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Volume 15, Issue 21;   May 27, 2015: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II

Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

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.
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In this last part of our exploration of issues involving compulsive talkers, we offer more suggestions for dealing with peers who talk compulsively. These approaches don't address the causes of compulsive talking. We're assuming here that we aren't in a position to offer that help. We seek only to limit the impact of the compulsive talker on our ability to work, without giving direct, overt offense.

Here's Part II of our suggestions for dealing with peers who talk compulsively. We continue to use the name Sydney when referring to compulsive talkers.

Use time
Watches (or smartphones) can serve as conversation enders. Suddenly look down at your watch or smartphone, then say, "Drat, gotta run," and exit. Because some Sydneys tag along, in the worst case, you might have to leave the building to shed your Sydney.
Use the buddy system judiciously
Sometimes co-workers agree to extract each other from Sydney conversations. For example, when you see a buddy trapped by Sydney, you might interrupt, saying, "There you are, can you help me now?" Be certain to choose buddies who are creative, to limit the chance that Sydney might sense conspiracy, and feel excluded, which can exacerbate Sydney's talking compulsion. And beware buddy systems that have too few subscribers.
Walk with me
In the Walk-With-Me Exchanges with compulsive
talkers aren't "conversations"
in the conventional sense
tactic, you invite Sydney to continue the conversation while you walk. Choose a destination Sydney doesn't want to reach, or cannot reach. In organizations that have secure areas, you can enter an area to which you have access, but Sydney doesn't. Or, if there are people Sydney wants to avoid, use routes that lead directly to those people.
Don't extend their topics
In polite conversations we try to contribute by building on each other's comments. But exchanges with compulsive talkers aren't "conversations" in the conventional sense. Extending and supporting the conversation will only encourage Sydney. Listen politely, but don't affirm or add to what Sydney says.
Answer questions curtly
Sensing that the conversation is one-sided, some Sydneys try to engage their targets by asking direct questions. They aren't interested in the answers. They want to create an impression in their own minds that their targets are engaged. Avoid answering such questions. Practice curt, non-committal responses, such as: "Not sure," "Don't know," "Could be," "Ask Fred," "Maybe so," "Wasn't there," and so on.
Switch to topics uncomfortable for them
Although you aren't Sydney's supervisor, you probably can inquire about Sydney's progress on some joint effort. Ask how it's going. If it isn't finished, your query might create a twinge of discomfort. It might not end that conversation, but if you can create that discomfort with regularity, you might eventually deter Sydney from engaging you in conversation.

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