So Many Ways to Say Shut Up, So Little Time.

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes


“I understand.”

“I’ve got it.”

“I think what John is trying to say…”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.’ (impatiently nodding head and waiting to speak)


I’ve been noticing this in myself lately, the way I’ve adopted a conversational rhythm meant to hurry people along.  In my role as facilitator, I sometimes have a legitimate need to interrupt people, and I do, most often to ask them what the gist is.  “I’m having a hard time knowing what to pay attention to in all you’ve said.  Could you summarize it in a sentence?”

I find it hard to listen to an endless barrage of words and know what the speaker wants me to glean from it.  In the US, we give preference to people who talk a lot and often, believing it’s a sign of confidence and leadership.  It’s not, of course – it’s just extroversion.  Some leaders seem to have been taught that speaking is the same as leadership, so they start talking at the beginning of the meeting and don’t stop until it’s over.  These meetings rarely end on time.

Sometimes when everyone’s eyes are on me, I just start babbling, and I wish someone would interrupt me and ask that magic question:  What is it you are trying to say?  In those moments I need to be asked, because I’m running scared, talking because people are listening.

I want to interrupt these kinds of speech as an act of kindness and deeper listening.  I want to not say or be heard as saying “shut up,” but to be seen as asking to hear what the speaker really wants to say, even if they think it’s unacceptable.  Especially then.

In my quest I’ve noticed that “shut up” comes in so many forms, some of which are listed above.  I bet there are hundreds of them.  Do you struggle with this too?  Do you have strategies that work? Have you heard other ways we say “shut up” without appearing to?  Your comments are welcome.


  1. I’m getting frustrated with this need to hurry conversations along and quickly get to the point alll the time, especially in this go-go-go Bay Area. Just because someone talks a lot doesn’t make them an extrovert — I grew up in the American South, where *everyone* talking one’s head off is the norm, even for introverts like myself.

    I’m an extrovert in terms of needing to talk out an issue to make sense of it. And, when I facilitate sessions in other cultures, I’d be reamed if I tried to cut people off — even if I wanted them to “get to the point,” that’s just not the way their minds (or conversations) work.

    Maybe it would be better to determine the purpose at the start of a meeting/conversation/session/workshop/event/etc. and, as needed, how much time there is to allow for “rambling” — just to get folks on the same page.

    • Thank you for your comment, Mara. I like your suggestion about determining the purpose. And I get what you mean about being rushed along. I think that makes it more important to find a way to accommodate all styles. – by establishing a time for rambling.

  2. I can relate so strongly to this column. I see the same thing here in the Pacific Northwest, so it is not just a bay area, or city issue.

    I can’t help but wonder if part of what is going on is due to a lack of lisening going on in our culture which is creating an unanswered need to be heard. One glance at the news is daily confirmation that lisening seems to be absent from current society. So when people do get the microphone, they can become like a starving child put in front of a buffet.

    The second related idea is that in the world of Short Attention Span Theater, we are loosing our connection to storytelling, relating our story to the audience in a meaningful way so we end up rambling or sounding like we are spewing stacatto verbal bullet points.

    Or it could just be that I am growing old with the realization that time is precious and limited, and want everyone to use it wisely. 🙂

    • Or a formulaic TED talk. I miss the stories that have me hanging on the storyteller’s every word, not knowing what’s next. The one’s that don’t feel like marketing, but are authetic. Because I think that’s another thing that’s happened to conversation – I feel sold to and pushed to take an action. Verbal panhandling. I don’t want to listen to that.

      Is it possible that we all need to do a better job – the storytellers and the listeners?

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