Another year, another new crop of Analysts has suffered through my Speech Communication bootcamp. We ran out of time for one of my favorite sidebars, though, so I’m bringing it to you now, here: the “Three Shut Up” rule.
The origins of the Three Shut Up rule are mysterious and clouded in apocrypha. The only thing we know for sure is that it works and a whole mess of you folks need to start using it.
Right off the bat I need to credit my colleagues Julie Goldklang, Sunil Ahuja, Bryan Delorme, John Mulach, and Ed Crowthers. They’re the ones who have held the torch on Three Shut Up for the last decade or two and as far as I know, this is their creation. I’m just instructing you on its use and abuse. I’m sure I’ve missed someone who will naturally get all butthurt over that and if that’s you, use one of your shut ups at this time.
You talk too much. That’s a bit rich, coming from loudmouth McShoutypants, but you do. You’re in a meeting with 5 other people and someone just says something so compellingly wrong you have to interrupt and correct the malfunction. So you do. Then you wonder why you’re not invited to drinks afterward or the hookah party…or the next meeting. Actually, you probably don’t wonder because you’re so self-involved it never occurs to you to wonder about anything except how stupid was that person in the meeting and how awesome is your sauce for correcting him/her. In fact, you probably retold the story over Red Bull and Cheetos with your friends, laughing hysterically at- no, you know what, that’s just terrible and you should feel terrible about yourself.
One day you might start adulting for the first time and ask yourself how you can get ahead.
The Rule in Operation
If you’re ever in a meeting with some folks and the person speaking says something that absolutely, positively, unquestionably needs to be addressed right then and there-
It’s going to be hard but I believe in you. Not like your mom, she has to believe in you (also, she’s lying; she fears you’ll never move out and wishes for the sweet release of death, yours or hers). I believe in you because you’re still reading and because that dumbass who is speaking is going to do it again, giving you a second chance. Use this time to organize your thoughts and prepare your summary response. Ask yourself, “is this thing I want to argue about meaningful to the outcome of this discussion?” Now you wait. He or she is going to utter another profoundly, monumentally wrong statement that just demands you personally offer your corrective wisdom. In this case there is only one thing to do-
I don’t care if it gives you an aneurysm, zip it. Trust me, your moment to shine is here. That person, or even someone else, will make another statement so absurdly stupid it impugns their entire genetic lineage. I know this because there’s another moron in that meeting who doesn’t have your iron will to maintain and he will (it’s almost always a he) interject with his own word salad. This third time, in this wide open field on a hanging curve ball is the time where you will perform the most astonishingly perfect rhetorical flourish. You’ll gather your thoughts, ready your talking points and-
Right, then. Shut your piehole. Nobody gives a crap what you have to say just yet. It’s not your meeting, you’re not speaking, you weren’t asked a question. Just…shhh. Take it all in. Is it a trivial thing? If so, forget about it. Is the issue unlikely to be useful information to most of the audience? You should bring it up another time, with just the stakeholders. Are you the only one who truly cares about this issue? Then just…why the hell aren’t you shutting up?!
On the fourth go around, all bets are STILL not quite off. Perhaps ask someone more senior to bring up the topic or ask the group for permission to broach the subject, first. At this point you should have a meaningful summary of your statement in mind and have qualified the matter as relevant, important, and understandable to the group. Your response should be respectful, reasonable, and positive. Basically, do the exact opposite of everything you feel compelled to do.
This is the Three Shut Up rule in its totality. I might dedicate another 800 words to explaining why no matter what your role, title, or level this is a good group communication strategy in nearly every situation, but then again you may not care and I might forget because someone just said something technically wrong and boy does it need a genius like me to set them straight.
Old friends, have I missed anything? If so, drop your additions and corrections in the comments. Skip the first couple, though. You still have 2 shut-ups left.