I am self-aware enough to know that I am too fast-paced for some. I once got a quarterly review at work where I was told that the only thing I needed to improve on is walking more slowly in the hallways. I recognize that wide-eyed, stuttering response that means that what I just said was delivered so rapidly as to sound more like the Doppler shift of a passing train than conversation.
But there are some folks out there who speak at such a deliberate pace, and who take such a circuitous route to get to their point, that I start squirming in my chair like a potty-training toddler after five juice boxes every time I must have a conversation with one of them.
There’s a woman I work with who does this. The way she speaks is like a moth circling a flame; she goes around and around, sometimes getting close to the point but never quite touching on it before she goes around once again.
At my day-job, she will come to see me in order to get permission to do something. She will bring notes with her to the conversation, so that she can read them aloud, and refer to them while she is explaining. I will find myself reading these notes upside-down so that I can skip to the end without having to be actively engaged in her long, droning, monotone delivery. She has even brought PowerPoint presentations to one-on-one conversations, and read them aloud to me as I clicked the mouse in response to “And, would you go to the next slide, please?” I once asked her, “Why don’t you tell me right now what’s on the last slide?” and she replied, “We will get there in a minute. Would you go ahead and go on to slide number twenty-six, please?” (By the way, when she said we would get there “in a minute,” that was a bald-faced lie!)
Throughout the conversation, she pauses: not dramatically, not in a way that emphasizes whatever golden nugget of information is about to follow, not a “pregnant pause,” but just another in a series of pauses that become less and less dramatic as the dialogue (read: monologue) wears on. And I silently will her to finish her thought… get to the point… cut to the chase! Pick your metaphor, just stop talking!
Just when I think she’s about to finish, she says, “And with that being said…” and proceeds to elaborate on page four, paragraph two, subsection five of her notes, and how these are counter to paragraph one, subsection six. She then describes how she chose to interpret these subsections in order to resolve the conflict and how one of her peers didn’t agree and after that conversation – which she describes at length – she changed her mind and decided that the second interpretation is really correct…
And just when I think this is finally it, she says, “And on the other hand…” And she carefully delineates any possible opposition to her opinions or ideas, and how important it is to take these other opinions into consideration. And then she’ll tell a story that illustrates, from her own experience, how good she felt when someone showed that they valued her opinions and took them into account….
And then, with yet another un-dramatic, un-pregnant, pause, as I lean forward in my chair salivating to hear her thesis, she says, “And I told you all of that just to tell you this…”
AHA! An epiphany! I suddenly realize that she knows that she is droning on and on. She knows that she is carefully evading the point. She knows that she saying the same thing repeatedly in fourteen different ways. This is merely a clever negotiating technique. She is wearing me down so that when she finally does tell me what she wants I will say, “Yes,” just to get her out of my office and out of my life! And the worst part is… it works!