Humans are social animals, and we wouldn't get anywhere without talking to each other — but if you've ever felt like you talk too much in social settings, that can make you self-conscious.
Over-talking usually isn't a malicious thing. Ali Mattu, PhD, assistant professor at the Columbia University Medical Center, says that people tend to talk too much because they're uncomfortable in a social setting and feel the need to compensate. And often, they aren't even aware that they're doing it.
"Sometimes it can be a lack of awareness of the fact that you are talking too much," he says. "This happens a lot, especially if we’re talking about something we love and we think other people might also love, but maybe they don’t."
Dr. Mattu says that it can often be hard to pick up on social cues, and people don't always realize that someone isn't interested in hearing about that time they got stuck in an elevator five years ago.
Plus, people often start talking to cover up awkward silences.
"It could also be that the other person is uncomfortable and anxious, so they’re saying less than they normally would, and we feel uncomfortable with that silence and we end up sharing more than what we usually do," Dr. Mattu says.
It makes sense: How many times have you been in a conversation that kept starting and stopping, and felt like you needed to keep talking to make up for the other person's silence?
"Anyone who’s been on a road trip or had a roommate can tell you that there comes to a point where you just run out of things to talk about for a while," Dr. Mattu says.
In other words, talking too much isn't the worst thing in the world, and it usually doesn't come from a malicious place, but if you're worried you're being impolite, he says a surefire way to find out is just to ask — "I’m sorry, am I talking too much? I feel like I’m talking too much."
If you're not comfortable with being that direct, Dr. Mattu says you can try to gauge your chattiness based on how the person you're talking to reacts. Are they still making eye contact, or are they sort of glazed over, looking all around the room? Are they commenting on what you're saying, or have you left them with no room to respond?
"If they’re not able to add to the things you’re talking about, they might have lost interest or have trouble keeping up with what you’re talking about," Dr. Mattu says.
When in doubt, pause every now and then to make sure you've given the other person space to say something. After all, listening is an underrated skill — and who knows, they might bring up something that you can both chat about equally.