We’ve all experienced it: you’re in a conversation with someone and you can never get a word in edgewise. They hog the conversation and never ask how you’re doing, what you’ve been up to, or what your thoughts are.
(Admittedly, it’s time to look in the mirror. Think about the last three conversations you had. Did you do all the talking, all the listening, or was it a balanced conversation? Sometimes you’re the one who talks too much!)
When talkers are in your mastermind groups or classes, or if you’re working with them as private clients, colleagues or subcontractors, you need to take action to make sure they don’t dominate the conversation.
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Why they do it
I spoke to three different psychologists, and they agree: People who talk too much are not aware they’re doing it.
There are many reasons why they do it; here’s four to think about:
- They do it as a reaction to a stressful situation. Talking calms them down and allows them to process their thoughts and feelings.
- They do it because they need someone to listen to them or pay attention to them; they can’t get that need met elsewhere.
- They do it as a way to control the conversation and dominate the people in the room.
- They have much to share and are excited to share their knowledge and experience with others.
Regardless of why they do it, the effects on you and others in the room can range from anger to anxiety. Members (and you, the facilitator) feel frustrated and unacknowledged when the other person dominates the conversation.
Sometimes, groups working together can form a bond against the talker, which destroys the trust and rapport in the group.
How they can harm you, your group and your business
- They waste your energy. When you spend all your time listening to one person speak, your focus can’t be used elsewhere. This is huge if you’re working with a group of mastermind members, because you must give attention to everyone evenly.
- They waste time. The over-participator can wreak havoc on your meeting agenda or appointment calendar.
Tips for dealing with them
There’s an old saying, “Rewarded behavior is repeated behavior.”
The reward for the over-participator is attention. If you allow this to happen, you are rewarding this disruptive (and toxic) behavior and it will continue. Here are some tips on taking care of the situation:
- Admit to yourself that this is an unhealthy conversation which is harming you and the group.
- Give yourself permission to require boundaries in your life and be willing to enforce those boundaries as necessary.
- Remember that they’re probably not aware they’re doing it. Starting from a place of good intentions helps you deal effectively with this problem. If you approach it with the idea that the person is simply rude and obnoxious, you’ll do a great disservice to this person. Your mindset will affect the outcome.
- Tell them what you’re noticing. If possible, give specifics, like, “Sam, in our last three meetings, even though we have a timer set so that everyone gets five minutes to share their best practices, you always go over and won’t stop talking when I ask you to.”
- Ask them to change their behavior. But don’t expect it to happen — they have gotten along for many years with this type of behavior and they’re unlikely to change just because you ask them to. Remind them of the harm it’s causing you and others.
- Set and manage expectations in advance. When you first get into a business relationship with someone, whether it’s a colleague, employees, or a client, explain your guidelines about courteous, productive conversations.
- If you’re in a group conversation, like a mastermind group meeting or class environment, decide how much time each member gets to speak, then stop them mid-sentence if necessary. Say something like, “Mary, you’ve brought up so many good ideas, let’s pause for a moment and let William give some feedback.”
- Whether you meet with your group in a physical meeting space or a virtual one, body language works wonders. Raise your hand in the “stop” sign (palm out towards the person) and say, “John, I want to make sure everyone has a chance to get involved with the conversation, so hold your thought for a moment. Does anyone else have something to add?”
- Don’t let their crisis become your crisis. They may promise to change their behavior, but when they’re stressed, they may revert back to the old habit. Don’t bite.
- Don’t take the lazy way out. Sometimes it feels easier to simply let them talk, figuring that they’ll eventually run out of steam. This seems like a simple solution, but the underlying harm it does is not acceptable.
With some courageous conversations and practice, you can ask for what you need and want from any relationship. Are you willing to give it a try?