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When only the glib win, we all lose

Glibwin

In way too many meetings, the fastest talkers win. And by "fastest talkers", I mean those who are the first to articulate an idea, challenge, issue, whatever. Too many of us assume that if it sounds smart, it probably is, especially when we aren't given the chance to think about it. The problem is, the guy with the "gut feeling"--the one who senses that something's not right, but has no idea how to explain it, let alone articulate it on the spot--might be right. Too bad, though, because the glib usually rule.

Let's face it--the clever, witty, glib talkers can make the non-clever, non-witty, and non-glib sound like slow dolts. Slow-to-articulate is mistaken for slow-in-the-head. And as the world speeds up and decisions have to be made right frickin' NOW, it just gets worse.

So there's the heart of the problem--if you're not able to explain your thoughts, ideas, and concerns quickly and articulately, you are often at a disadvantage. I've been there. I am there. I'm capable of thinking (some would debate that), willing to do the research, and reasonably articulate. But I need time! I have never been one of those think-on-your-feet types. With the exception of those few things in which I have a lot of expertise and experience, I pretty much suck at having to explain, defend, or promote something in real-time.

[Note: Making this a glib vs. thoughtful issue is not what I'm saying; lots of people can be thoughtful, right, and quick to articulate. Just because someone can think and speak fast on their feet doesn't necessarily mean they're automatically wrong. The problem is that too often they're assumed to be automatically right.]

Perhaps we can attack this on two fronts:

1) We all need to fight the culture of the quick, by recognizing that giving people a little time to think will do more good than harm.

2) If you're not good at the glib game, there are some things you can do to improve, starting with the most important:

Memorize this: "I have some concerns, but I need a little time before I can really articulate them."

If you're a manager, or anyone who leads meetings and discussions, please PLEASE have respect for that phrase. It's unlikely (but possible, sure) that someone will abuse this, since "buying time" in the context of a work decision doesn't usually buy us anything other than the chance to think more deeply.

I do have a few other suggestions, and I hope to hear more from you...

Glibcontinuum_1


Listen--and respect--your own "gut feelings"
(known as bad smells in the programming world). Read Blink for a greater appreciation of the research behind it. This doesn't mean that your instincts are always right, but they should NEVER be dismissed without thought.

Work to move up the glib continuum

Dig for the source of your feelings about the rightness or wrongness of an idea. If you're in the "I know it when I see it, but I can't explain why or how" stage, you need to do some serious analysis. Here are a few tips:

1) Compare the thing-that-feels-wrong to something that you know is right. Look for the deltas. Sometimes we miss the subtle but crucial things because we're looking in the wrong place. It might help to bring in an outsider who doesn't come with pre-existing biases. (Like the drawing on the right side of the brain thing, where you can draw a thing more accurately if you analyze it as lines and shapes and shades and try to ignore/forget what you know the thing is)

2) Use rubberducking to force yourself to explain something. Even if you have no idea what you're going to say, just start talking! (to a rubber duck or a helpful friend or co-worker) The act of speaking can engage other parts of your brain and help you shape an explanation. The tricky part is, we sometimes try so hard to find a reasonable, logical explanation that we just make s*** up without even realizing it. So explain it, then do the next thing:

3) Find someone to tear holes in your explanation. This is when you need a devil's advocate. Not necessarily to prove you're wrong, but to help you figure out why you're not. And of course, most of us need to practice defending our ideas.

4) If your communication skills are weak, work on them. You should be able to talk as fluently and naturally as the guys in marketing--only authentically and without the semantically-empty buzzwords and jargon. I hesitate to suggest this, but joining a toastmasters program could be a big help if you're struggling to make your point quickly and effectively, especially in front of a group.

5) Take an improv class! Nothing helps you learn to speak on your feet (and not get in your own way) better than improvisation. This is something Johnnie Moore talks about, and I think it's a lot more valuable than I previously recognized (on many different levels).

