Latest Cubicle Tic: Talking to Yourself

If you're irritated by your co-workers talking to themselves, get used to it. Jared Sandberg, Cubicle Culture columnist for the Wall Street Journal, says 96 percent of us hold conversations with ourselves.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

OK, so we here at the Bryant Park Project, we get a little lunch break around nine o'clock in the morning, and often times we like to go downstairs and get some breakfast. And when I'm standing in that line, maybe this happens to you, Ali, you're standing there, and you're making your decision. You're thinking, and you think you're thinking in your head, but actually you're starting to verbalize your decision-making process.

And I'm standing in line and I'm thinking, and I'm saying, OK, I could have the everything bagel, but wait, I had that yesterday, but why don't I get lox this time to change it up? But why don't I just bring my breakfast to work like Laura Conaway, who makes oatmeal? Wait, I should eat more oatmeal. And then I'm thinking, I'm saying this out loud, and why do I think that anybody in line next to me really cares what's going through my head?

ALISON STEWART, host:

You're just lucky you're good looking! Let me tell you.

MARTIN: This is an affliction. It's called talking out loud and thinking that anybody gives a hoo what you're saying, and it's apparently something that has stricken more than just deranged radio hosts. This is something that a lot of people do, especially if you're in your cubicle, because you think it's this private little space, but it's not really.

There's, you know, your neighbor next door can hear everything that you say, so there is an astute man out there named Jared Sandberg who has caught whiff of this trend. He's with the Wall Street Journal, and he's on the line to talk about it with us. Hey, Jared.

Mr. JARED SANDBERG (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Good morning, everybody.

MARTIN: So, Jared, do you talk to yourself?

Mr. SANDBERG: Yeah, I do. Not as much as my wife talks to herself, and I always mistake her for actually talking to me, but I do, and it's the same sort of stuff. It's the decision making stuff, I exhort myself, I coach myself sometimes.

MARTIN: You give yourself a pep...

Mr. SANDBERG: I don't talk to myself as much as some of my colleagues, though.

MARTIN: So, how did you catch - how did you come to this conclusion? This was something that a lot of people do? You just started hearing it around the office? Or your wife was bugging you finally to the tipping point?

Mr. SANDBERG: Well, certainly my wife got me interested in it, but I started hearing of one of the paper's senior investigative reporters sits behind me, and the quietest she can be is to sigh very loudly and exasperatedly, so...

MARTIN: Oh, I do that all the time! I sigh out loud all the time! Sorry, it's so annoying.

Mr. SANDBERG: It's a big statement from her, and it piqued my interest, but then I started looking into it and research shows that 96 percent, as many as 96 percent of people talk to themselves aloud, and deaf people have been observed signing to themselves while answering tough test questions, so...

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. SANDBERG: There's actually a lot of research out there about this whole issue.

MARTIN: OK, so, we apparently have an example of some self-talk from around the BPP office. Maybe we'll bring a little bit of it up and you can tell us what's going on here.

Mr. SANDBERG: OK.

MATT MARTINEZ: I totally messed that up. I completely messed that up. D - I don't write - um - I am singing and I am writing, I am singing and I'm writing both.

STEWART: It's tough when you work in a place with a lot of microphones. That was our senior producer Matt Martinez, who apparently didn't realize he was on the microphone.

MARTIN: Jared, analyze that for us. Was that a common example of the self-talk?

Mr. SANDBERG: The beginning was. The thinking, and singing, and writing at the end - I was a little, I'm not sure...

MARTIN: Well, particular to Matt, maybe.

Mr. SANDBERG: I'm not sure how we would classify that, but the beginning, that sort of oh, I'm such an idiot stuff, that's quite common.

MARTIN: Self, a lot of self-loathing. Self-loathing and pep talks I imagine are also - when you need to give yourself a pep talk.

Mr. SANDBERG: Right, and basically what the research shows that when we're in stressful situations, or situations that are very complex and challenging, we tend to self-talk much more. There are people who sit there and say you are a genius to themselves when they've done something well, or you know, they like to pat themselves on the back.

But they're - it's very common when you're facing a difficult situation, so you might criticize yourself. The one dark side by the way of self-talk is that if you're hard on yourself, and you're already kind of in a depressed state, this self-talk is not going to cheer you up any.

MARTIN: That's true. What about expletives? I mean, this is kind of a grey area, because you really do want to make sure your colleagues know you're not swearing at them. It's just, you know, you're swearing at yourself, but this is hard to explain sometimes.

Mr. SANDBERG: Yeah. You know, expletives are very interesting in the sense that I have a feeling that it's sort of like when you're at home watching "Jeopardy!," and if you don't say the answer out loud, it doesn't count. I think expletives in the same way only kind of count and carry the same force if they are externalized, if they are no longer just rattling around on the inside of your head, so many people do them I think for the increase forcefulness of it. But yes, it does, you know, raise an eyebrow.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. SANDBERG: The one thing that I did discover though is that people after a while get very used to other people's self-talk, and the most sort of gripping example I found is that there was a former airline pilot who would sit with a captain who, whenever he was faced with rough weather on radar, he would turn around and pretend to consult an Indian chief who he imagined would be in the jump seat.

Now, this sounds crazy, and I'm sure that if the passengers on this plane knew this was happening, they would be pretty disturbed and wouldn't want to fly again, but this co-captain, this copilot felt that as long as he didn't hear a voice coming back out of that jump seat, he was fine with that.

STEWART: I have a question. Is there any graceful way to get out of the embarrassment when you realize people have observed and overheard your self-talk?

Mr. SANDBERG: You know, I think it probably depends on the subject matter.

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. SANDBERG: You know, your producer's singing I'm singing, I'm talking thing is not something that would have personally embarrassed me very much, but I could see why people would be embarrassed. When you get caught in songs sometimes, particularly if you don't have a good voice, I'm not saying he didn't have a good voice, but you know it really depends on the issue.

I think if you're deep in the weeds of some document or Excel spreadsheet, you know, there's really not that much to apologize for. It's really not that great, but if you're caught in the middle of sort of telling yourself that, you know, wow, you're really working it today, or you look fabulous, I think that's probably significantly more embarrassing, and I'm not sure I can see a graceful out to that.

MARTIN: Or, just real quick, Jared, is there a tipping point? When do you become crazy?

Mr. SANDBERG: You know, I have to say, I do not know. I think this is sort of culture-to-culture. Here in New York, I think this is almost expected...

MARTIN: We have a higher threshold.

Mr. SANDBERG: And now with Bluetooth headsets...

MARTIN: Yeah!

Mr. SANDBERG: You know...

MARTIN: Makes everyone look insane.

Mr. SANDBERG: We're all sort of getting used to each other seeming to talk to ourselves.

MARTIN: Jared Sandberg, self-talker, he's with the Wall Street Journal, too, so we know he's not that crazy. Hey, thanks, Jared. We appreciate it.

Mr. SANDBERG: My pleasure.

STEWART: Thanks, Jared.

Mr. SANDBERG: Thanks. Bye.

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