Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Island of Constant Talkers

Yesterday's Dr. Phil was about New Year's resolutions. Link here.

The first guest was Jeni, whose problem is that she talks constantly. Her mom said Jeni's been doing it since she learned to talk, and that if Jeni had been her first child, she'd only have had one. (!) Jeni says she's lost a job and several promotions over her talkativeness, that she rarely goes on any second dates, and that she is often late for appointments because she stops to talk with strangers in the street. Dr. Phil timed how long it took her to answer questions during the interview and compared it to the average length of time taken; I don't remember the specifics but there was quite a difference.

Dr. Phil had set up a buzzer for the interview and would hit the buzzer ("aaanh") when he felt Jeni had gone on long enough/answered the question/made her point. (He was a little quick on the buzzer in my opinion, actually.) Have you ever wished you could do that to someone? He asked her whether she had any idea why she was this way, and she said she had several theories. He asked her to give the short version of her strongest theory; she said she had ADD. Dr. Phil said he wasn't sure she had ADD, but he was pretty sure she had anxiety. He asked her whether she felt compelled to fill up any empty spaces in the conversation and she said she did. Phil said he thought she didn't perceive how the talking seemed from the outside, so his crew had filmed her talking and he sent her backstage to watch some of the footage, and then come back later after some other guests had appeared.

Jeni is a classic 7 (and she also seemed like maybe an ENFP -- she is clearly an EP, anyway.) I think a big hurdle with learning enneagram typing is trying to get the Gestalt of a type from words on a page; it took me a long time to realize (through induction) how talkative 7s usually are. And I believe that the 7s' talkativeness is understressed in the enneagram literature. To test this, I looked at the 7 description in Margaret Frings Keyes' Emotions and the Enneagram; it includes the sentence "They enjoy talk and entertaining gossip," but that's the only mention. The 1990 version of Understanding the Enneagram by Don Riso says of the average 7: "Begin to be hyperactive, throwing themselves into constant activity, doing and saying whatever comes to mind." and "Uninhibited, 'flighty,' flamboyant, outrageous, outspoken, loud and brash -- constantly talking, wisecracking, joking and 'performing' to stay in high spirits." (Italics mine.) Although it's there, I think it's underplayed in terms of how much it's talked about versus how much it's part of the 7s personality (from my observation.) I suppose I say this because it's a characteristic that is very apparent from the outside of a person. That being said, 7s usually have this trait to some degree, but many aren't nearly as bad as Jeni. Also, I would imagine that compulsive talking would increase as one goes down the levels of health. A couple of movies which showcase the talkative nature of the 7 personality are My Dinner With Andre and Big Fish.

I don't think Jeni is all that unusual in having been passed over for promotions because of this characteristic: overtalking gets really old for other people. In my experience, Jeni's most unusual characteristic is that she is seeking help for it. Cindi and I just had a discussion about this, and she pointed out that with many vices and character flaws you often hear the individual at least nod at wanting to change. Not so with overtalking, to the point that in some cases very direct statements such as "Let's talk about something else" or "I am tired of listening now" do not work, and neither do little employee "counseling" sessions on the job. I believe that Dr. Phil is onto something when he says Jeni is not in touch with how her behavior appears from the outside. As a 6w7 (and ENFP) myself, I can relate to how it feels differently from the inside -- it seems to you like everybody's having fun. Especially in my younger days, I felt very invested in being "interesting," and felt that having a lot to say was a marker for how interesting a person was.

I hope Jeni can get some help from the Dr. Phil show; she seems like a nice, and certainly a friendly, person. Overtalking is, at least on the surface, a well-meaning vice. I haven't watched the end of the show, and I haven't yet found out what happens when Jeni watches the tapes. I'd like to see some good advice given because I truly do think this problem is holding some good people back. I believe the enneagram answer would be learning to calm down rather than to develop self-control per se; I think Dr. Phil might be headed in that direction as well with his statement about Jeni's anxiety and I look forard to seeing what he has to say (and will report tomorrow.)

The title of this post, The Island of Constant Talkers, refers to the reality show Cindi and I are pitching in which we put all these people on an island together. (Go ahead and steal this idea.) Cindi also shared an interesting anecdote from the life of Rod Serling (she read his biography.) Apparently, he was one of these non-stop talkers. His family (when he was a kid) got together and decided not to talk to Rod during the whole car ride. I guess they were trying out various strategies, and thought maybe talking back only encouraged him. The strategy failed, however, and he talked non-stop all the way up and all the way back, and very likely didn't notice that they weren't talking.

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