6) I know I don't have to say this, but for disclaimer purposes I will: don't use your glibness to avoid having to think more deeply or to "win." The best solution is to ask for time to think, research, analyze, evaluate, etc. Just because you can talk fast doesn't mean you should. But it helps to be quick enough to make the case for why you can't articulate your point on the spot, and why taking the time to do so could be of great value.

Again, if you're a manager, understand that most of us are biased to favor glibness (assuming it sounds smart at first listen). Most of us unconsciously link articulation with intelligence, and quicker is better. Don't be blinded by glibness. While it might be a huge asset for a rousing dinner party conversation, glibness can be potentially deadly in work.

I know there's more to say about this... and I might be completely wrong here, but I just can't put my finger on it right now... so I'll think some more and get back to you ; )

Posted by Kathy on April 5, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

Kathy,

Why do you "hesitate to suggest this, but joining a toastmasters program could be a big help if you're struggling to make your point quickly and effectively, especially in front of a group."? Why the hesitation????

Toastmasters can make a WORLD of difference for people's communication skills as well as their leadership and self-confidence!

There is also a part of every Toastmasters meeting that helps develop "thinking on your feet"... it is called TableTopics. You may already know this, but TableTopics is when you are given a question or topic without any warning or time to prepare and you have to get up in front of the club and give a 1-2 minute speech.

The first time you do it is pretty tough. And it takes a while of watching people who are good at it and trying it again yourself before you start to develop the skill.

In the world of personal development and communications, I think it is safe to say that Toastmasters is one of the world's best kept secrets!

In case anyone is interested, you can find a club in your area at www.Toastmasters.org !

Hope to see you at a meeting soon !

Dave Wheeler
Toastmasters Area A4 Governor
Danbury, CT

PS I'm glad you brought up the topic and I look forward to other people's comments !

Posted by: Dave Wheeler | Apr 5, 2006 3:23:49 PM

Use email / IM

Posted by: glib guy | Apr 5, 2006 3:25:30 PM

so where does shameless self-promotion fall on the continuum :)

Posted by: master toast | Apr 5, 2006 3:29:39 PM

I've been dealing with this very subject --losing battles with arguers-- and I AM [theatre-] improvisationally trained! The hard part comes when someone is MORE trained (or experienced) than you in the witty comebacks.

...Case-in-point: many salespeople are trained to argue back with you. (I had a discussion with a salesman friend about his way of conversing!) They will always have a forceful, "non-discussing" way of throwing your discussions, concerns, ideas back into your face. That 'slap' of his argument hurts, too.

Others are trained to argue also. The important thing is to stand your ground. NOT-arguing may be the best thing you can do for yourself: it removes the power they can use against you! The difficulty is that in stopping the train of their argument, you may also be avoiding what could be an important mountain both of you must climb together: the compromise.

However, one thing is important: surround yourself with trustworthy people both at work and in home life; you don't need 'yes-men' (or women) when what you need is someone who will help you find your authentic voice and opinions. Practicing your discussion skills in a non-judgmental air can really help you.

Lauren

Posted by: Lauren Muney | Apr 5, 2006 3:45:06 PM

As a quick speaker myself (and occasionally a glib one), I tuned into this after taking the Myers-Briggs test with colleagues I really respect. It's not just that these people have trouble putting ideas into words, it's that they work best when they take the time to think an idea through.

To me, it was really important to see that this might not just be speaking skills, but that our problem solving styles differ. Put another way, the best idea might not ever exist if you don't give everyone enough time!

Posted by: Joe | Apr 5, 2006 5:20:22 PM

In a previous job I was an art director, with several soft-spoken designers under me. This was at a company where outspokeness was frequently rewarded, and decisions were made during meetings. The design team felt out of the loop because they couldn't get a word in edgewise. (Geez, it was hard for me and no one ever accused me of being soft-spoken!) We developed a habit where quietness worked to our benefit.

