Many of us profess to being effective communicators - it's right up there in the 'key skills' section of my CV - and when pressed we'll gladly recite how we're able to communicate effectively with people at differing levels, tailoring our language to suit our target audience and presenting information to large groups confidently. But that's not really effective communication, is it? No, that's effective talking. To be truly effective in the art of communication we have to learn to shut up.
How many times have you found yourself sitting in a meeting, or with a group of friends in the local pub, and found yourself 'waiting to speak'? Someone mentions something about the Libor scandal or Man City's upcoming fixture and a thought pops into your head about the subject. We immediately go into 'monkey mode' - that is ooooh ooooh I've got something interesting/witty/profound (delete as appropriate) to add to this conversation, I must hold onto this thought and verbalise it soon before either someone else says it or the subject changes and it'll be too late. Sheer panic. Rather than actively listening to the conversation around us we pre-occupy our mind with this thought that must be offered up to the group and subsequently (and often) we miss points that we'd have otherwise picked up on - sometimes even the fact that what we'd been waiting to say so persistently has already been said, albeit in a different way, by someone else.
Does it really matter if you don't get to serve up your words of wisdom? Could it wait until after the meeting perhaps during networking? Chances are it's not going to be the end of the World, your career or your friendship if you don't get to say your piece, so just let it be. Instead choose to be an effective listener, put 100% of your attention onto the person who is speaking and hold back from interrupting them to blurt out your thoughts. A glass of water is always good for this - when you feel the need to speak when someone else is speaking take a big sip. If the need overcomes you then you'll probably end up dribbling water down your chin. Never a good look.
In his iconic 1936 book How to Win Friends & Influence People, author Dale Carnegie stresses the importance of actively listening to people, paying genuine attention to them and being genuinely interested in what they have to say. People love to talk about themselves and love to be listened to. We all get our opportunities to talk, don't break a sweat if it doesn't come about at the precise moment you think you have something insightful to offer - it'll keep and even if you never get to say it you have an abundance of thoughts every minute of every day and, just maybe, the 'one that got away' wasn't quite as great a contribution as you first imagined!