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 sensetactic, 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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More articles on Conflict Management:
- When You're the Target of a Bully
- Workplace bullies are probably the organization's most expensive employees. They reduce the effectiveness
not only of their targets, but also of bystanders and of the organization as a whole. What can you do
if you become a target?
- New Ideas: Judging
- When groups work together to solve problems, they eventually evaluate the ideas they generate. They
sometimes reject perfectly good ideas, while accepting some really boneheaded ones. How can we judge
new ideas more effectively?
- On Snitching at Work: I
- Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work.
Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.
- Ethical Debate at Work: II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others,
but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates
toward wise outcomes.
- Linear Thinking Bias
- When assessing the validity of problem solutions, we regard them as more valid if their discovery stories
are logical, than we would if they're other than logical. This can lead to erroneous assessments, because
the discovery story is not the solution.
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.