A reader asked:
Do you have any advice for how to facilitate participation when you’re a student who does tend to talk a lot?
I have social anxiety but when it doesn’t affect me as badly I tend to talk a lot. I’ve tried waiting for others to speak but they often don’t even if I wait 30+ seconds… And then I feel an intense urge to fill the space.
A couple of things:
It might be ok if you’re talking more than some other students. Very few classes have everyone talking an exactly equal amount.
Different students have different preferences about how much they like to talk in class. It’s ok that some students prefer to talk more and some students prefer to talk less. It’s not always a problem. It becomes a problem if some students are taking up space in a way that prevents others from participating.
I’m not sure how to tell whether you are taking up space in a problematic way. One way might be to ask your teacher after class or in office hours if they think it’s becoming a problem. (If they do think it’s a problem, they’ll probably be glad you asked and that you care.)
Another way might be to watch whether you’re interrupting people. And if you are interrupting people, whether or not they’re shut down by your interruptions. If you’re interrupting people and that’s resulting in them not getting to make their points, that’s a problem. (Interrupting isn’t always a problem – in some cultures it’s normal and expected for people to respectfully interrupt one another and be respectfully interrupted in turn. If the class you’re in doesn’t have that culture, it’s important to be careful about interrupting.)
Here’s one strategy that might work for coping with silences without interjecting to fill them (this can also work for overcoming urges to interrupt people).
Typing or writing out what you’re having an urge to say:
- If you type or write the reply you have an urge to make, it can calm the urge without you having to say anything
- While you’re doing this, someone else may start talking
- Then, if you still want to say the thing, you can take a turn and say it
- If you don’t want to say a specific thing but are just feeling uncomfortable, typing/writing about how uncomfortable you are might work to fill the space until someone else starts talking (This works for me sometimes; it seriously backfires for other people. Your milage may vary; trust your own judgment about whether it will be helpful or harmful to you).
- This can work even in a seminar class when not everyone is taking notes
- (It may be more socially accepted in that context to use an iPad than a laptop, because you’re significantly less likely to be perceived as goofing off on Facebook with an iPad)
Short version: Talking more than some other students in a class isn’t always a problem in itself. It’s a problem if the way or the amount you talk prevents others from participating. Typing out stuff you’re thinking of saying before you say it can make it easier to refrain from interrupting people and from rushing to fill silences.