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Five ways to unlock better conversations in your team
Dave Winsborough
Created on
July 11, 2023

In surveys of what annoys people about others, overtalkers – people who don’t seem to know when to keep quiet – regularly appear in the top five. You may have been on a bus or at a party, when you find yourself stuck with someone in a conversation that you desperately want to be over as they ignore your social cues and drone on, and on, and on.

People who are unusually confident, social and lack empathic awareness of others, are prone to talk more than they listen. Testosterone also seems to play a role as well. A study found same sex conversations had around seven instances of interruption. But male/female conversations produced 48 interruptions, 46 of which were a man interrupting a woman. 

That would be a manterruption. Quickly followed by some choice mansplaining or bropriation (Read about ex-Google Chair Eric Schmidt being called out for all those here).

The effects of overtalking are more than just extreme boredom on the victim’s part. Dominating the conversational airwaves soaks up time that might have produced more productive discussion, signals to others that their contributions aren’t welcome, is a dominance tactic, and reduces the chances that people will want to work with the overtalker.

In fact, research shows conversations never end when we want them to. In a study of 1,000 people, the desired length of a conversation was about half of its actual length. Only 2 percent of conversations ended at the time both parties desired, and in half of the conversations both people wanted to talk less. 

When participants guessed at when their partner had wanted to stop talking, they were off by about 64 percent of the total conversation length.

That people fail so completely in judging when a conversation partner wishes to wrap things up led the scientist, Adam Mastroianni, to conclude “Whatever you think the other person wants, you may well be wrong, so you might as well leave at the first time it seems appropriate, because it’s better to be left wanting more than less.”

To deal with an overtalker in your team, try these tactics:

  1. If they seem anxious, summarize. “Let me see if I’ve got what you are saying”, which signals that you were listening, and then shift the focus. “That’s interesting – I had a similar/different take”, and you can lead the conversation to a close.
  2. If they are confident or seem insensitive, just interrupt. Linguist Deborah Tannen points out that not all interruptions are rude. People who are confident aren’t easily hurt, so barge in and change the conversation: “Interesting. But have you . . . “
  3. Feel comfortable setting a limit. At work it is common to set rules around group discussion. Use a talking stick that is passed around the group. Or use an egg timer to limit babbling and wittering.
  4. Try silent brainstorming. In meetings, stopping out-loud conversation in favor of having people write down their thoughts that are to be shared without speaking, is a great way of bringing quieter voices to the forefront.
  5. Try feedback and feedforward. Let the person who interrupts know that it is a problem for you and others. Suggest that they change the ratio of questions to opinions, or ask them to remain silent for longer.

Sometimes, even your best-friends won’t tell you that you talk too much. Take the Talkaholic questionnaire here, or better still, sign up for Deeper Signals and unlock the power of self-awareness.

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