Have you ever been in the Stand-Up Meeting That Time Forgot? That is, a five-minute meeting that seemed to stretch to 15, 20 even 30 minutes—all because of a person or persons on your team who wouldn’t stop talking? How do you deal with people who talk too much?
When we think of conflict resolution, rarely do we think of an “over-talker” as a form of conflict. But it can be. And like all conflict, it can be a relationship breaker if left unresolved.
That’s what this post is about.
First, we’ll look at the psychology of over-talking. Why do over-talkers bug us so much? Then we’ll talk about getting your mindset right when dealing with an over-talker. Why do they do it? Then we’ll look at some specific scenarios of dealing with various over-talkers. When you get done with this post, you should have a better idea why people over-talk and what you can do about it.
Ready? Let’s go.
Why do over-talkers bug us so much?
When we are in a meeting where someone is commandeering the conversation, it’s usually really irritating. Why is that? Well, for many of us, it’s a respect issue. You feel like you’re being disrespected—your time and your perspective (or ability to even add to the discussion) is not being valued. It’s like your point of view is irrelevant. It almost feels “parental”—as if they’re treating you like a child (or at least someone not as important as they are).
What we want is a dialogue. A back and forth. It should be like a game of catch. You throw the ball to them and then they throw it back to you. Even-Steven.
Some people just don’t seem to understand that. Why is that the case?
Some reasons people over-talk
It would be easy to typecast the over-talker as an egotist. Self-absorbed. Conceited.
The truth is often more complex though. Here are some examples of alternative reasons people monopolize the conversation:
Often people talk incessantly out of insecurity or internal fears. I can’t begin to count the times I babbled on at a break-neck speed because I was simply nervous.
People can become overwhelmed by their feelings and they’re trying to push them away by talking.
Individuals who feel insecure about their value may overcompensate by continually touting their expertise or skills for external validation.
People who struggle with ADD or ADHD may be aware that their speech is uncontrolled or obsessive but also feel like they need to speak to feel safe and in control. Failing to speak when the compulsion arises can result in high levels of anxiety, feelings of anger, or a sense of being overwhelmed.
Personal style of pace and language can cause some people to talk longer with fewer breaks in between. I have worked alongside amazingly intelligent people that just take longer to express themselves.
Maybe they are excited or just really extroverted. Many people are external processors, meaning that they have to verbally express their inner thought processes.
And yes, it’s entirely possible that over-talkers are narcissists. Not everyone has good intentions. There are those who simply want to keep the conversation focused on themselves. They maintain power by hijacking the meeting.
I have found that people who tend to monopolize the conversation are rarely doing this out of a desire to irritate everyone. It’s usually out of fear or insecurity. And more importantly, they probably don’t even realize they’re doing it.
So, what can you do?
Approach the over-talker with empathy
We need to change our mindset to one that will look for options and solutions, not respond out of anger and resentment.
The temptation might be to just go out of your way to avoid this person, but that doesn’t really solve the situation. Besides, work is so team-oriented nowadays, you’re going to have a hard time of steering clear of them.
Better to cultivate compassion.
First off, take some time to reflect on this person. They’re not getting under your skin on purpose. Think, “What might be causing them to act this way?”
Or—maybe the problem is yours. Having self-awareness and an understanding of your own psychological makeup strengthens your ability to deal with over-talking. Are you more introverted? Is it difficult for you to interject during a conversation? Just ponder what percentage of the conflict may be from your own style.
Try to get to know the person. Deepen your understanding of their perspective. Look for ways that you’re similar to this person. Start small. Seek common ground.
Above all, practice patience and remember, they’re not necessarily over-talking on purpose.
You’re going to have to interrupt. But how?
Sometimes, the old cliché is really true: You just can’t get a word in edgewise. The over-talker doesn’t even seem to be pausing long enough to take a breath
You have no other option. You have to interrupt. But how do you do that without hurting their feelings? Try this approach:
Verbally interrupt with a statement like “Would you mind if I interrupted you for a moment?” (When you do this, most over-talkers will say something like, “Oh, no, no—I’m talking too much. Go ahead.”).
Set a time boundary when interrupting. You can say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I only have 5 minutes before I have to [get back to a client, go back to the office, etc.] What would you like me to do?”
Help them come to a conclusion by asking, “What do you think we should do?” or “So, what is your recommendation?” Phrases like this can cause the person to come to conclude their thoughts more quickly.
If you’re short on time, set up another time to conclude the conversation: “There’s obviously a lot of details, so why don’t we set up another time to discuss this?”
You can also use physical means to interrupt—raise your hand! It worked in grade school. It still works in the office!
What if the over-talker is your boss?
Picture this, you stick your head in your boss’s office and say, “Can I ask you a question about this report you asked me to write?”
Your boss welcomes you in and then starts an unending monologue, going from one unrelated topic to the next. Vacations. Kids. Problems with his/her boss!
If that sound like your boss, your best approach might to ask your simple questions via email. Obviously, your boss can’t coach you over email but he/she can handle simple yes/no questions.
If email isn’t feasible—for example, maybe you need the answer right away—preface the conversation by setting a 5-minute time limit, something like, “I’ve got to meet with someone in five minutes, but can I take two minutes of your time to ask you a quick question?”
With such a preface, your boss will know they have to get right to the point rather than assuming he/she can take all day to answer your question.
Also, any time you approach an over-talkative boss, your body language can help you manage the time. When you enter your boss’s office, remain standing—or perhaps just stick your head in the door.
They may insist you come in and sit down, and you may have no choice but to sit down. If he/she begins to go on too long, resist the urge to continually acknowledge (head-nodding, verbal acknowledgments, etc.). Your acknowledgments may be giving them the signal to continue, not to stop.
What if YOU are the over-talker?
I’m a big believer in self-awareness and modeling good behavior, so let’s ensure we aren’t adding any stress to those around us by over-talking!
Start by testing yourself on the 16-question Talkaholic scale. If you find you rank as an over-talker, what you need to do is to learn to talk mindfully:
Learn to ask questions—and really listen to the answer. When the person gives you their answer, resist the temptation to focus on what you want to say next.
Avoid cutting in whenever there is a pause. Be comfortable with a bit of silence. Silence can offer a chance to reflect and sort through thoughts.
Always avoid interrupting when someone else speaks. If you have a question or need clarification, let them finish their sentence and come to a natural pause.
Think before you speak: “Does this add something new?” or “Should I really share this with everyone—right now?”
If breaking the habit of nonstop talking proves challenging, a therapist or counselor can help you explore potential reasons for compulsive talking and offer support with developing more mindful communication skills.
How to deal with people who talk too much
Over-talkers can be infuriating, but instead of just stewing about it, avoiding them, or talking behind their back, practice these helpful techniques that will help you maintain your cool and the relationship. And don’t forget to be patient and compassionate. You may find that sometimes people just need a listening ear.
Marie Tjernlund is the Co-founder and President of NobleEdge Consulting. As an accomplished executive coach, certified Conflict Dynamics Profile® facilitator, and a professional performer, Marie brings her positive energy and enthusiasm to clients around the world. You can contact her at Marie@NobleEdgeConsulting.com.