The other day I had a conversation with someone, let’s call him ‘Phil’, who truly loves to hear himself talk. I, as usual, could not get a word in edge wise. The meeting ran twice
the length we had planned and ironically, because I eventually zoned out of the conversation, I ended up hearing very little of what he had to say. It was a total waste, of both of our time.
We’ve all experienced this. Sometimes we are in a culture that does not prize efficiency of getting your point across. Other times we are forced to deal with an individual who has a personal preference for using more words rather than fewer. Regardless of the cause there are some strategies we can use to help keep a loquacious person on track. The next time you are having a conversation with your organization’s ‘Phil’ try the following things to keep the motormouth from going off the rails.
1. Set Agendas
By setting agendas for meetings and conversations in advance, you can create a guide for the conversation. If you co-construct the agenda by getting everyone’s buy-in, people are more likely to follow it during the meeting/ conversations. If appropriate, you can include rough time-limits on the agenda for how much time people want/ need to spend on each issue. When people begin to get off topic, or go way over time, you have an objective, pre-agreed upon structure to get them back on track.
If you print out the agenda, this is even more effective because you can physically point to the agenda, highlighting that it is the issue/ problem rather than the other person themselves.
2. Ask key questions
Expressing yourself in as few words as possible is not only a cultural style, it’s a skill. Often people talk “too much” because they lack the ability to get their point across in fewer words. Other times it’s because they don’t feel other people “get it” quick enough. You can therefore coax an idea out of someone faster, or help them be more concise, by asking key questions. As you guide the conversation with your questions, it forces the other party to stay on topic and get quickly to the point. And, while people generally don’t like being interrupted in midstream, they mind it much less if you are asking them to explain something more. Ironically, if your questions are specific enough, they will end up talking less.
The more another person talks, the less we are inclined to listen. The less the other person feels listened to, the more they will talk. So once a verbose person starts talking, it is very hard to get them to stop, not just because they like hearing their own voice, but because we tend to shut down.
You can get out of this cycle by paraphrasing what they have said or acknowledging what you heard. This shows them you have understood what they’ve just said, reducing their need to repeat points.