Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 20;   May 20, 2015: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I

Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I

by

Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now continues, with Part I of a set of suggestions for what to do when a peer interferes with your work by talking compulsively.
Bored

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 options
has 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.

We'll continue next time with more suggestions for limiting disruptions by peers who talk compulsively. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Muhammad Ali in 1967Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
Richard Posner, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in ChicagoSome Subtleties of ad hominem Attacks
Groups sometimes make mistakes based on faulty reasoning used in their debates. One source of faulty reasoning is the ad hominem attack. Here are some insights that help groups recognize and avoid this class of errors.
Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1792Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
"Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot, it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?
The John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, AlabamaFirst 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.
U.S. Congressman Jim Moran talks with constituents at a meeting on the federal budgetImpasses in Group Decision Making: III
In group decision making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand. With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
An actual straw manAnd on December 14: Straw Man Variants
The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.