Those absolutely determined to dominate a conversation sometimes resort to overtalking, which is the tactic of intentionally beginning to speak, or continuing to speak, to prevent others from speaking or to make them stop if they're already speaking.
We sometimes characterize such people as overtalkers. This is most unhelpful, because it reduces the person's humanity to a single dimension — their overtalking. When we speak in terms that disregard the personhood of others we make it easier to employ abusive, disrespectful tactics in our attempts to deal with the overtalking behavior. So Step One in dealing with someone who overtalks is to realize that their overtalking isn't a full description of their humanity. If it were, attempts to persuade him or her to take a different approach would be futile.
People choose overtalking for a variety of reasons. Here are three examples:
- Overtalking is sometimes seen as necessary, though not necessarily effective, when dealing with overtalking. Tit-for-tat usually results in two people talking at each other, desperately trying to focus on what they themselves are saying, to avoid being confused by what the other person is saying. To accomplish this, they sometimes find it necessary to talk increasingly loudly.
- Life patterns
- Some people were reared in family environments or in cultures in which overtalking was a common pattern of conversation. They see overtalking as part of normal, human conversation. To some, reluctance to overtalk suggests weakness or lack of commitment to one's own beliefs.
- Overtalking can be a tool employed by those who want to bully others. People who use it in this way probably believe that overtalking is disrespectful. They engage in overtalking, in part, because they believe that their targets will feel disrespected.
Overtalking is expensive to the organization. Here are some examples of the costs it imposes.
- Reduced productivity of meetings
- Because overtalking Some people were reared in
family environments or in
cultures in which overtalking
was a common pattern
of conversationprevents people from clearly hearing what's being said, it impedes the free exchange of ideas, which reduces the productivity of meetings. But worse than that is the confusion that can result when someone misunderstands what was said during the overtalking, or fails to hear it at all.
- Increased risk of toxic conflict
- Frustration arising when someone talks over another person, coupled with a sense of being disrespected or even violated, can easily lead to hurt feelings and ruptured relationships. This makes fertile ground for toxic conflict.
- Intimidation effects
- When one person in a meeting repeatedly uses overtalking to prevent others from contributing, others are likely to adopt a lemme-outta-here stance. They decide that the experience of being overtalked is so repugnant that they try to limit their risk by speaking only minimally, or by not speaking at all. This deprives the meeting of their contributions, which can lead to distorted results.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.