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July 8, 2016

Lost for Words? Or Cat Got Your Tongue?

Bhanu Khan

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©©GettyImages/Chris Hernandez/EyeEm

Have you ever found yourself lost for words at a time when you needed them desperately?

It's easy to think that there's not much "going on upstairs" for those that are sitting silently in your meeting but, often, this is a gross underestimation. There are an infinite number of reasons why a person might be inclined to silence in a meeting situation, but not having anything to say is usually not the most pressing.

It's not that silent attendees have nothing to say. It's more like they are lost for words... that their brain has temporarily severed the brain–vocal cord connection - something that, no doubt, we have all experienced at some time or another.

Have you ever forgotten someone's name not three seconds after having been introduced to him or her? Or have you ever had to do a simple sum while someone was watching and waiting for your answer, and realized that you suddenly can't add two simple numbers together? When people get caught up in these types of situations, they find themselves unable to verbalize – or even think – clearly, and they lose their physical voice… but that’s not to say that their minds are as silent as their mouths. If you've ever lost your physical voice, you'll know how the mental voice does the talking for both.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said that, "Quiet people have the loudest minds," and I'm inclined to believe him.

Everyone experiences mental chatter but, for some people, it can be crippling. Think about that team member who is usually silent in your meetings, but who works well, is intelligent and pretty eloquent in everyday interactions at work. While you look expectantly at him across the meeting room table, he may seem confident and ready to participate in the discussion, but you can bet that there's a cacophony of chatter in his mind.

Mental chatter can be useful in helping us to process our thoughts and actions, and it gives us a way of testing out what we are about to say before we say it – invaluable when we're negotiating about something. However, when it becomes overwhelming, it interferes with our actions. It can cause a kind of "short circuit" which halts our words and prevents us from taking any action at all. So, when your boss is waiting for your response to his question, your brain is talking to you about anything and everything bar the subject that it's meant to be focusing on.

When the chatter becomes overwhelming, we are too focused on ourselves. One way to combat this mental chatter is to focus on what others are saying.

Our article on How to Get Your Voice Heard in Meetings suggests ways to do this. These techniques can offer you a way out of your own thoughts while enabling you to become involved in the discussion. The great thing about this is that, the more you practice these techniques, the more focused and confident you will become in speaking up.

With the techniques featured in our article, you can find a way not only to quieten your thoughts but also to set free those great ideas that have been racing around your mind, bursting to get out.

Have you ever struggled to get your words out in meetings? How did you overcome this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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