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How Leaders Can Take Control of “Chatter”

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

March 18, 2021    |     4-minute read (740 words)

Humans have private thoughts running in an endless loop practically every minute of the day. Our minds are full of these unshared perceptions, expectations, beliefs, opinions and the like. This internal monologue, which is also referred to as self-talk or “inner chatter,” is mostly negative and limited to the self.

According to Ethan Kross, a psychology and management professor at the University of Michigan and author of the new book "Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It,” humans have grappled with the phenomenon of the "inner voice” since ancient times. This internal monologue often turns to chatter, meaning cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that can take different forms. For example, chatter could be a rambling private monologue, a conversation with yourself or a reflection on past events. It may also emerge as a tormented vision of future events, a fixation on an unpleasant feeling or event, or just a bouncing in between negative ideas and feelings.

When chatter arises, it can lead to poor consequences, such as spurring us to become more aggressive with others or quietly sabotaging us in myriad ways. What fuels the chatter is our lack of self-control and feelings of uncertainty, writes Kross, who is also the director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners, like every other human being, may experience a deluge of chatter that can limit their potential, damage their self-confidence and impede achievement. This negative internal discourse could even hamper the way they function and run their business.

As a leader, if you are preoccupied with chatter you may feel stuck, lose focus, overanalyze situations and avoid tackling significant business decisions. In turn, this can hurt your employees’ performance and  impair the overall business. But that pessimistic chatter can be turned into a positive force with a few simple tools and practices that can be easily implemented, Kross advises, which are outlined below.

Counsel

When experiencing chatter, distance yourself and try looking at the thoughts from a different perspective. How would you advise a friend who is encountering a similar situation? Apply the same rules to yourself and see the difference, writes Kross.

Reinterpret How Your Body Responds

When stressed before an event, your body might show a range of symptoms such as an upset stomach or sweaty palms as a result of personal chatter. Many people also observe that they become more irritable due to chatter before a highly anticipated event. The remedy is to force yourself to recognize that stress is an adaptive response that can actually enhance your performance under pressure. Doing so will immediately give you control over your bodily response, Kross writes. The palpitations, difficult breathing and sweating will no longer be interpreted as negative signs and will instead help you respond to a stressful situation in a positive way.

Expand Your Perspective

Engaging yourself in mental time travel could also be helpful. Imagine how you would feel a day, a month, a year, a decade or even longer from now. This will broaden your perspective, advises Kross. Keep reminding yourself that you’ll revisit the thoughts that are upsetting you now in the future, and in the process, they will appear to be less upsetting. This accentuates the momentariness of your existing emotional state.

Organize

According to Kross, when people experience chatter, those thoughts tend to spiral and threaten to lead them into a web of negativity. You may even feel as though you’re losing control over your thoughts. In such scenarios, it is imperative to create a sense of order in your surroundings. This can be accomplished by something as simple as maintaining a calendar. The act of listing and prioritizing your meetings for the day or tidying your kitchen or any other straightforward act that brings order will lift your spirits and boost your sense of control.

Limit Passive Social Media Usage

Doomscrolling and doomsurfing, modern-day lingo for consuming vast quantities of negative online material in one sitting, can be detrimental to your mental health. Kross advises using social media as a networking tool where you can gain insight or encounter people who are dealing with a similar situation rather than passively scrolling through content. This advice resonates with Kross’ larger framework of recommendations for managing chatter not by ending self-talk but instead by “figure[ing] out how to do so more effectively," he writes.

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