The world is full of blabbermouths, and that’s OK. We should all feel safe to lift our voices and sing; and what is even the point of life without lively conversation, deep discussions in the middle of the night, ridiculous banter, and loud, dumb jokes between friends? But in some situations, even an unapologetic bullshitter like me keeps his yap closed. Below are 11 situations in which keeping mum is basically always better than saying anything at all.
When someone is “venting” to you
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When a person you care about is blowing off steam, emptying their spleen, or venting about their shitty life, it’s almost always best to be quiet and listen. You can add supportive non-statements like, “that must have been awful,” or “wow, that does sound unfair,” but don’t try to solve the problem. Most people have heard this advice before, but it’s still difficult to follow. Seeing someone you care about in distress is so uncomfortable, it’s natural to try to “fix things” by offering solutions. But that’s usually not what the other person wants; they just want to feel heard and supported. If you don’t share that “unload everything” style, you might not recognize it in others, so don’t be afraid to ask whether they’re looking for a shoulder to cry on or tangible solutions. Then respond accordingly.
When meeting a new group of people
Meeting a new group of people makes most of us nervous, and nerves make us talkative. We want to make a good impression, so we try to “sell ourselves” by talking a lot, and we end up doing the opposite. This is a particularly bad idea if you’re the “new guy/gal” meeting an established group of friends. If you’re in that situation, don’t try to be part of “inside jokes.” Don’t try to impress by talking about how awesome you are. Don’t try to be the center of attention. Just listen more than you usually do until you understand the vibe enough to take tentative steps toward fitting in. It’s better to be seen as “that quiet person” than “that asshole.”
In situations involving the legal system
You can rarely talk yourself out of legal trouble, but it’s easy to talk yourself into it, so say as little as you can—nothing, if that’s an option. This applies to being accused of a crime, being questioned by police, being involved in a civil dispute, being a juror, being investigated by anyone for anything, being a witness, answering questions during a deposition, and more. If you’re compelled to speak, keep what you say as short and clear as possible. Words in a legal context have weight. It’s not a social situation where you’re trying to express yourself, or be liked or understood; it’s adversarial, and you’re trying to get this mess over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. Basically, be the opposite of Mike “My Pillow” Lindell in any legal situation.
When your background or experiences are not relevant
This is addressed to my fellow straight white men. Dear SWM: This might be hard to believe, but there are situations where your opinions, views, thoughts, and experiences are not relevant or valued. In these situations, don’t get salty, defensive, or try to change the topic. Just be quiet and listen. If you can’t do that, just be quiet. Even if you disagree strongly, just shhhh. It will be over soon, and you can go back to being centered.
When people are gossiping
I’m torn about this one. On one hand, I know I shouldn’t enjoy gossiping about other people, but I have to admit that I do. So I can’t say, “don’t gossip about anyone.” Instead I’ll go with, “Don’t gossip about anyone unless you really don’t care if they hear what you said about them.” Because the subject of your gossip very well might hear about you talking behind their back—you’d only be talking to a fellow gossiper, and those people blab all the time.
On your first day on the job
It’s normal to try to “prove yourself” when starting a new gig, to try to demonstrate your expertise or creativity by coming on strong out of the gate, but—like meeting new people in a social situation—it’s better to be quiet until you understand the environment. You don’t yet know don’t know the challenges or the complexities here, so whatever you say is likely to be useless, and it could mark you as “that guy” forever. Instead, spend a lot of time listening and asking questions. You can try to “fix things” once you actually understand what’s broken.
When you disagree with a stranger
Even if you really want to curse out the guy who cut you off in traffic, it’s better to stay silent and move on with your day. Getting involved in a conflict with someone you’ve never seen before and will probably never see again is potentially dangerous, always unpleasant, and almost never satisfying, even if you’re 100% in the right. So just move on.
When the decision has been made
Some situations in life have distinct end points that you didn’t necessarily agree to, like being fired/laid off from a job or being broken up with. When someone says, “we’ve decide to let you go” or “I’m leaving you,” the die is cast and it’s time to move on. There is no good response except, “I guess I’ll gather my shit.” The worst, weakest thing to do is plead, threaten, bargain, or anything else besides nodding and exiting.
When you’re sticking to your guns
This is the flip side of the above situation: When you’ve made a unilateral decision like firing someone or breaking up with them, there’s rarely anything to be gained by continuing to discuss the situation. Express the finality of your decision, but don’t overly explain, defend, or justify. That’s taken as “the topis is still up for debate” by a lot of people. But the die is cast, and it’s time to move on.
When you’re drunk and emotional
Getting drunk/high and calling people to settle old scores or try and re-ignite romance is a bad idea. There’s a reason there are apps that prevent drunk texting and an “unsend” feature in mail programs—being drunk makes people care less about potential consequences. This is not to say you should be quiet about all your emotions when in your cups—just the negative ones. People who drunkenly tell their pals, “I love you, man” are the best people on Earth, as long as their pals feel the same way.