It happens to the best of us: you lose your train of thought mid-sentence—and then realize your conversation partner doesn’t seem interested at all. What you do next is key.
If you prefer to keep talking, that’s not surprising. After all, our brains get a buzz from talking—especially about ourselves. But know that if you’re the “overtalker” in the conversation, your partner may become bored or disengaged.
This is embarrassing in any social setting, but especially so at work. Compulsive talking can affect others’ perception of you as a leader, and impede your ability to build positive relationships with co-workers. Here, you’ll gain insight into how your talking impacts others, how to observe cues from conversation partners, and what to do instead of gabbing.
How “overtalkers” impact the workplace
So you’re chatty? It’s likely you’re beloved in the office for your ability to get along with anyone, share stories that make people laugh, and cleverly steer an awkward interaction into positive territory. But take a closer look: it’s also possible that your over-communication extends so far into the workplace that it’s affecting your team’s productivity and morale. Here are a few common scenarios:
- You talk too much in a group meeting. Everyone knows what you think, but you haven’t gained any new perspectives from others. You don’t know what’s important to them or what questions they have. Worst of all, your team might believe you don’t care about their opinions, resulting in less productive brainstorming and problem-solving.
- You are long-winded when making a presentation. A topic that might have been engaging for three minutes has become boring after 15. Instead of involving the group in active learning, you’ve talked “at” them.
- You dominate the conversation in one-on-one meetings. You’ve lost an opportunity to build an authentic connection of mutual respect and admiration, since you haven’t allowed your conversation partner to share about themselves. You also likely have no clue about what interests your colleague, so the next conversation could fall flat.
You might be thinking, “But wait, no one else said a thing, I had to fill the silence!” or “I’m an extrovert, I think out loud.” Could be. But working with people who have varied learning styles and personalities means that you might need to adjust.
Even more convincing: in one small qualitative study, results showed that “compulsive talkers were perceived negatively by their co-workers, perceived to discuss a variety of topics, ignored most cues to end the conversation, and impacted the workplace negatively.” Ouch.
What’s a compulsive talker to do?
Perhaps you’ve recognized yourself as an overtalker, and you’re ready to change. First, don’t panic. It happens to everyone. But it’s time to make a plan for how you’ll change some of your most off-putting behaviors. Here are some tips:
- Practice active listening. This may require specific behavior changes to engage others so they feel heard.
- Before a planned interaction, think about what you want to gain from it. Do you want to advocate for your own position, or do you need to learn something from others? Do you need to gather specific information to make a decision, or is this a meeting where the group will brainstorm openly on a specific topic? Knowing what you are listening for will help you focus more on others’ voices and opinions.
- Brush up on your observational skills so you know when your conversation partner might be bored. Then practice shifting the focus back to them with a simple phrase like “But enough about me ... what’s on your mind?”
- If you are extroverted, think about how you might best engage the introverts in your work circle. Before a meeting, make sure to send out reminders about the meeting topic and a proposed agenda so everyone has the chance to prepare and share their thoughts.
- Similarly, if you find you benefit from processing information aloud, test out some new ways to “emote.” You can set aside time after or before the meeting to process with someone else, as long as they’re receptive, or spend 10 minutes in written reflection instead.
- Use best practices in teaching adults when making a presentation or structuring a meeting. Allow your colleagues to share impressions, personal experiences, and opinions as part of your presentation.
Silence is golden
Not yet convinced? Then we can perhaps at least find common ground on the many benefits of silence. Evolving research shows that moments of silence support the growth of new brain cells and healthy changes in blood pressure.
So, if your goal is to connect with others to both bring joy to your life and make a meaningful impact, then relax, take a breath, look someone in the eyes, and just listen. If silence comes, let it be. You might just hear a colleague say, “Thank you for listening. I really appreciate you!”
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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.