Briefly: you sit quietly, listening to all the jawing around the table, while appearing to doodle. In actuality, you're taking in all the hot air and distilling the good ideas out of it. The doodles are really graphical representations (spider diagrams, thumbnails, Venn diagrams, whatever) of your good idea (which is helpfully informed by all the talk thus far). At a certain point in the meeting (the magic moment is usually when people starts repeating themselves), you push your notebook into the center of table and clear your throat. When someone looks at you, you say, and not in a loud voice: "so here's the way I see it..." (As a capper, you can step up to the whiteboard and start copying your idea up there while people are still talking).

This works on lots of levels. Your idea combines other people's ideas, so the Big Egos feel like they're "winning." Because you've been quiet through the meeting, your voice seems louder, and what you say seems more profound (a sound seems louder when it's surrounded by silence). You don't need to be a sharp verbal wit, because your idea is represented visually. You have an artifact (the notebook or whiteboard), that other people can draw on or rework. Finally, by waiting until that moment when people start repeating themselves, you turn everyone's attention to a non-verbal solution, switching on a totally different set of brain activities , which everyone welcomes because they're getting tired.

In other words: instead of out-witting the wits, make your retiring personality work for you!

Posted by: Paul Souders | Apr 5, 2006 5:30:26 PM

I think everyone needs to learn how to communicate clearly. But it is often about debate and not just persuasion. You need to learn tools if you are in a confrontational situation with a "persuader" as opposed to an open discussion. I am a questioner, I don't necessarily put my own thoughts first, but ask a question that triggers a common response. It is a great way to de-escalate a "battle" of words and get them to start seeing your point of view.

If you cannot respond though with your own thoughts and a "marketing" type that is just spewing out stuff, listen to them, question them, and then at least you can be clear that THEY don't have all the answers either. It is tough, but you have to read a room and the personalities in it and respond to them either with "strength" or compassion or silence or a nod. It completely depends.

Posted by: sloan | Apr 5, 2006 6:12:52 PM

I'm the glib fast thinking type - married to and in business with (for 22 years) a more intuitive, seemingly slower witted, occasionally inarticulate partner whose wisdom and judgement are consistently better and more accurate than my own.

Kathy, your continuous generosity in sharing the wonderful workings of that fine mind of yours is truly astounding. Thanks! (And that's no glib B.S.)


Posted by: Bill Kinnon | Apr 5, 2006 6:13:00 PM

I would like to echo Dave Wheeler's comment about Toastmaster: it is an excellent program, ran by volunteers, and can tremendously help you move up the "Glib Continuum" ;-) Having your own blog helps too, especially if you attempt on repeated occasions to explain stuff in your posts.

patrick cormier
past Area 27 Governor (downtown Montreal)
District 61
Toastmasters

Posted by: Patrick Cormier | Apr 5, 2006 6:54:40 PM

Sometimes, coming to a decision quickly is a result of the group momentum to make a quick decision, not necessarily due to the nature of the situation. Unless there are life threatening circumstances, very few decisions need to be made on the spot. A decision to rearchitect the database access for a given software product can probably stand a little think time.

This pressure to decide provides a ripe environment for your glib talkers.

One of the techniques I've used in the past is the "24 hour rule". This rule basically said the group breaks for 24 hours and then comes back together to make the final decision. This "24 hour rule" could be called by anyone in the group whenever we were making a sizable change but where someone felt we hadn't covered all of the aspects. If it felt like we were missing something, chances are we were. This rule gave people time to back away and think about what they were getting ready to do.

The beauty of this is that it reduces the first mover effect of the fast talkers. People get to take time to organize, digest and process. I found it also encouraged better problem solving techniques since people hate meeting a second time. By changing the pace of the process, you retain more control of the situation.

In the end, the rule saved us several times as people came back to the table with a changed perspective and were able to make better decisions.

I'd rather take the time to make a good decision once than to make three bad decisions quickly.

Posted by: Treb Gatte | Apr 5, 2006 7:31:37 PM

I am also a late-articulator and have to deal with glibness constantly. I have learned this valuable technique: write down a concise statement of the person’s argument and then share the written statement (go to the whiteboard and write it out if in a conference room). This process completely changes the nature of the discussion and often removes the glib-sters advantage; and it may also help you, as it does me, formulate a counter argument.

