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The Traffic Light Rule: How to Know if You Talk Too Much

The Traffic Light Rule: How to Know if You Talk Too Much
If you're speaking to a close friend or out at a social gathering, without even realizing it you might find yourself to be the only one talking.

Sure, you might have a lot to say if it's been a long time since you've seen your friends, but you also might be someone who simply talks way too much.

Once you've gotten on a roll, you may try to talk louder (or faster) if someone else tries to chime in or come up with handfuls of follow-up topics that leave little room for someone else to contribute to the conversation.

What are the three stages of speaking to other people?

The first stage is when the information on the topic is most relevant, and you're able to stay on task. In this stage, you might notice how good it feels to find relief in speaking.

In the second stage, you might feel so good speaking that don't notice others are losing interest.

In the third stage, you lose track of what you were talking about, and you go on a tangent speaking about something else in an effort to gain renewed interest from the other person.

What is the traffic light rule you should follow when speaking to other people?

Mark Goulston, MD, discusses the traffic light rule and how to know if you talk too much.
Featured Speaker:
Mark Goulston, MD
Mark GoulstonAs the Co-Founder of Heartfelt Leadership, Dr. Mark Goulston is dedicated to identifying, celebrating, paying tribute to, developing, empowering, emboldening and impassioning heartfelt leaders to heal the world and then change it.

Additionally, as Principal of Mark Gouslton, MD, he works with high integrity, motivated, committed, and "failure is not an option" heartfelt leaders, executives, managers, governmental officials and senior military officers to overcome any and all interpersonal and intrapersonal obstacles to achieving their mission, which must in some way include bettering the world.

RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: June 11, 2015
Host: Michelle King Robson and Pam Peeke, MD

It's all about her. Her body, her mind, her wellness, her sex, her relationships, her aging, her beauty. It's HER Radio, starring acclaimed entrepreneur and women's advocate Michelle King Robson and leading women's health expert, the doc who walks the talk, Dr. Pam Peeke.

PAM: So, I am sitting around the other day and I am just hanging out and someone is just talking like there is no tomorrow, Michelle. I mean, you know what I am saying? It's like, "Excuse me." I am waving at them, going "Stop! You've lost connection. I don't even know what you are saying," blah blah blah. You know, it's just going on.

MICHELLE: It's awful.

PAM: So, did you tell me you were hanging out with somebody?

MICHELLE: Well, actually I was on the phone the other day with the guy who I was thinking about hiring for a specific job and finally, my attorney said, "Would you please stop talking," to him because he wouldn't stop.

PAM: Oh, my gosh. And have you ever had someone where you are just talking to them and they just won't shut up but you got to listen to. You just put the phone down, clean the room, and come back. They don't even know.

MICHELLE: Ninety-six minutes later. Ninety-six minutes later, they have no idea that you are not listening.

PAM: Well, so here is the deal. So, both of us were reading the Harvard Business Review and we came across this fabulous article. It was called, How to Know if You Talk Too Much. Immediately, we were on it like a magnet. Right?

And so, we have the author of that article whose name is Dr. Mark Goulston. He is the co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership and is dedicated to identifying, celebrating, paying tribute to, developing, empowering, emboldening and impassioning heartfelt leaders to heal the world and change it. Dr. Goulston, alright, he is awesome. The author of, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

Dr. Goulston, welcome to HER Radio.

DR. GOULSTON: I am glad to be on here but I better shut up because I am going to wear out my welcome in about ---according to my article I've got 20 seconds unless you say, "No. You can pontificate for 40 but then shut up."

MICHELLE: I was going to tell Pam to cut her intro short.

DR. GOULSTON: She was going on and on. Let me tell you.

PAM: Oh, my God. Wait a minute now. I was like doing this for you, Mark. Come on! I am like puffing you up here a little bit, and just kind of hanging out. So, listen, Mark. Tell us all about what this whole issue is of people who go blah blah forever. And what are the three stages that you spoke about in the article and in your book about how someone -- what's this listening rule?

DR. GOULSTON: Here is why people talk so much, especially a lot of guys who can be introverted like me. I went on a walk with some people and when I came back I said, "Boy! Walking back took no time and walking out took forever," and they said, "Well, you didn't shut up on the way back."

MICHELLE: Oh, ouch.

DR. GOULSTON: These were good friends. I don't talk to them anymore.

MICHELLE: They were good friends.

PAM: Toxic.

