In this last part of our exploration of issues involving compulsive talkers, we offer more suggestions for dealing with peers who talk compulsively. These approaches don't address the causes of compulsive talking. We're assuming here that we aren't in a position to offer that help. We seek only to limit the impact of the compulsive talker on our ability to work, without giving direct, overt offense.
Here's Part II of our suggestions for dealing with peers who talk compulsively. We continue to use the name Sydney when referring to compulsive talkers.
- Use time
- Watches (or smartphones) can serve as conversation enders. Suddenly look down at your watch or smartphone, then say, "Drat, gotta run," and exit. Because some Sydneys tag along, in the worst case, you might have to leave the building to shed your Sydney.
- Use the buddy system judiciously
- Sometimes co-workers agree to extract each other from Sydney conversations. For example, when you see a buddy trapped by Sydney, you might interrupt, saying, "There you are, can you help me now?" Be certain to choose buddies who are creative, to limit the chance that Sydney might sense conspiracy, and feel excluded, which can exacerbate Sydney's talking compulsion. And beware buddy systems that have too few subscribers.
- Walk with me
- In the Walk-With-Me Exchanges with compulsive
talkers aren't "conversations"
in the conventional sensetactic, you invite Sydney to continue the conversation while you walk. Choose a destination Sydney doesn't want to reach, or cannot reach. In organizations that have secure areas, you can enter an area to which you have access, but Sydney doesn't. Or, if there are people Sydney wants to avoid, use routes that lead directly to those people.
- Don't extend their topics
- In polite conversations we try to contribute by building on each other's comments. But exchanges with compulsive talkers aren't "conversations" in the conventional sense. Extending and supporting the conversation will only encourage Sydney. Listen politely, but don't affirm or add to what Sydney says.
- Answer questions curtly
- Sensing that the conversation is one-sided, some Sydneys try to engage their targets by asking direct questions. They aren't interested in the answers. They want to create an impression in their own minds that their targets are engaged. Avoid answering such questions. Practice curt, non-committal responses, such as: "Not sure," "Don't know," "Could be," "Ask Fred," "Maybe so," "Wasn't there," and so on.
- Switch to topics uncomfortable for them
- Although you aren't Sydney's supervisor, you probably can inquire about Sydney's progress on some joint effort. Ask how it's going. If it isn't finished, your query might create a twinge of discomfort. It might not end that conversation, but if you can create that discomfort with regularity, you might eventually deter Sydney from engaging you in conversation.
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Bemused Detachment
- Much of the difficulty between people at work is avoidable if only we can find ways to slow down our
responses to each other. When we hurry, we react without thinking. Here's a suggestion for increasing
comity by slowing down.
- Tangled Thread Troubles
- Even when we use a facilitator to manage a discussion, managing a queue for contributors can sometimes
lead to problems. Here's a little catalog of those difficulties.
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
- Overtalking: II
- Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it
happens, what can we do about it?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: III
- In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand.
With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses
in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- 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.