Some people talk way more than we'd like them to. They talk incessantly. In extreme cases, we wonder how someone can talk so much and say so little. Getting a word in can be difficult, which is bad enough, but typically, we don't even want to participate in the so-called conversation. We just want these people to disappear, so we can get back to work, or just think, or have a real conversation with someone else.
What can you do about such people? How can you tell them that their behavior is unacceptable, without destroying the relationship?
Some call these people talkaholics, a word that's derived (by extension) from the term alcoholic. But the name is misleading, because alcoholism is a substance addiction, and "talkaholism" is probably a behavioral addiction, like gambling. [Note] Because substance ingestion isn't involved in talkaholism, I prefer the term compulsive talking or talking addiction.
We do have choices when dealing with compulsive talkers, but because the choices are somewhat unsatisfactory, the most severe challenge we face when dealing with compulsive talkers at work is accepting our own limitations. And the path to that acceptance begins with understanding the fundamentals of behavioral addiction.
Behavioral addiction Behavioral addiction involves a
compulsion to repeat a behavior
in spite of its severe negative
consequences to the individualinvolves a compulsion to repeat a behavior in spite of its severe negative consequences to the individual. The compulsion arises from re-enforcing and rewarding stimuli that are direct results of the behavior. The reward is psychic — that is, the individual interprets at least some consequences of the behavior as a positive experience. Repeatedly receiving the reward induces the person to repeat the behavior that generated the reward. Over time, the individual can become so focused on obtaining the reward by repeating the behavior, that the behavior can become the center of the individual's daily life.
For example, some people talk to calm themselves when they experience anxiety. When they feel anxious, they talk, and they feel better. The next time they feel anxious, they're a little more likely to talk. Soon, they engage in talking whenever they anticipate anxiety. And then the problem can become severe, especially if they develop anxiousness about talking too much. If that happens, they can enter a regime in which talking continuously is the only way they can gain any sense of relief from anxiety.
That's just one example of the many ways people can become addicted to talking. It's easy to see in that example why trying to convince a compulsive talker to "stop it" is a fool's errand. The attempt to convince the addict to abandon the addiction can itself intensify the addiction. So if we can't convince — and indeed ought not even try to convince — the compulsive talker to change, what can we do? We'll tackle that question next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- Reframing Hurtful Dismissiveness
- Targets of dismissive remarks often feel that their concerns are being judged as unimportant, which
can be painful when their concerns are real. But there is an alternative to pain. It requires a little
skill and discipline, but it can work.
- Preventing the Hurt of Hurtful Dismissiveness
- When we use the hurtfully dismissive remarks of others to make ourselves feel bad, there are techniques
for recovering relatively quickly. But we can also learn to respond to these remarks altogether differently.
When we do that, recovery is unnecessary.
- Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now continues, with Part I of a set
of suggestions for what to do when a peer interferes with your work by talking compulsively.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
- Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
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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.