Peers or near-peers who talk compulsively comprise the bulk of the problem cases of compulsive talking, perhaps because they're more willing to engage with their peers. Continuing our convention from last time, we refer to the compulsive talker by the name "Sydney." And let's assume that you're Sydney's target, that your own attempts to deal with Sydney openly and directly have been futile, and that your supervisor has been unable or unwilling to intervene effectively.
Dealing with peers, by necessity, cannot involve invoking organizational power. Instead, the strategies below work by limiting Sydney's access to you, while maintaining civility whenever possible.
Many of these suggestions involve dissembling, which can be ethically difficult for some, especially Sydney's friends. To deal with compunctions about dissembling, begin by accepting that there are no good options. Tolerating Sydney's intrusions affects both your ability to work and Sydney's; confronting Sydney even more directly could be hurtful and permanently so; dissembling would be an ethical breach that could lead to your being caught in a lie. The choice is yours, but careful dissembling usually presents the least risk.
Some tactics and strategies:
- Reframe feelings of guilt
- Some of these tactics might seem harsh. Concerns for Sydney are real, but usually overblown, because Sydney is probably accustomed to having others terminate conversations; he or she might actually expect it and understand it. The situation doesn't justify rudeness, but it does give you some additional space to maneuver.
- Set limits
- If Sydney Begin by accepting that
there are no good optionshas phoned you, or found you despite your best evasive efforts, begin the conversation by setting a time limit: "I can talk for only two minutes." And when you reach that time, end it.
- Don't let it start
- If Sydney is more likely to accost you at particular times of day, be unavailable: out of the office, in a meeting, or on the phone. If alone in your office, wear your headset even though you aren't actually engaged. When Sydney appears, point to the earpiece.
- Call my phone
- If you have an assistant, have him or her call you or interrupt you. If not, numerous apps for smartphones and tablets enable you to simulate incoming phone calls, or actually schedule real incoming phone calls. Use one to create incoming calls that you can use as excuses for terminating the "conversation" with Sydney.
- Use the washroom
- If you and Sydney are opposite in gender, duck into a one-gender (yours) washroom. Some Sydneys will wait in the hallway, but the longer you take in the washroom the more likely is Sydney to walk away.
- Walk away
- Outside your office, you always have the choice to walk away. If Sydney catches you in your office, and leaving is an option, immediately stand, grab your laptop, tablet, or a notepad, and leave, explaining that you're late and can't talk.
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:
- When You Can't Even Think About It
- Some problems are so difficult or scary that we can't even think about how to face them. Until we can
think, action is not a good idea. How can we engage our brains for the really scary problems?
- Teamwork Myths: Conflict
- For many teams, conflict is uncomfortable or threatening. It's so unpleasant so often that many believe
that all conflict is bad — that it must be avoided, stifled, or at least managed. This is a myth.
Conflict, in its constructive forms, is essential to high performance.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: II
- Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review
of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
- When Somebody Throws a Nutty
- To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal
over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end
of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?
- Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set
of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
- Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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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.