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:
- Corrosive Buts
- When we discuss what we care deeply about, and when we differ, the word "but" can lead us
into destructive conflict. Such a little word, yet so corrosive. Why? What can we do instead?
- New Ideas: Experimentation
- In collaborative problem solving, teams sometimes perform experiments to help choose a solution. These
experiments sometimes lead to trouble. What are the troubles and how can we avoid them?
- When Over-Delivering Makes Trouble
- When responding to inquiries such as "Is that correct?" we sometimes err by giving too many
reasons why it's incorrect. Patterns of over-delivery can lead to serious trouble. Here's how.
- First Aid for Wounded Conversations
- Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to
forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.
- Creating Toxic Conflict: I
- Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates.
Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
- And on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.
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