Posted by: Steve Gall | Apr 5, 2006 8:01:13 PM

I looked up glib in the Merriam Webster online dictinary:

1 a : marked by ease and informality : NONCHALANT b : showing little forethought or preparation : OFFHAND c : lacking depth and substance : SUPERFICIAL
2 archaic : SMOOTH, SLIPPERY
3 : marked by ease and fluency in speaking or writing often to the point of being insincere or deceitful

This last one reminded me of much of our political dialogue -- or dueling monologues -- and how important it is to trust one's gut, and not simply go along with the prevailing hot winds, when considering proposals / arguments made by anyone in power.

Posted by: Joe McCarthy | Apr 5, 2006 8:04:18 PM

Hey Kathy,
To use your own phrase .. I have some concerns, but I need a little time before I can really articulate them. But I can try articulating now . :D Look I agree that mostly the glib win. But being one of the non glib ones and trying to emulate them I can tell you its extremely difficult to be glib. So I have a grudging (or as Roget would say reluctant, unwilling, complaining ,resentful) respect for the glib ones which I think you should have too.
Another thing , you mentioned "Just because someone can think and speak fast on their feet doesn't necessarily mean they're automatically wrong. The problem is that too often they're assumed to be automatically right." Similarly the one who aren't glib shouldn't be automatically thought as smart because many a times they are STUPID.
Devdatta

Posted by: Devdatta | Apr 5, 2006 10:29:51 PM

A friend of mine at my first graduate job had a rather good way of dealing with direct questions. If you asked him a question, where I might go "Hmm... um... well... " while coming up with a response (thus, I realise now, making me look like a bumbling fool), he'd go "Okay - one moment...", or "Good question - let me think about that a sec..." and possibly hold his index finger up, silencing anyone who wanted to interject before he'd got his answer out. He'd think for on average at least 10 seconds, and then give a considered, measured reply, no umming, ah-ing or anything like that. He was a very intelligent and experienced IT consultant, and you know, I never heard him utter a stupid statement or answer. He never, ever put his foot in it or made a gaffe.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Apr 6, 2006 12:59:05 AM

In our team, we've just adopted a few agile development techniques. The one most relevant here is Planning Poker
[ http://blog.visionpace.com/2005/12/planning_poker.html ]

Basically you discuss the "story" (feature to be implemented) then everyone chooses a time estimate (marked on a set of cards)

This way, the over confident glib person may estimate 1 day, but the gut feeling guy might think it'll actually take 5. Since the idea is to come to a consensus, this forces everyone to discuss, so the gut feeling person won't just get ignored.

Also it lets people get much better at estimating (and the team at spotting people who always over or under estimate)

We've only just started doing this, but we're already seeing it's value!

Posted by: benjymous | Apr 6, 2006 1:52:12 AM

I suspect it relates to an introvert/extrovert mix. Just a thought. That would hardly be all there is to it, but people who can't immediately express their intuitions tend to be introverts.

Posted by: Michael Chui | Apr 6, 2006 2:14:18 AM

The UK equivalent to the Toastmasters is the Association Speakers Clubs [ http://www.the-asc.org.uk/ ]. I can recommend them as a friendly and safe enviroment where you can learn skills and confidence. A particularly useful part is the Topics section of the evening where you have to speak for two to three minutes on a subject given to you by the chairman. Being able to talk fluently and convincingly at a moment's notice is one of the most useful skills I've ever learnt.

Chris

Posted by: Chris Tregenza | Apr 6, 2006 3:08:12 AM

As a slow person having to confront glibness, I find that there's a concept of professionalism at stake.

If being professional means having an immediate answer to any question and being able to justify my answer by my own infallibility (which is the notion of professionalism that glib performances appeal to), then I'm not a professional by that definition and I can't pretend to be.

