I learned a lot about their spiritual beliefs and recreational activities. As a coach, I am a professional listener so maybe they were just happy to have someone listen to them. That is not uncommon. But they were acting like stay-at-home moms with a toddler who finally have a chance to spend time with other adults.
Although I no longer work in an office environment, I know that chitchatting at work can sometimes take a turn to the dark side. Either personal information becomes too personal or the chitchat can go on and on and on. The other day a friend of mine was complaining about a co-worker who spends too much time sharing her personal dramas. She said she walks a big detour around her and sits in her cubicle with her headphones on to avoid the excessive blather.
Avoidance is a viable tactic, especially since sometimes these lengthy talkers can’t take a hint. With one of the tree experts, I tried to wind up the meeting: “Thank you so much for coming by and taking the time to share your knowledge with me. I will let you know either way by the end of the week.” I walked toward his truck. He came with me but then spent at least ten more minutes talking. I learned quite a few details about his hobby of tree-climbing, about which he is extremely enthusiastic.
Now, if I had really wanted to get back inside to work on this rare Seattle sunny day, I would have had to use some more assertive tactics. The key tactic being: walking away.
Of course, one wants to be polite. But I had already said the polite stuff. I did not leave the area, which is the most important step when shutting down a big talker. When you are with someone, give them your full attention. If you are still there, they are still expecting your full attention. The only solution is to remove yourself.
At work, sometimes the offending party is in your space or is your cubicle neighbor. In these cases you will have to do something that may come across as a little rude: turn away from them. Do not look up at them again. Maybe even put in your earbuds. The bottom line is you are no longer giving them your attention.
I once had a coworker tell me when I went on a little too long about non-work subjects, “I’m feeling very task-oriented right now”, and she turned away. That’s a little too blunt for my taste, and it was a bit odd since she was the biggest talker in our group, but it certainly worked. I abruptly shut up. And it was her turning away that stopped me, practically in mid-sentence.
What you can say instead is something like “John, (use their name to get their attention), I can’t concentrate on what you’re saying right now – I have a ton of things on my mind, a big list of ‘to-do’s’. Sorry to cut you off, but I need to get back to work. Let’s catch up later.” Then turn away, withdrawing your attention.
In networking and business social situations, it’s important not to monopolize people or allow yourself to become monopolized. The whole purpose of these functions is to meet new people and get reacquainted with old contacts. After a few minutes of conversation, if you can introduce them to someone else, do so and move on. Otherwise, extricate yourself from long conversations with some finalizing statements such as “I don’t want to keep you from meeting others here. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I hope we’ll bump into each other again.”
If you have an employee who consistently oversteps boundaries by expounding on her personal dramas, it’s time for some coaching. How to coach employees who have bad habits (like talking too much) or are highly emotional will be the topic of an upcoming article.
For now, just remember that for those long-winded talkers, physically withdrawing your attention is the key. When they get the message that you won’t listen to their tales, they won’t bother you anymore. Your attention is valuable. That’s why you should be choosy about who and what you turn it on.
Thank you for giving me your attention!
Sometimes you just can't walk away.
Check out Run-DMC's You Talk Too Much