Awhile back, I released an article on 4 Ways to Help Others Be More Concise with strategies to help us all to improve verbal efficiency within our organizations.
But what do you do when an individual simply won’t shut up? That’s the question one of my colleagues says he’s asked more these days than anything else.
It’s a topic to approach thoughtfully, since lots of us work hard to get people to talk more in the workplace. That said, this is a real obstacle for people who regularly interact with someone who simply doesn’t know when to stop.
The four actions below won't “fix” people who say too much. However, they will help you manage excessive talking when ending the dialogue is ultimately best for everyone involved.
1. Set Time Limits
Every Sunday morning my family and I sit in a quiet, orderly church service for over an hour. In the years we’ve been attending the church, never once has someone talked over the pastor (and I can assure you that we have talkers in our congregation).
People who like to talk a lot can absolutely be quiet if the expectations are clear. If you’re going into a meeting or dialogue with a chronic talker, be clear up front on how long the meeting will be and how much air time people will get.
If a talker catches you off guard before you’ve set this expectation, it’s perfectly acceptable to say:
Let me interrupt for a moment since I didn’t expect our conversation/meeting to go this long. I need to wrap up in five minutes to return to [insert what you need to be doing here]. What's the action you want me to take?
When a clear expectation is established, most chronic talkers will honor it.
(Career-saving note: if the chronic talker is your boss, skip ahead to #2).
2. Engage Enthusiastically
One reason people talk too much is because they are not heard. Chronic talkers often carry that reputation and others avoid engaging for fear the conversation will never end. As a result, they talk even more to get minimal attention.
Once you’ve established a timeframe (see point #1) then it’s your responsibility to engage and actually listen to what’s being said. Ask questions to draw out more. Tell them what you’ve heard them saying. Inquire about what’s not yet been said. Make eye contact. Smile.
If you do this within the scope of the timeline, you’ll demonstrate that you actually care instead of just being another person trying to rid yourself of them. It’s been my experience over that years that after doing this genuinely for a bit, a chronic talker will sometimes get a bit more concise — and even when they don't, they will often notice (and sometimes even mention) that you've listened better than most anybody else.
Plus, you’ll feel better about the interaction afterwards.
3. Help Them Land the Plane
Many (although not all) chronic talkers tend to be more extraverted. Since extraverts are more likely to think out loud, talking a lot is often just their way of thinking through a complex situation.
You can help by assuming the air traffic controller role and signaling when it’s time to land. Dale Carnegie instructors often employ this when helping people wrap up stories that they tell in training sessions. Here are a few things you can ask:
- What ultimately happened?
- Given what you’ve said, what conclusion are you drawing?
- What are the action items for me/us based on what you've said?
- So, what do you recommend I/we do?
All of the above signal that it’s time to land the plane, while helping the talker save face by wrapping things up on their own terms.
4. Interrupt Between Breaths
I’ve heard this a few times:
I can’t get in a single word to set expectations. This person literally never stops talking.
Years ago, I received some coaching from a senior facilitator to wait until a person takes a breath, and interrupt then if you have to. Their rationale? “Everybody has to breathe at some point.”
I’ve used this advice more than a few times. It’s a bit scary how well it works. Use this as a last resort when the first three don’t do it.
Now, Do Them One Better
Chronic talkers get a bad reputation (often deserved). The above steps will help in the moment, but you can do a lot move over time. If the chronic talker is a peer or someone you manage, there's a lot you can do with time and strategy to help them improve.
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