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:
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments,
other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant,
what can we do?
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- How to Misunderstand Somebody Else
- Misunderstandings are commonplace at work, as in most of the rest of Life. At work, they might be even
more commonplace, because at work it sometimes seems that people are actually trying to misunderstand.
Here's a handy guide for those who want to get better at misunderstanding others.
- Handling Heat: II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's
participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.