Tempting as it may be, it’s not yet acceptable to turn to a chatty seatmate, look him dead in the eye and say, “Zip it!” Too bad, right? Alas, as Mr. Chatty likes to network or is a nervous flyer or has a new grandchild or is so self-involved that he reads your glazed-over expression as interest and though he may be the kindest well-meaning person on earth, “Zip it!” is an unkind silencing tactic. So, what’s a quiet-loving business traveler to do? We called on some experts for help.
Zap any hint of interest. You’re no cold fish. We know. But if from the get-go, you really don’t want to talk, take a tip from an introvert. They get caught-up in conversational vortexes all the time. “We listen hard and are inclined to try to steer conversation from chitchat to something substantive, which is encouraging to people with a lot to say—not all of it, or even any of it, interesting,” says Sophia Dembling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. So Dembling has had to develop some serious anti-interest tactics. “That means limiting eye contact, not asking questions, not making little encouraging noises—none of it. A brief nod, a polite smile, a murmured response, and turn back to my book or computer.” Feeling ishy about giving a fairly cold shoulder? Don’t. The gabby one, clearly, isn’t worried about your time or needs. Says Dembling: “While you don't want to be harsh or nasty, you also can keep in mind that you don't actually owe this person anything. Maybe he or she won't like you, but does that matter?”
Don’t hem. No hawing either. OK, let’s say you didn’t shut things down early. Instead, it’s time to go after what you want—same as you did when you landed that last round of funding. It’s time to be assertive. “An assertive communication response is polite, clear, direct, firm and effective,” says Louis Franzini, a clinical psychologist and author of Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively. “It is best to say whatever is really true for you.” Need a script? Some Franzini-recommended lines:
•I'm sorry, but I'm not up for much talking now, after my long work day. He says “there is no requirement to apologize, but it helps soften the blow and gets you want you want. Also, there is no need to offer a ‘reason’ but it also helps accomplish the goal.”
•I'm sorry that I can't talk much today, but I have to go over these reports before we land. “Again, the specifics can vary with your situation, but it is easiest if they are actually true for you.”
•Sorry, but I've been talking in meetings all day. I just want to decompress now. Thanks for your interest, though.
The line didn’t take? Say it again but in a firmer tone and drop any hint of a smile. Still didn’t take? You have our permission and Franzini’s to just stop replying.
Make yourself less appealing. No, we’re not talking about skipping out on the morning deodorant swipe. Instead, if you’re willing to engage in a bit of deception, Amethyst Wytiu, co-founder and chief operating officer of Next Step China, recommends pulling out some reading material in a foreign language. If all goes well, Mr. Chatty won’t be fluent in your second language of choice—and will keep to himself. Just make sure you keep the charade going when the flight attendant comes for your drink order—or you’ll be chatting your way straight through that ginger ale.
Sometimes silence isn’t golden. Two reasons Dembling recommends skewering the quest for quiet: when a person clearly needs an ear to lean on—“Then I let humanity take precedence over tranquility.”—or, score!, when sitting next to an “interesting person who offers interesting conversation—that situation can be engaging and even productive.” If that last one happens, happy chatting. We’re jealous.