Why Am I Talking?

Tom Barrett
4 min readFeb 2, 2018


As I am always on the look out for useful mental models, protocols and habits to improve the quality of dialogue, I spotted this little acronym to improve participation.


Why Am I Talking?

One of my favourite maxims and something I wrote down when I started Dialogic Learning is to “Listen twice as much as you talk.” This is based on a quote by the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus:

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

One of the strengths of this protocol is that it encourages us to carefully reflect on what we are sharing and think about our thinking. Any habits and protocols that encourage us to slow down a little are really valuable at improving the quality of our dialogue and discussion.

It was hard to find the original attribution for the idea but I did come across some useful questions that you can use to elaborate further on the idea:

The following is from a post on the The Power of TED* website.

  • Am I talking for approval and to be overly helpful? (Rescuer)
  • Am I talking to control and take charge of the situation? (Persecutor)
  • Am I talking to complain and whine about all I don’t like? (Victim)
  • What is my intention behind what I am about to say?
  • Is there a question I could ask that would help me better understand what the other person is saying and perceiving?
  • How might I simply listen and let go of my urge to talk in this moment?

Perry Holley posted last year about the WAIT habit encouraging us to ask the following questions:

  • Is this the time to share? Is what I want to share on topic? Don’t divert the conversation away from what they are speaking about just because, “that reminds me of a time when…”
  • Is it my turn to share? Are you mastering the pause?
  • Is what I want to share going to add to or subtract from what they are sharing? The temptation here is to divert the conversation from them to you.
  • If you do interject, be concise. Add value and then shut up.

Perry goes on to share a few other strategies which I have come across before and are well worth including in the mix. His titles in bold, but my explanations:

  1. Dare to be Dumb — This is all about asking questions and being open to new ideas. Often a dialogue or discussion can falter because we halt, cut down or stomp all over other people’s ideas. When we ask questions we are also much more likely to challenge assumptions in a group setting. Our curiosity should be a guide.
  2. Master the Pause — This one reminds me of running interviews during design thinking processes and also during coaching sessions. Just because it is quiet does not mean we are not thinking or engaged. Every second does not need to be filled with talk. Pausing allows others to extend their stories and contributions and sometimes reveal new ideas. Also pauses and lower volume time encourages reflection and thinking.
  3. Don’t top someone’s story — My favourite. I have been a victim of this so many times. The other person is simply waiting for their chance to speak. This is the antithesis of high quality participation and nowhere close to a behaviour associated with rich dialogue. Story topping is the closest thing to competitive conversation.

If an acronym is not enough then here is a handy flow chart to keep us straight from Alan O’Rourke over at WorkCompass

When I just reviewed those questions above I wondered if you can practically be referencing those in the midst of your interactions with others? I suppose you could be but it might slow things down too much and reduce everything to an internal reflection process.

However these structures and protocols are not meant to be explicitly used ad infinitum — I have seen groups internalise and normalise similar structures over time and with practice. That is the goal here — to have high quality dialogue and discussion by normalising reflective participation.


Photo by Antenna on Unsplash



Tom Barrett

Re-discover the curiosity you had when you were 6. Learning, Leadership, Innovation. Join Medium to support my writing https://buff.ly/3RtxqpE << Affiliate link