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:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: I
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been
the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more
important than whether or when it ends.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: I
- Conflict resolution skills are certainly useful. Even more advantageous are toxic conflict prevention
skills, and skills that keep constructive conflict from turning toxic.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence
of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each
other, we can all help prevent trouble.
- Patterns of Conflict Escalation: II
- When simple workplace disagreements evolve into workplace warfare, they often do so following recognizable
patterns. If we can recognize the patterns early, we can intervene to prevent serious damage to relationships.
Here's Part II of a catalog of some of those patterns.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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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.