Dan Lyons Posthoc Salon NYC March 2023
Mar 10, 2023

STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut With Dan Lyons

Listening without reacting, especially to those with whom we disagree, opens up space for growth, learning, and richer interpersonal experiences.

By Templeton Staff with Posthoc

Author Dan Lyons recently joined guests in NYC for a night of conversation, with home-cooked dinner by hostess Susan MacTavish Best and live music, as part of Templeton World Charity Foundation's ongoing series with Posthoc Salons. In a candid interview with MacTavish Best, Lyons opened up about the experiences and research behind his new book, STFU: The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut in an Endlessly Noisey World. Featured on the cover of Time Magazine in February 2023, STFU offers actionable advice drawn from behavioral science on how to communicate with intent, think critically, and open your mind and ears to the world around you. The theme of the book and of the evening's discussion highlights topics similar to the foundation's Listening and Learning in a Polarized World priority.

In the Salon conversation — now available as a podcast — Lyons describes his experience as what he calls a "chronic talkaholic," and how that led to polarization in both his personal and professional relationships. Lyons shares one of the catalysts that encouraged him to address this behavior: after listening to a playback of an interview he'd conducted with a listening expert, he was surprised to realize his voice had dominated the entire session. He humbly asked for a second interview, and learned in the process that becoming a good listener is like strengthening a muscle.

On the road to "talkaholic recovery" — a journey Lyons says saved his marriage and relationship with his teenaged twin children — he conducted a great deal of research to get to the bottom of why listening can be such a challenge. As his research and experience revealed, forcing ourselves to listen without reacting makes us better listeners, particularly when it comes to listening to those with whom we disagree.

There's some evidence, Lyons says, to suggest that silence might help us grow new brain cells. "Talkaholism" could also be related to an imbalance in our brains' hemispheric activity — if the right side is more activated than the left, we're likely to be more talkative.

In his quest to become a better listener, Lyons follows a few practices he created for himself, starting with leaving sticky notes for himself around the house and on his computer that read "Listen! Short Answers! Shut Up!"

He plays a game with himself where he imagines words are money, and he can only spend so much per conversation. The idea is to listen or "get" more words than you say or "spend." He also made five rules for himself:

  1. When possible, say nothing!
  2. Learn to pause, up to four seconds in conversation.
  3. Get off social media entirely.
  4. Seek out silence. (Mature is a great place for this).
  5. Learn to be an active listener.

"What I've found is that when you listen really well it's like a magical experience — people come alive! They actually become more interesting. And I thought it was just my imagination," Lyons explained. "When you give that space to others to talk you realize how dazzling people are."

Listen to the full conversation, accentuated with clips from a musical performance by Koa Ho, on the Posthoc Podcast.

Watch a short video from the evening here.

POSTHOC Salons by Susan MacTavish Best celebrate the power of gathering by bringing people together to share ideas, stimulate conversations, spark connections, and build community. The salon series POSTHOC hosts with support from the Templeton World Charity Foundation asks thought-leading experts what it means to flourish.