Listen more, talk less. Try it. As with any exercise in discipline, it is difficult at first, becomes easier with practice, and, once accomplished, is EXTREMELY empowering and fulfilling. So many people feel they have to make a statement about all topics that come up in casual conversation. Why?
What it boils down to is protection of ego.
Jim Paul, in his book, "What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars" writes in depth about this topic throughout his parable on how he reached the top and lost it all. He discusses the dangers of internalizing losses (in the futures market, in his case, but the concept applies to all sorts of losses - gambling, sports, etc.) - making losses personal. Once a decision is made personal, a stance is taken, and the outcome is internalized, you lose all objectivity.
Ask yourself what the purpose of a situation is . . . what do you expect to get out of the situation you are participating in? We've all been there - a spectator (participant?) in the Thursday afternoon happy hour where every second year financial analyst's assistant walks out of his high rise and, once the tavern door swings open, he suddenly becomes a philosopher and expert in all things discussed over a few too many beers. What is the purpose of these guys preaching from their pulpit, one trying to use a bigger vocabulary than the next, but none really making a valid point - or any sense, for that matter? They don't want to give the impression that they are dumb. They don't want others to think they are not on the same level. Even if they have nothing to say, they must say something - "prepackaged intellectual positions, views, opinions, and answers . . . gathered from television, newspapers, newsletters, and conversations. Similar to inserting a cassette into a cassette player . . . they offer their regurgitated two cents' worth on every topic" (Paul). Otherwise, they lose face. They lose respect . . . their fragile egos would be damaged. It reminds of a scene out of Good Will Hunting - "How do you like them apples?"
This behavior is more prevalent than just at the weekly happy hour. Think about your work meetings, the analyst on CNBC, the sports reporters on ESPN, the comments section on the bottom of an MSN news article.
Contrast this with the student. The student listens first and speaks second. He does not have an ego to protect, because he has not yet taken a stance. He conducts research and listens with full intention of reaching a deductive, independently thought out, conclusion. His responses are precise out and his points are valid.
So many people have this backwards. They take a stance on something . . . anything . . . even a vaguely familiar topic, and then listen for reasons or seek out research to back their perspective. Who do you think will learn the most? Who do you think will make the more educated decision? Who do you think will be ahead in the long run?
Paul writes about "objectivism", as practiced by Ayn Rand:
"Philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand was asked one time in a radio interview whether she thought gun-control laws violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. 'I don't know,' she responded, 'I haven't thought about it.' And she said it in a manner as though it was the most natural thing in the world not to have an answer or opinion. Now here is one of the towering geniuses of the twentieth century and the architect of an entire philosophical system saying, 'I don't know.'"
If your goal is to look good in front of your friends, then keep at it. Your ego will gladly back you up . . . that is, until your exposed. If you're goal is to learn, to become a better thinker, a deeper person, a wiser decision maker - then think before you speak . . . if you choose to speak at all.