Zip It! The Incessant Talker at Work

Zip ItWhat to do About Colleagues Who Talk Too Much

Every group has at least one – the colleague who uses 500 words when 20 would do; who holds others captive until their eyes glaze over. An executive recently referred to this as “taking me on a journey I didn’t sign up for and don’t have time for.” Sure, most of us talk a bit too much at certain times, but what do you do about the chronic offender with no “off switch”?

Communication is what allows us to connect with, understand and support each other, to work toward common goals, to express our joy, anger, sorrow, disappointment and hope. But how often is the primary goal of ‘talking’ not about sharing, communicating or creating understanding?

Below are strategies for protecting your time and good nature from incessant talkers. But first, since empathy [an important aspect of emotional intelligence] often begins with understanding, a brief discussion about why some people use words as walls or weapons.

The common assumption is that people who talk incessantly do so because they think they’re brilliant, that their audiences are spellbound and that people should want to hang onto their every word. Perhaps some do, but most people who lapse into this unfortunate habit are largely clueless about their effect on others – at least during the time they’re droning on and on. So why do they do it?

Some people who talk far too much just crave attention. Others may be looking for a connection; for understanding. For others, the answer is more complex:

Disconnected Introverts are people with minimal social skills and low self-awareness. They are often most comfortable ‘in their own heads’. They often lapse into what appears to be a state of semi-consciousness where their every thought tumbles out. It’s questionable if they are even conscious of their listeners. Colleagues of one such leader have joked about wanting to quietly leave the room one-by-one, so that when the speaker ‘comes to’, the room is empty. This colleague may in fact be brilliant and his/her head may be filled with innovative, transformational ideas. Unfortunately, unless they develop greater self-awareness and leadership behaviors, their promise will probably never be realized.

The inability to engage others and present relevant information in a way that others can understand and act on it – is a leadership derailer.

The Walking Wounded have built a wall around their own vulnerabilities. Often due to abuse or neglect in their early childhood, there are people who are so afraid of being hurt that they protect themselves against anyone getting close to them – even colleagues who might otherwise become friends and advocates. They use words to hold others at a comfortable distance, and are often unwilling to really listen, to engage in a give and take dialogue, to acknowledge the ideas and especially the feelings of others. At an extreme level or when under stress, they can be critical or even demeaning. They’re often demonized as cold and unfeeling – further increasing their self-imposed isolation.

The wall they have built around their feelings can feel as cold – and can be as effective – as concrete.

Frantic Escapees often work almost around the clock, always proclaim to be busier than everyone else, are driven to frequently check their phones and send messages in even the most important meetings. They seem to never be in repose for even a moment. When they use far too many words, it is often because the endless flow of words distracts them from feelings that threaten to overtake and overwhelm them, shatter their fragile equilibrium and expose their low self-esteem and fear of failure.

If you don’t slow down, the ‘monster’ can’t catch you.

[Neither can joy, intimacy or fulfillment.]

Since it’s rarely advisable for anyone but a qualified counselor or coach to directly intervene with the over-communicator in your organization, why is it helpful to understand that there may be deeper issues involved?

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to seek to understand and empathize with others – to tune-in to their emotional state. Understanding that many people who exhibit extreme – sometimes even toxic – behaviors have underlying issues, can help you to respond appropriately to uncomfortable situations
When you understand that there may be underlying issues that have absolutely nothing to do with you, you can avoid personalizing the behavior – especially if the person in question is your boss or another person with potential power over your career. You may still be frustrated or even angry at times, but when you realize that the behavior is not about you, you will be better equipped to avoid wasting time and energy [your own and others’] over-reacting.
When you approach the situation from an ‘other-centered’ perspective – stay calm and handle the situation confidently and with grace – your executive presence will be stronger, which serves as a model for others. It also increases your leadership credibility – which is often a criterion for advancement in the organization.
Understanding others also helps you to effectively coach reports and colleagues to do the same [see suggestions below], and to avoid joining with others to demonize or marginalize the offending person.
How do you respectfully head-off the incessant talker who regularly chews-up too much of your time – even if s/he is your boss?

Try active listening [also called reflective listening.] Especially when someone is ranting or complaining, instead of reacting to their words, reflect their emotion, for example: “I can tell that hurt your feelings.” OR “You seem really upset.” Then listen while they talk for a bit longer. Perhaps you might recommend a resource or suggest that you talk more at a later time, in order to end the conversation graciously.
Before the monologue begins to build steam- or when there is a brief break – be prepared with a statement with more than a grain of truth, which you can modify to suit the specific occasion. Example:
“I always learn from your experiences with………..” [the subject of the monologue] OR “Your stories about ……… are always fascinating.” Unfortunately, I have a [4:00] deadline and no wiggle room [or a project team waiting for me, or ……………….]

Is it okay for me to reach out to you in the near future when we can both set aside time to talk? Thanks! I’ll look forward to talking soon.”

3. If the person is in your office, you can have an agreement with your assistant or colleague to wait no more than 5 minutes and announce the call you’ve been waiting for – or remind you that you need to review important documents by a certain time. You can then decide whether to heed or ignore the message. Or you can break-in to check with someone – in person or by phone – to confirm when a meeting starts or a call is expected.

4. Recommend a leadership coach to a colleague who has barriers to effective leadership.

5. Coach/ mentor a report to develop more executive presence, which includes communications. Consider a ‘coach the coach’ relationship with an experienced leadership coach – to develop your leadership coaching skills and partner with you in specific coaching and communication techniques for your reports.

6. Feel free to contact me. There’s no charge or obligation to have a preliminary discussion about your challenges [or your colleague’s or team’s challenges]… and perhaps even generate some concrete ideas about what you can do.

Marilou [Louie] Myrick, Leadership and Business Performance Consultant/ Coach.

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