Speaking up

There are lots of ways that I’m like my dad. First off, I couldn’t go more than a week when I was wee without being told how much I looked like him (top tip: not what an eight-year-old girl wants to hear).

But the way we’re most alike is quietness. He is potentially the most silent man in Scotland. I’m not quite as bad as that, but believe me, it’s taken a few years.

In my first (big girl graduate) job, I was awkward as anything. In a city renowned for its banter, I felt wildly out of depth. As a reporter, not exactly ideal. But I was a hell of a listener; and I still think that’s the important side of conducting an interview.

Plus, I discovered the joy of writing. When no-one can talk over you, or talk so much you can’t get started in the first place. A clean page to put everything down on without interruption. Editing what you want to say to be absolutely clear. Posting it somewhere like this, where people can read it or not, but you’ve still said what you wanted to.

Year by year, it gets easier. There are still days when I cannot find the words. It still takes me a while in a new place to find my voice again. There will always be people who say ‘you’re awful quiet’ (ugh, sigh — do you know how hard it is to respond to that?). The nerves never quite go away.

Having the right people around helps. People who get you, who help you come out of yourself. At the moment in work I’d even say I might need to pipe down a bit. But that has taken time, and some people in particular.

Anyway I started writing about this because the idea has been rolling around in my head after a conversation with a pal. We were talking about someone who didn’t say hello in the kitchen. This might, reasonably, be seen as rude (and yes, maybe they were just a super rude person). I started to say that it’s not as easy for everyone to do this as it might seem, as crazy as that might sound to non-quiet people. As I said it, I realised that it’s not something I worry about as much any more. That’s kind of weird for me.

Getting noisier has its own issues. With people I’m comfortable with, I talk an absolute load of nonsense (hopefully they love that). In work, I don’t want to be the guy who talks for the sake of it. I want to contribute something useful. Or funny. Or clever.

The thing I most value about my dad is that when he does speak, it’s often the best point. After everyone else at the table has been yattering on for who knows how long, he’ll come out with a simple, well-thought, deeply-considered line that makes the rest of us stop and think. Conversational mic drop. If I could pick one way I’d most love to be like him, that would be it.