Lessons from a Loudmouth

[article]
Summary:

I have a colleague whom I used to view as a loud mouth. He was intelligent, articulate and full of life, but also arrogant and opinionated. He never talked quietly; he shouted, hurling his voice across the room.

One evening, he appeared just as several of us were leaving for dinner after a day-long meeting. I tried to send him go-away vibes, but he wasn’t in receive mode. When one of the others invited him to join us, he eagerly (and loudly) accepted.

I have a colleague whom I used to view as a loud mouth. He was intelligent, articulate and full of life, but also arrogant and opinionated. He never talked quietly; he shouted, hurling his voice across the room.

One evening, he appeared just as several of us were leaving for dinner after a day-long meeting. I tried to send him go-away vibes, but he wasn’t in receive mode. When one of the others invited him to join us, he eagerly (and loudly) accepted.

As soon as we were seated, Mr. LoudMouth began pontificating at his customary high-decibel level. I wasn’t the only one who became annoyed; so did some of the others in the group (faces speak volumes). Even worse, the couple at the next table kept staring at him, visibly irritated. Being serenaded by the loudmouth at the next table wasn’t their idea of a romantic dinner.

At length, one of my dinner-mates did what I wished I’d had the courage to do: Gently and tactfully, he told Mr. LoudMouth that his voice was a little too loud, and asked if he could speak more softly so as not to disturb the people at nearby tables.

I was unprepared for Mr. LoudMouth’s response: “Thank you for telling me,” he said. “I have a hearing problem and can’t tell how loud my own voice is, so I sometimes shout without meaning to.”

Then, looking at all of us, he added, “If I start speaking too loudly again, just let me know.”

During dinner, I noticed that Mr. SoftMouth no longer seemed arrogant or blustery. He still expressed opinions forcefully, but he no longer seemed to be pontificating. For the first time, I found him interesting to listen to.

This experience helped me appreciate several things:

  • Sometimes, when people act a certain way (a certain negative way, that is), they’re not doing it to be malicious, difficult or offensive. The explanation is much simpler: They’re unaware of how their behavior affects others, and they’d prefer to be set straight.
  • This guy’s shouting and spouting had caused me to dismiss everything he said. I was amazed by how a single aspect of his behavior had led me to heap an overload of negative attributes on him.
  • Tactfully and gently asking someone to stop exhibiting a troubling behavior is sometimes easier than it seems. And when you do, the people at the next table are very grateful.

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