In an earlier post, we shared tips for how to curb your chatter if you’re the office overtalker—the one who won’t stop talking and always has something to share. But what if you’re the silent type who typically gets pushed out by the overtalker? We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you address the problem before it takes a toll on your office relationships.
Understand the impact of the compulsive talker
The typical conflict-avoidant office dweller might struggle with assessing the severity of the problem itself. Is this really an issue that needs to be addressed in the workplace? Let’s look at a few ways the overtalker’s behavior could have a negative impact.
- If the overtalker is a manager, team creativity might be at stake. One Harvard Business School paper detailed how verbal dominance (a display of a leader’s power) results in less sharing of ideas in brainstorming meetings.
- In the highly likely event that your team includes introverts, their ease and productivity might be at stake. Research shows that introverts have more difficulty concentrating on cognitive tasks when there is significant background noise.
- If your workplace is fast moving and deadline-driven, overall employee productivity might be at stake. Your team might not mind the background noise, but rather be irritated by the lack of productivity that ensues when Chatty Charlie takes over the meeting.
- Finally, recognize how the overtalker’s behavior impacts you. Be aware of when you start to get irritated and when it begins to make your work day more difficult.
If the impact feels significant or is taking place in more than one category above, it’s likely time for you to take some action. Yes, you.
Take stock of the situation
When considering how to deal with this situation, it’s important to first suspend judgement about what might be taking place. Set aside any assumptions that your resident overtalker is malicious, uncaring, selfish or intentionally ignoring signals. Meditate on compassion toward yourself and others. In essence, get centered yourself so you can move with an open mind into exploration and action.
Next, it’s time to gather more information so you can better understand the sources of the issue. Use your keen powers of observation to examine interactions involving the colleague in question. In what instances are they most likely to interrupt, seem to not be listening, or talk more loudly than others? Do they overtalk only when ideas are being explored, or when a group vote is taking place? What about when personal topics come up? Observing when the behavior is strongest might give you clues to their motivations. Once you have a hypothesis about the reasons behind the talking, observe some more and see if the theory holds.
Most importantly, you must get the overtalker’s perspective. This does not mean “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” Instead, as studied by Nicholas Epley at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, it means getting someone’s perspective by asking them directly. In his book Mindwise, Epley reminds us that “the secret to understanding each other better seems to come not through an increased ability to read body language or improved perspective taking but, rather through the hard relational work of putting people in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly.”
This means engaging in an honest conversation with your over-talking colleague to truly understand the hows and whys of their over-vocalizing. Consider the importance of reciprocal sharing; first, you should share something about how you experience meetings or team gatherings. Then see what your officemate has to say. For example:
“So, I was reflecting on our staff meeting the other day and realized that I am getting lost in the discussions sometimes. I feel like we’re often getting off track and we’re not accomplishing what we want to in the meeting time. What’s your experience?”
Then, after getting your co-worker’s perspective, you might ask a follow-up question relating to his response, such as:
- “How do you process information most effectively in a meeting?”
- “What works for you when brainstorming with the team?”
- “What do you enjoy most about telling stories in our team meetings?”
Even a brief conversation can help you see the situation from your colleague’s perspective and think more concretely about their motivations.
Be clear about what you need
Take the long view and know that your investment in positive office relationships will support greater long-term productivity and connection. With this mindset, you are in a better position to give feedback and make a request.
Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Carole Robin suggests that any “gift of feedback” should have a clear intent—for example, a reduction in your colleague’s interruptions in staff meetings. She also emphasizes that it should be a two-way conversation so your colleague doesn’t feel bombarded without the opportunity to share in turn.
Spend some time reflecting on Robin’s sage advice and intentionally planning your feedback before you deliver it. Approach the conversation with humility and care for your colleague. And make a specific request so everyone’s clear on what needs to happen in order for the situation to improve.
For example, if your chatty colleague often interrupts you during brainstorming sessions, you might say, "I'm still gathering my thoughts on this issue—can you let me finish my sentence?" Or you might check on the pulse of the team and your progress on the agenda when you’re halfway through a meeting.
For most of us, it’s not easy to walk confidently toward conflict and give feedback to a colleague. But in dealing with an overtalking officemate, direct and compassionate action is best. Not only will it help you flex your skills in difficult conversations, but will support a colleague by helping them preserve their dignity by having the chance to change a workplace behavior that others find challenging.
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Liz S. Peintner is a leadership coach and consultant based in Denver, Colorado who has spent her entire career in the social impact field. She helps people to better understand what drives them so they can choose careers they love and ultimately make positive social impact in ways that speak to their talents and passions.