To deal effectively with problems, we need both strategy and tactics. Last time we explored why the strategy of convincing compulsive talkers to change their behavior is unlikely to succeed. If the goal is to end the disruptions caused by the compulsive talker, and if we're unlikely to be able to convince the compulsive talker to stop, we need alternatives. Considering power relations can be illuminating.
In what follows, I'll call the compulsive talker Sydney, which (lately) is a gender-neutral name.
- Relationship power
- Sometimes a close friend adopts a pattern of talking compulsively. If your relationship with Sydney is of reasonably long standing, and if it's based on genuine friendship and mutual respect, you have a rare opportunity. You probably can't help Sydney resolve the issue, but perhaps you can help him or her decide to seek an experienced counselor.
- Approaching privately, carefully, and respectfully, having asked for and received permission to offer advice, you can suggest that help would be, um, helpful. An approach from a position of caring might work.
- Organizational power
- Asking your supervisor to intervene is a promising option. If it works, the problem is resolved. But if Sydney is your supervisor, there is not much hope. You can try to bend conversations toward something more productive, but since Sydney's objective lies elsewhere, success is unlikely. Because Sydney's job performance is probably inadequate, eventual termination or reassignment is likely in Sydney's future, assuming that Sydney's supervisor is not also compromised somehow. Still, the only sure path to relief is to make a change yourself.
- The case in If your relationship with the compulsive
talker is of reasonably long standing,
and if it's based on genuine friendship and
mutual respect, you have a rare opportunitywhich Sydney isn't your supervisor, but is instead someone else with organizational power, is another difficult one. Again, for analogous reasons, your supervisor is unlikely to assist effectively, if at all, and making a change yourself is the most promising approach.
- Abuse of power
- Finally, there is the repugnant possibility that what seems like compulsive talking is actually sexual harassment. Such behavior is frequently, in essence, abuse of power. If the behavior is harassment masquerading as compulsive talking, it's likely that Sydney spends so much time talking to you not because of a need to talk, but rather as an inept but well-concealed attempt to initiate a sexual relationship.
- If this is a possibility, seek advice from a Human Resources representative. But beware. Merely seeking such advice, let alone lodging a complaint, can invite retaliation. Prepare concrete evidence: journal entries logging dates and times of incidents; direct, incriminating quotes; and willing witnesses who can corroborate your assertions. The more powerful Sydney is, the more dangerous it is file a complaint. It would be wise to seek legal advice before taking such steps.
We'll consider the most common case — peers or near-peers who talk compulsively — next time. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
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travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people
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- Overt Verbal Abuse at Work
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or to otherwise harm others. Perpetrators tend to favor tactics that they can subsequently deny having
used to harm anyone.
See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.
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- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
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