Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 46;   November 13, 2013: Overtalking: III

Overtalking: III

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others, what can you do about it?
Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torch

Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torch. Drip torches are also used in lighting backfires, which are helpful in controlling wildland fires in many kinds of terrain. A backfire consumes fuel that lies in the path of the main fire. When properly set, the air rushing in to feed the main fire directs the backfire toward the main fire. When the backfire and main fire meet, the main fire has no place to turn for fuel, and the two of them annihilate each other.

Stopping your own overtalking by saying to yourself, "I will not overtalk," might work, but it requires constant vigilance and great force of will. Such an effort is subject to a psychological constraint known as ego depletion. Recent evidence strongly suggests that we have a finite supply of what is commonly called "will power" — the ability to self-regulate. A more effective method of controlling any behavior — in this case, overtalking — is to find something else to do instead. Here we suggest making notes about what we want to say when it's our turn to speak. These notes not only keep us occupied while our conversation partner is still speaking, but they also make us more effective when we do speak.

Using will power to stop overtalking is like trying to extinguish a wildland fire by snuffing it out, which is not very effective. A more effective approach (often) is to use a backfire to deprive the wildland fire of fuel. Making notes about what you want to say is like lighting a backfire. It deprives you of the resources you would need if you were to engage in overtalking.

Photo courtesy U.S. National Park Service.

It's difficult to control overtalking by others. No, wait, it's impossible, because we each are in charge of our own overtalking. If you're convinced that overtalking is a problem for us all, and you no longer want to contribute to that problem, the first step is to control your own overtalking. Here are six steps to controlling it.

Notice your own overtalking
When you notice your own overtalking, note it, because you want to know how frequently it happens, and with whom. Noticing your own overtalking is easy. The tricky part is acknowledging that you initiated it, if you did. Note that, too.
Accept that you do overtalk others
Acceptance is easier if you have the data you've been collecting above. And if you were the initiator in the bulk of the incidents, denial is especially difficult.
Resolve that you'll change
Think about it: Only you can stop your own overtalking. If you don't stop it, management or your peers might intervene in some way to create serious difficulty for you.
Tell someone
To intensify your commitment to change, tell someone that you'll soon gain control of your overtalking. Recognize that control doesn't mean cessation. It means, first, that you won't be initiating overtalking. Second, it means that when you do overtalk, it will be solely for the purpose of announcing, politely, that someone is talking over you.
Devise alternatives
To keep from initiating overtalking, find something better to do instead. For example, make notes — mental or written — about what you'll say. Then say it without overtalking. If someone else initiates overtalking, stop talking. If it happens in private conversation, mention that you were interrupted, that you regard that as disrespectful, and that it must stop. If it occurs in a meeting, speak to the chair privately afterwards, and explain that you believe it's the chair's duty to control interruptions. If the chair cannot or will not control interruptions, speak to the chair's supervisor, or if that fails, Noticing your own overtalking
is easy. The tricky part is
acknowledging that you
initiated it, if you did.
speak to your own supervisor.
Work to reduce overtalking by others
Your options for helping reduce overtalking by others depend strongly on your organizational role. Certainly you can influence the incidence of overtalking within your own span of responsibility. But you can also speak up when you witness it happening between others in your presence. As a bystander, you can avoid blaming the people engaged in overtalking by asking them to speak one at a time, because you can't understand them when they overtalk each other.

Any of the above actions that involve interacting with — or demanding something from — people who regard themselves as your superiors can be extremely risky politically. Taking any action that would threaten your career or your continued employment is probably unwise. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Ego Depletion: An Introduction  Next Issue

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