If being professional means having a systematic way of thinking things through that protects me from my own fallibility, and being able to justify my recommendations by objective criteria rather than an appeal to my own authority, then I am a professional by that definition, and keeping that in mind helps me to deal with glibness.

Posted by: slow pro | Apr 6, 2006 5:16:38 AM

I've got a confession to make. I shoot from the hip. All the tests, both respected and risible agree: I'm an activist, a kinaesthetic, you name it, I'm it... in spades. I'm even South African. Every cliche applies. All mouth.

So let me explain.

Talking out loud helps me formulate my thoughts. Saying them to someone sets my idea up as an Aunt Sally. It gets the ball rolling. However, I often find that I revise my ideas further down the line (because I too, need time to think it through, but I like a starting point). It might be a complete overhaul, it might just be the odd tweak to hone things. I work well when I have a team of people to bounce things off. Sometimes that team will include the slow starter, and that's fine - next day, there'll be an e-mail, a text message or a phone call and all the objections will be raised and alternative ideas mooted. The wheels are in motion.

A good team has space for everyone. If we know that for person A the ideas come thick and fast and they're on the lips before they're even coherently in the head, while for person B, there will be that one perfect gem that is the result of cogitation, we make space for both extremes. It's a matter of good leadership. Maybe one of A's thick-and-fast ideas is what provides the inspiration for B's more carefully thought out gem.

In the final analysis, as long as the product is ace, the success goes to the team.

Posted by: Karyn Romeis | Apr 6, 2006 5:37:04 AM

Tom, Dick, and Harry are sitting around one afternoon and are starting to get hungry.

Tom: "I'm hungry."
Dick: "Me too."
Harry: "Where do you want to go for lunch?"
Tom: "Let's go to McDonalds."
Dick: "I have a bad feeling about McDonalds, but I don't know why."

If Harry had to make a decision with no further input, would he be on Tom's side or Dick's side? For many problems, we prefer a bad solution to no solution. A good way to ferret out a bad solution is to provide competing solutions. The competing solution doesn't have to be better, it just gets people to discuss which one is better or worse and why.

Asking for time is a great way to save time in the long run. Set a deadline for when the discussion will continue or the solution will be chosen and try to get a night's rest in the thinking period.

Posted by: BB | Apr 6, 2006 8:01:36 AM

Kathy,
I have a good feeling about your post.
And the reason is obvious...
It's right! :-)

Posted by: Paul Peterson | Apr 6, 2006 10:21:26 AM

It has to be said:

# glib-config --version glib
1.2.10

(Looks like I'm behind the stable version.)

Posted by: Edward Ocampo-Gooding | Apr 6, 2006 10:47:40 AM

As detailed in for example the book "Mapping the Mind," glibness has a specialized area of the brain dedicated to it -- which drives the point home that it has nothing to do with "intelligence" (which however it's defined, most would agree is not localized in the brain). For example, the genetic disorder Williams syndrome is associated with mental retardation paired with extreme glibness. Check out:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520224612
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_syndrome

Posted by: Adam | Apr 6, 2006 11:30:21 AM

I am reminded of some comments by a Civil Engineer on presenting proposals at Town Hall meetings and City planning commissions. She hated presenting when some of the government people were teachers in their day job. Whether they knew what they were saying or not, or even had anything to say, they usually convinced everyone else to go along with their ideas. Teachers are the ultimate public speakers, with lots of practice.

So the takeaway here is: if you need to be a better speaker, check out teaching or Toastmasters.

And here is an idea for further research. What do you do when a group is all quiet go-alongs? I've encountered this before. It's a challenge to lead because they won't discuss their ideas. There is just no way to get open consensus. Worse, they tend to use quiet techniques to get their way (secret alliances, roadblocking, other nasty things). Can they be turned away from the Dark Side?

Posted by: Walter Lounsbery | Apr 6, 2006 11:31:01 AM

"...because the glib usually rule."

Explains how so many enterprise software systems got sold and implemented in the 80's and 90's without a shred of evidence for ROI.

Posted by: Kris Olsen | Apr 6, 2006 1:36:00 PM

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