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Volume 15, Issue 19;   May 13, 2015: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Power

Compulsive Talkers at Work: Power

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

Compulsive talkers are unlikely to change their behavior in response to your polite (or even impolite) requests. In this second part of our exploration, we consider the role of power — both personal and organizational.
A portion of The Art of War, written in Tangut script

A portion of The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, written in Tangut script. Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist, and tactician. He is thought to have lived from 544 to 496 BCE. His treatise on military strategy, tactics, and operations is influential even today, in the military domain, in business, in politics, and beyond. The photo shows a portion of a page of this treatise, translated into Tangut, a script used for several hundred years commencing about 1000 years ago.

A keen understanding of how people contend with each other in both military and non-military conflicts can provide significant advantages in addressing any interpersonal issue, including compulsive talking. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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 opportunity
which 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I  Next Issue

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