DR. GOULSTON: But here is what it is and I'll tell you, especially true for us--I am a role specific extrovert. That means I am introverted but I got to puff it up to be on shows like this so I don't sound like I am just staring at the onion dip.

MICHELLE: I love it.

DR. GOULSTON: But what happens is, when you start talking, especially if you are not used to talking, the first 20 seconds you are sort of relevant. You are making sense in sort of an exchange. And what I talked about in the Harvard Business Review thing was the traffic light rule a friend of mine shared it with me.

And he said, "Unless you are invited to pontificate when you're a guest in one of these shows where you probably go for longer than a minute, you got 20 seconds and the light turns from green to yellow.

And at that point you've got another 20 seconds and then it goes from yellow to red and you have essentially worn out your welcome." And the reason we do this and I want to check with you guys and see if you can see, "Oh, that makes sense." It's that when we start talking, the first 20 seconds is about relaying information, then the next 20 seconds is when we get stuff of our chest, we are feeling great and it's like high colonic and then what happens -- at least to me because I have to be this expert of listening and teaching--I am supposed to teach this around the world--what happens is you suddenly realize, I'm talking too much. How do I get out of this paragraph? And what we do is, we try to hook them back in by talking even more. And by the time the cow has left the barn.

MICHELLE: That makes sense.

DR. GOULSTON: Does that make sense? And what you are saying is, "Oh, I have done that."

MICHELLE: That's exactly what I am saying. I can totally relate to that.

DR. GOULSTON: The traffic light rule is a good one to be mindful of. My friend, Marty Namco, a great career and advice NPR host said, "Take out a stop watch because those 20 seconds and 40 seconds go by in your mind in about three seconds." And I think the more that you are aware of it, the more people will stay engaged with you and the less you'll turn them off and you'll get invited back. You know, they won't change the locks or move out of town to keep you away.

MICHELLE: Change the locks! Change your address! Change your phone number! Okay, so Mark, let's talk about do women tend to do this more than men?
DR. GOULSTON: Well, let me put it this way, you can cram it down my throat. You ladies get away with it more.

PAM & MICHELLE: Ooooohhhh.

DR. GOULSTON: See, I knew I'd get you.

MICHELLE: I love it...I love it. How? Why?

PAM: You are so off this program. You are off this program. So, tell us what you mean by that. Mark, come on tell us, what do you mean by that?

DR. GOULSTON: Well, what happens is -- and here is another sexist thing. You can jam this down my throat. I think very often there are two kinds of people. There are some people who process the world by think, do, and maybe feel. A lot of those will be analytic engineer type: think, do, you can hardly get them to feel. Then, the more creative, emotional type and very often female. What they do is they feel, do and occasionally you get them to think. And there is nothing wrong with that and we need each other. The reason being is, we guys need the sixth sense of women.

We need you to know what that sound in the other room means in terms of our inference and whether they are struggling, whereas, us guys we have to go in the other room and shadow them. We just don't get it. So, we really need each other and those kinds of things. The key is to become more tolerant and understanding of each other. I am about to give the father of the bride speech in my backyard to my daughter who is getting married in two days.

MICHELLE: Congratulations.

PAM: Oh. Congratulations.

MICHELLE: That's exciting.

DR. GOULSTON: Thanks! It is exciting.

PAM: See, that took us only eight seconds to say. So, we're still swinging with you right here by the rule.

DR. GOULSTON: And you're supposed to say something quirky or funny. So, I'm debating whether to say this or not. So, I'll say it on your show but I might not say this at the wedding because someone once told me, they said, "More marriages and relationships would last if men could only realize and accept and celebrate that all women are crazy."


DR. GOULSTON: Listen. I am an equal gender offender.

MICHELLE: Oh, gosh.

DR. GOULSTON: "And it would last if only women would just understand, accept and, in some way, celebrate the fact that all men are babies." And I think there is a lot of wisdom in that. We're all going to get along but that's amazing how immature men can act and it's amazing how emotional women can get. We are all in this together. To be honest, we need those kinds of energy from each other. Otherwise, we're kind of half people.

PAM: Oh, boy! You know something. The words of wisdom and wit.


PAM: That's what we are hearing from theā€”and wit. I can't just thank you enough. Michelle and I are just loving this. Really helping us understand the rules of listening and not talking so much and really being more strategic with all this. We're talking to Dr. Mark Goulston, who is the author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. Dr. Goulston, thank you so much for being on HER Radio. I am Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.

MICHELLE: You can go to to learn more. You are listening to HER Radio on RadioMD. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Stay well!