When you have a long runway

When you have a long runway

I’ve been having a lot of soul-searching conversations with one of my kids this month. Our talks have been worthwhile and interesting, demanding and time-consuming. These discussions also require an extraordinary amount of patience, because this kid has a long runway.

I’m borrowing this phrase from Susan Cain and Dan Pink, who use it in a podcast I listened to ages ago to describe introverted kids. Little introverts aren’t great at explaining themselves in short, pithy sound bites; instead, it often takes them a long time to put their thoughts together. They have long runways.

My poor kid. I can relate.

I’ve been trying for years to fix myself of what I’ve always thought of as a bad habit: whenever I’m explaining something, I tend to bury my lede. I explain, equivocate, circle back, and correct myself before you have a clue what I’m talking about. I know I do it, and that it’s hard to listen to, but I can’t stop myself.

But you know what? All these conversations with my kid have me wondering if it’s not just a mannerism: maybe I just have a long runway. Like my kid, I’m slow to pull my thoughts together. I’ve learned a few ways to compensate, and could probably learn a few more, but nothing’s going to make that plane take off any faster.

(This is why I laughed knowingly at Anne Lamott’s quip at FFW: “I always say everything better on paper,” and am still thinking about Luci Shaw’s line, “I write to learn what I know.” Yes and yes.)

I suspect that this isn’t a problem to be fixed, although it may need some accommodating. I’m newly conscious of how those with long runways require their extra space, and I’m trying to grant it: to myself, to my kid, to anyone who needs some time to get her thoughts from her mind to her mouth.

Do you have a long runway, or people in your life who clearly do? I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, and observations on this one. 

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P.S. I wrote a book about personality coming out September 19, 2017: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything. Click here to pre-order.

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41 comments

  1. Oh goodness, I am so the same way when it comes to writing out my thoughts. I often figure out what I think about something by writing about it.

    My husband thinks better by talking, but I often write out my thoughts and send them to him in an email…I am just way better at communicating in writing, and I say SO MUCH MORE when I write to him than when I have to just talk it all out.

    (Of course, I do talk to him in person too, but writing is definitely a good tool to have in our communication toolbox.)

  2. MK says:

    My mom’s side of the family tells stories this way; we’ve always jokingly called it Sawyer stories. Storytelling runs in my dad’s side so I always looked at Sawyer stories as a defect. Maybe Sawyer runways is a better/nicer/more accurate way to say it.

  3. This is such a great observation. Looking back, I was definitely a “long runway kid” mothered by a short runway extrovert. And now I know why it takes me so long to write! I’m just a little more long-winded than others. And I think you’re right- the answer is just to give yourself extra space and grace.

  4. Caitlin says:

    Oh my gosh! Yes! This is so me! I’ve been trying to “fix” this in myself for a while, and have never had it explained like this. So interesting! I’m always giving the back story, and then the context to that. I love this explanation! I’ve learned so much about personality from your posts and the resources you suggest. As an HSP as well, I love reading about another person’s experience with some of my same personality traits. Thanks so much!

      • Carrie says:

        LOL! It probably wouldn’t bother me at all in a friend. In my husband (and my 13 year old son is this way too), it’s difficult because I’m more emotionally involved with what they’re saying. I often tell my son, “sweetie, can you give me the Cliffs notes version?” 😉

  5. Yes! This is the perfect description. I am a much better writer than talker. I find that the working out of my thoughts on paper helps me to clarify and process them. This was very evident in the debate class I took. It was very hard for me to get my thoughts out there with very little prep time. But, it was a good exercise too.

  6. Will you post about your time at the writing conference?? I’d love to learn more. I feel just like Anne Lamott: I’ve got years to get it right on paper. But in person, it’s just that one shot (and some good stumbling and bumbling).

    • Anne says:

      I appreciate this question, because I feel like I’ve been talking about FFW nonstop! Glad to hear I’m not boring you yet. 🙂

      I am planning on talking about it a little more in the next newsletter. (Anything else you want to know? Also, you may be interested in scrolling through the #ffwGR hashtag on twitter.)

