.

Perhaps I should just make a virtue of my failings and become a Trappist.


  1. Sorry Nick I can't empathise there, I blither and blather, I'll talk to the dog or the walls if there's no-one else around to listen. Although I have a friend who is very 'quiet' but I know him well enough that the silences aren't uncomfortable. Sometimes if there's nothing to say, you're better off saying nothing!

  2. I talk and talk and talk when I enjoy the company of the person/people around me. Then all of a sudden I stop on my tracks after I realise that I am doing most of the talking. So I make a conscious effort to stop and start listening, to show them I am in fact very interested in what they have to say. I ask a whole lot of questions, too. I don't remember being shy but I remember being quiet if I felt like "what am I doing here?" or "get me outta here!" Ditto on Baino's "if there's nothing to say, you're better off saying nothing".

  3. Actually Nick, the best conversationalist is the one who is just plain interested in the other person. I just ask questions a lot of the time when I'm feeling particularly shy or tongue tied. And I am self-aware enough to notice how absolutely charmed I am when people are interested in what I have to say and ask me questions.
    The best question I ask of a total stranger is "Now what brought you to this spot?"
    And I really am genuinely interested in what they have to say. People's journeys are fascinating.
    Maybe this might help?
    And I find your blog so interesting but can totally relate to writing better than speaking spontaneously.

  4. I'm like you Nick, more on the quiet/shy side...especially with people I'm not comfortable with, yet. I think it can be a very useful personality trait; I usually catch and remember parts of conversations that people who talk a lot don't. But at the same time, if you never open up, you deny people all your great insights. I have to constantly remind myself to take a deep breath and relax so that I can actively listen to what's being said instead of thinking about what I'm going to say.

  5. I'm Jeckyl and Hyde
    sober - quiet
    Tipsy - can talk crap to anyone

  6. I love WWW's comment and it's so very true. Is the wine in the picture a reference to the fact that it can make chatting easier??

  7. Baino - Ah yes, motormouth Baino! Can I have one or two of your genes please? I'll happily talk to the walls because I know they can't be offended, but real people are a bit trickier.

    GayƩ - I'm good at listening, and good at asking questions. I think that's part of the problem, I'm often content to listen rather than contributing my own ha'pence worth. Selfish bugger.

    www - As I say, I'm good at questioning others (well, I was once a journo!). I just need more confidence in my own utterings. And yes, writing comes a lot more naturally to me.

    Nicole - All my great insights? That's very kind of you! I'm sure relaxing is the key but I find it hard to relax unless I feel very comfortable with the company and surroundings.

    Quicky - That's one solution (probably explains the Irish gift of the gab in the first place!). But alcohol and me don't get on too well - a couple of drinks and I'm either falling asleep or befuddled.

  8. Conor - I just liked the picture and she just happened to be imbibing! But sure, wine can help -that is, up to the point when I start rambling incoherently!

  9. I agree that many Irish people talk a lot but there is quite a lot of 'spraffing to fill the gap'. Because of the incessant need to talk in Ireland and the awkward feelings many people have with silence I ended up taking a long time to learn that sometimes you can enjoy being with somebody without having to talk.
    I had a girlfriend from Finland and that is one country where you can have silence even in a pub. As a (talkative) Irish person spending time there was a real experience.

  10. Aidan - I have that impression too, that people here find silence awkward so they talk to plug the silence. The Finnish experience sounds amazing - silence even in a pub is quite something.

  11. I have the same issue. I use different tricks to get myself to engage, but often I fail. It's usually at the end of the day when I'm tired anyway and would rather be doing something fun and preferably easy. I'm better in writing, or one on one. Also after a minute or two in a group environment I have to fight a strong urge to read a book or go for a bike ride instead. I like the suggestion of showing interest in the other person, which is easier if the person is interesting. In the states they say extroverts outnumber introverts 3-1. Still the two types need each other.

  12. Matt - Can't say I have the urge to leave a group and read a book - not for a while anyway. I genuinely want to get to know the other people but I just have trouble talking to them. You're right that extroverts and introverts need each other - a bunch of extroverts all competing to out-talk each other isn't a pretty sight!

  13. Maybe if you were more glib, you wouldn't write as well, or as much, and we would all be poorer for it.

    You have talents, Nick. They just may not be the ones you prefer.

  14. Heart, thanks for that lovely comment. I'll concentrate on writing then and not worry about my lazy tongue!

  15. I have to agree to an extent with what Aidan said - conversation is not conversation when it exists only to fill dead air. I would far sooner sit with a quiet soul who says something profound every once in a while than with someone like me who talks incessantly to fill time and space and ease awkward nerves.

  16. FG - Exactly how I feel. As the old Buddhist saying goes "He who speaks does not know. He who knows does not speak." Yes, one penetrating remark is better than a stream of polite prattle. But I'm sure your own output must be more than prattle!