“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” That’s a quote from Proverbs 17:28. I think we’ve all had a boss who said that and quoted Mark Twain. Next time you feel like quoting something you read on a coffee mug or a page-a-day calendar instead of a book you’ve actually read—or adding self-indulgent, time-wasting fluff to any kind of conversation—maybe just do everyone a favor and shhh.
Maybe you’re in a meeting. Maybe you’re Rudy Guliani and you’re just psyched to tell the world what you would do if you were a black father. Maybe you’re Geraldo Rivera and you’re taking a moment to let the world know that your 76-year-old straight male boss never hit on you. Listen, fellas. It’s summer. It’s humid. And we can all reduce the amount of hot air in the room by using one simple trick.
Seth Meyers put it best in his response: “First of all, don’t ever start a sentence with the phrase ‘If I were a black father.’ If you are a black father, you don’t need to say it. And if you’re not, you should probably just shut the fuck up.” We men love the stereotype of the woman who chooses a filibuster over simple communication. And yet when you look at any meeting, any television appearance, any argument of any kind: Why can’t we just shut the fuck up?
Two ears, one mouth. The most successful people on earth are lifelong learners and you can’t learn anything until you shut the fuck up.
The guys I like to work with the least are the ones sitting around the conference room table doing the equivalent of manspreading. They’re taking up two seats because they can’t shut the fuck up. No one likes long meetings. So…
Shut the fuck up when you:
- Feel the need to be the first one to speak.
- Want to add authority for no reason: “Actually, it’s like this…”
- Are about to rephrase something a woman says, as in, “I think what Mary was trying to say is…”
- Are speaking just to match the alpha male in the meeting: I don’t know if there is a lamer way to prove you’re the real alpha than by making a meeting take longer.
- Want to get in “the last word.”
- In School: you may speak twice per 50-minute class, three times in an hour and half. Five times total in a seminar (three in the first half, two in the second if only to allow class to end early).
- Here’s the formula for meetings: M/2xN=Your Time Allotment. M=Number of minutes in meeting. N=Number of seats in the meeting. So in a 10-minute meeting with 5 people seated, you can have 30 seconds. Make them count!
- This is so dumb, but instead of filling the ol’ windbag to let loose in a tense meeting… just take a deep breath. You’ll feel just as good and you will have provided just as much useful input as when your comment is being ignored.
- Two ears, one mouth. The most successful people on earth are lifelong learners and you can’t learn anything until you shut the fuck up.
- I’m just gonna break this rule as I make it: I’m working on a book about storytelling for content creators. I’ve interviewed about 30 of the world’s biggest YouTubers and what I’ve found again and again is simple. If the point of opening your mouth is to make an advertisement for yourself, you can delete that part. If that makes the rest of your content meaningless, then it was meaningless all along and you can cut the whole thing. This is, simply put, why we’ll sit through a 2.5-hour Michael Bay movie of non-stop product placement, but we’ll check our email in another tab during a 15 sec pre-roll ad on YouTube. If your content—comment in a meeting/opinion/ad—has no value to your users, it has no value period.
- That’s the longest way I could have told myself to just shut the fuck up.
Brendan Jay Sullivan is the Author of RIVINGTON WAS OURS: Lady Gaga, the Lower East Side and the Prime of Our Lives and the forthcoming (still in proposal form) How to Tell a Story.