  7. Colleen says:

    Yes! That is me! Some days I wish all communication was in written form! I never linked it with my strong introversion. Maybe I should send this link to my husband, who doesn’t get this about me. He’s an introvert, but not a long runway introvert. It’s funny, reading the comments above from those married to long runway people. On behalf of us all, thank you for the deep-breath-count-to-ten!

  8. I am following the comments on this one, because I need strategies! I know I have a long runway, but I don’t have a lot of compensating methods. At least not ones that work. (Does “say hmm a lot while I slowly drink my tea and try to compose thoughts to start talking coherently” count? Probably not. Sigh.)

  9. Caris Adel says:

    “I’ve been trying for years to fix myself of what I’ve always thought of as a bad habit: whenever I’m explaining something, I tend to bury my lede. I explain, equivocate, circle back, and correct myself before you have a clue what I’m talking about. I know I do it, and that it’s hard to listen to, but I can’t stop myself.”

    I don’t feel guilty about my voxes anymore, hahaha!!!!!!!

  10. Bonnie-Jean says:

    Wow Anne – Thank you. This is totally me and it drives my husband crazy. He just wants the headlines but I circle round and round trying to get to what I’m trying to say. His frustration has often caused me to bottle up and not bother but he is also very good at then recognizing this and will try and draw it out of me again. After 20 years together I think we’ve both gotten better – I try to process my thoughts as much as possible before talking things through with him and he is much more patient and helpful. Maybe one day I will get it down to just the headlines – although I think he’s also changed enough that headlines wouldn’t satisfy him the way our conversations do now.

    • Anne says:

      “Maybe one day I will get it down to just the headlines – although I think he’s also changed enough that headlines wouldn’t satisfy him the way our conversations do now.”

      Oh, that’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing, Bonnie-Jean.

  11. Kim says:

    Heh. This explains so much about me and my daughters. We are definitely long runway girls, as opposed to some of my brothers who ask me to “just get to the point.” 🙂
    I have learned to be a better listener, though. Being patient with a long runway person is so important and appreciated by the speaker.
    Yes, I write better than I speak because it takes time to gather my thoughts into coherent groups.

  12. Anne says:

    I read this yesterday and thought: oh, my, yes! 🙂 I’ll start to answer a question, stop 5 words in, and back up to provide more context, add something else, etc. I’ve gotten better at catching myself, and I do like to talk through things with my husband just to get things out of my head. However, I can easily say I totally relate to this post. Runways unite…..we could create our own airport.

    Summarizing is not an easy skill. I remember talking about it in teaching classes.

  13. Ginger says:

    Love this… I do it too, and am always trying to “watch it.”

    I do it in speak and in writing, which is why one of my favorite quotes is: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal

  14. Deborah says:

    This makes me chuckle because my mom, my sister, and I are notorious for leaving the longest, most detailed answering machine messages EVER. My hubby is the complete opposite and often omits important details. Over the years, I’ve learned to talk less and he’s learned to be more patient when I ask follow-up questions.

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  16. Interesting. My husband is like this (and I’m the polar opposite) and we’ve accommodated it slightly. I’ve asked him to give me a framework for what he’s talking about: in one sentence. Then he can take as long as he wants circling around, filling in background info, and getting there. I used to just be lost as to what he’s talking about so this helps. Even if it’s not the thesis, but a bucket that I can use to catch all his thoughts, it helps. Because like it’s hard for him to get it all out succinctly, it’s genuinely hard for me to follow him if he doesn’t.

  17. Kathryn H. says:

    “I tend to bury my lede. I explain, equivocate, circle back, and correct myself before you have a clue what I’m talking about.” Yes! I do that! Thank you for explaining this so well. I also tend to be better writing out my thoughts (and I write/edit professionally–I’m good at that). When I talk, I often don’t know where exactly I’m going until I begin to get there, or how to start in a way that gets me there quickly. I definitely have a very long runway, but thinking of it this way may help me cut through the paralysis and communicate more directly.

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