Is there any way to encourage my coworkers to be more concise and get to the point? So many of my meetings with one guy specifically turn out to be him rambling for 30 minutes, and if I’m able to get a word in to ask a question, he often answers with more rambling and only gives me a useful answer if I ask the question a second time, using “what I need to know is ____” to emphasize that I’m actually asking for specific information. I’ve tried to rein him in a little and explain to him what information is actually useful to me when we touch base, in hopes that he’ll get to the point and focus on that as opposed to going on and on and ON, and he took it to heart for maybe a month and then totally forgot we had that conversation.
Ah, long-winded coworkers. It’s easier to handle this when you’re the person’s manager because then you can just give clear and direct feedback about what you want them doing differently. But you have some options with coworkers too:
1. Know that it’s coming, and try to head it off in advance by saying things like:
- “I only have a minute but wanted to quickly ask you about X.”
- “I have a bunch of questions for you, so if you can focus on top-level responses, that’ll help, and then I’ll let you know if I need more details.”
- “Can you give me a one-minute overview of X?”
2. Don’t be afraid to interrupt and redirect. For example:
- “I know there’s a lot of background here, but what I really need is just X.”
- “Sorry to cut you off, but since I’m in a rush with this one, can we go straight to what the status of X is?”
- “I appreciate you being thorough, but this is actually a lot more than I need. For my purposes, just X would be ideal.”
- “Actually, since my piece of this is really just X, can we focus there?”
(Whether or not these feel polite or rude will depend on context. Obviously, select accordingly.)
3. Have a big-picture conversation about the pattern and what you need. Whether or not to do this will depend in part on your relationship and dynamic with the person, but in some cases you could say something like this: “You’re great at giving me lots of background. Much of the time, though, I just need the quick upshot. Can we try to start with the quick upshot, and then if I need more details, I’ll ask?”
None of these are likely to fix the problem 100%, but some combination of them will probably cut down on a lot of it.