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.
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:
- Conflict Haiku
- When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing
that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups
into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
- See No Evil
- When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance.
And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
a top priority problem. What can you do?
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: II
- To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not
sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely
- On Snitching at Work: II
- Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you
to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.
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.