Shut Up Already

Shut Up Already
December 3, 2012 Anne Wade

Have you ever had an excessive talker on your hands? I don’t mean the casual chatterbox that talks across the cube, I mean an incessant talker- one you can’t shut up. They talk on and on, moving from one subject to another. In the midst the chatterbox community, the incessant talker stands out among the rest because, on some levels, they are incapable– and I use that word purposely- of allowing others into the conversation.

I once reported to a Division Manager who was an incessant talker. He was a great salesman and reeled in the numbers for decades. Something changed over time. He began spending copious amounts of time in the getting-to-know phase with prospective clients and not nearly enough time closing the deal. He became exhausting to deal with when in the office. From the minute he walked in the door until the minute he left, he had to talk. The entire division became his audience, causing all of us, no matter how hard we tried, to become less productive.

Incessant talkers aren’t just annoying, they’re also rude. Confronting a Chatty Kathy or Long-winded Larry can be difficult since these types have the tendency to talk right over you. It takes courage to confront an incessant talker, and if you don’t confront him/her head-on, the chatter usually doesn’t stop. It’s not your job as a manager to know the psychological reasons behind an employee’s incessant talking (research does suggest a number of factors).  It is your job to keep the unit functioning well and meeting goals.

Recently, I worked with a client who had an incessant talker on staff. His manager was very reluctant to confront him because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She justified her own actions by saying that underneath he meant no harm; he just seems to be a bit needy. Over a six month stretch, I watched the whole environment upend itself. Simply put, people couldn’t take it any longer. The manager received complaints weekly. Customers called complaining they couldn’t get him off the phone. Employees asked to change their work schedules and moved their lunch hours to avoid him. It wasn’t until another coworker threatened to quit that the situation came to a head. Now the manager was forced to deal with it.

Comfortable or not, it’s our role as managers to take action when a single person’s constant chatter brings down a team. Confronting the incessant talker may sound like an ugly, painful process but it doesn’t have to be.  Confronting is another term for setting boundaries and establishing behavioral limits during workplace interactions. So, if you have an incessant talker on your hands, think about the effect it has on others. Consult with a HR professional, set up a plan, and most importantly, have the courage to confront; the overall health of your organization may depend on it.

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