Have you ever asked a colleague or your boss a question with the expectation of a brief answer but instead you were bombarded with a lengthy lecture?
On the other hand, have you ever asked for directions only to receive a long rambling explanation that left you more confused than before? Or, have you ever worked with someone who is a non-stop talker to such an extent you've half-heartedly labelled them "motormouth"?
While effective interpersonal communication in the workplace is critical to career success, someone who is a compulsive "talkaholic" will not only upset the interpersonal communication balance in the workplace but they will also doom their own career progression.
Talkaholics seem to get on a verbal roll and don't know when to stop. They simply talk too much. Not only that, they inadvertently dominate conversations and can be quite argumentative.
Talkaholics might well ask you a question, but give you no chance to answer before they interrupt and begin relaying their own story. They don't seem to recognize the need for balance in a conversation. They don't seem to recognize the give and take needed between a talker and a listener. They simply talk, talk, talk and talk.
Listening to a compulsive talkaholic can be painful. In many cases, people feel trapped, and when possible, they'll try to avoid the talker and/or state right up front that their time to listen is limited. As a listener becomes more uncomfortable, they'll try to use body language to indicate their discomfort. The problem is the talker may not be sensitive to these signals and will simply keep on talking. In extreme cases, the listener may simply walk away in exasperation. After all, this type of one-way conversation suggests disrespect for the listener.
It doesn't take much thought to realize the negative impact a talkaholic can have on workplace relationships as well as one's career. When people deliberately avoid a talkaholic, there's not only little chance for promotion, the individual won't be welcomed on any team projects. Listening to a talkaholic becomes just too exhausting.
Since being labelled a talkaholic is a big career price for anyone to pay, I suggest engaging in self reflection to assess your own risks and to develop some strategies to avoid this pitfall. Some of the following guidelines might help.
Replay a conversation -- stop and reflect on a recent conversation at work, play and with family. Ask yourself if you did most of the talking, if you talked mostly about yourself, used so much detail the point of the story was lost and/or continually interrupted your friend. Did you dominate the conversation compared to the other parties in the group? Be honest and assign yourself a percentage time score. Set a participation goal of no more than 50 per cent.
Reflect on body language -- reflect on your conversations again and visualize your participant's body language.
Did you notice signs of distraction? Did you notice the participant's eyes beginning to dart here and there? Were the individuals shifting their feet or turning their heads? Did you fail to notice signs of frustration? Finally, did the individual turn and walk away? Take time to notice the body language of others and learn to recognize boredom or frustration.
Review your speaking topics -- when reflecting on your conversations, analyze the content of what you were talking about. Did work related conversations stray into household and personal topics? Or, did family-related conversations stray into a work conversation? If so, you'll find that your listeners will quickly lose interest. On the other hand, could your conversations be viewed by others as a lengthy rambling or a lecture? After all, people don't want to be "talked to," they want an equal part in the conversation.
Talking too much, like any habit, can be changed, but it will take a diligent effort. Once you have become self aware, the following tactics can help you to create winning conversations and to establish improved relationships.
Be a good listener -- this means really "hearing" what another person is saying. Learn to use the skill of paraphrasing to reflect back what the person is saying in your own words. This helps people to feel you understand and heard what they were saying. Ask for clarifications or an expansion of what is being said. Taking time to sincerely listen allows you an opportunity to process what is being said before you answer.
Apply a one minute rule -- simplify your thoughts by avoiding too many details. Be focused and discuss only one issue at a time. Limit your statements on each topic to one minute and then stop and ask the listener for their feedback. This will ensure a balanced conversation.
Avoid interrupting -- it's only natural to experience the impulse to interject into a conversation, yet we must resist interrupting because this annoys people and shows disrespect. Be sure to wait until there is an opportune time to contribute to the conversation, unless your interruption is to ask for clarification.
Ask open-ended questions -- an open-ended question invites a speaker to provide a fuller explanation by asking "why" or "how" and/or request more information by using asks the phrase "Tell me about..." This is an excellent strategy for encouraging conversation and to demonstrate good listening skills.
Be open to criticism -- invite a colleague or friend to help assess your communication style. Listen to their critique and ask for advice and feedback. Keep an open mind, ask a number of questions and ask for examples.
Absorb all their information and advice and thank them for their input.
Make replay a habit -- evaluate every conversation after the fact and determine if there was fair give and take, if you enjoyed the conversation and/or if you felt exhausted. Determine your role versus other participants and assess if there was balance. Were you able to contribute 50 per cent as a speaker and 50 per cent as a listener? Identify areas for improvement and consciously work at changing your bad habits.
Compulsive talkers or "talkaholics" are most often not aware of their bad habit and in fact may have an underlying need for attention.
However, in the workplace, this type of personality not only exhausts others but they can easily create general morale problems in the workplace. If this describes you, then sit down right now, reassess your behaviour and put a plan in place to rebalance your communication skill.
If you are a manager dealing with a "talkaholic", take time to coach and mentor the employee by helping them to understand how their behaviour is impacting their success in both developing relationships and moving forward with their career.
Source: Help for those who Talk too Much, Bruce Wilson, BusinessListening.com; How to Tell if You Talk Too Much, 15 Steps, www.wikihow.com
Barbara J. Bowes is President of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org