managing a chatty employee when you need shorter answers

A reader writes:

I have a question about how to handle an employee who I now oversee. This person has been with the company for 15 years and is very nice, but also very defensive. She is also a talker. If I ask her a question about something work-related, which I need to do several times a day, it turns into a rambling answer complete with examples and anecdotes.

Is there a handy phrase that you have in your toolbox that works as a polite way of saying “OK, great, thanks, got it, get back to work now!” without making her feel like she is getting a brush-off?

Well, there are ways to address it in the moment, but you also should probably have a bigger-picture discussion with her about it.

In the moment, you can often preemptively head off long, rambling responses by saying, “I just have a minute, but can you tell me briefly what’s going on with XYZ?” Or, “Really briefly, what’s the status of XYZ?” Or, “Give me the one-minute version of where we are with XYZ.”

If she processes those signals, that might decrease a lot of this. If it doesn’t, you can also stop her mid-ramble by saying something like, “Okay, so it sounds like ABC? Great, thank you.” Or, “Sorry to cut you off, but I want to make sure we have time to talk about X.” Or, “Sorry to cut you off, but I’ve just got a second here. This is great info on ABC and just what I needed. Thanks!”

But if this is an ingrained habit in her, you’ll probably need to have a bigger-picture conversation about the problem anyway.

And you really should have that bigger-picture conversation, because this is something that’s impacting her effectiveness, and getting in the way of your ability to have effective conversations with her. And if I had to bet, it’s also probably making you and others avoid asking her anything unless it’s absolutely necessary, because that’s a common response when people know they’re likely to get sucked into a far-longer-than-needed conversation. And while I know you want to be kind, as her manager you’re actually doing her a disservice by not talking to her about how to communicate more effectively.

You could say something like this: “Jane, I want to talk to you about something that I think will help you be more effective at your job. I’ve noticed that when I ask you work questions, you’re very thorough — you always give me a lot of information, which is great in some situations, but often I really just need a quick answer. I want to make sure that I can get info quickly from you, and that you’re not spending a lot of time or energy giving me more context than I need. I also trust you to be handling the details fine on your own, so I usually don’t need them. In general, assume that I’m usually looking for the quick summary on something, and that I’ll always let you know if I need more information.”

You mentioned that she’s defensive, so let’s also talk about how to handle that if it happens. Frankly, defensiveness is something of a performance issue if it prevents her from hearing (and people from giving) feedback. So I’d address it forthrightly if it happens (here or any other time) — kindly, of course, but forthrightly. For instance: “I’ve noticed that you seem upset when we talk about things you could do differently in your job. It makes it difficult for me to give you feedback. Is there a different way you’d like me to handle these conversations?” … And if that’s met with defensiveness too, then follow it with, “What’s happening right now is an example of what concerns me. I know you’re upset so let’s not continue this right now, but let’s plan to revisit this in a day or two and talk about the best way for us to resolve this so that we can have these conversations more easily.”

But overall, the way to think of this is that being able to communicate effectively and concisely is a skill that’s important in her job, and it’s something you can address and ask her to work on just like anything else.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    OK, here’s the flip side: How do you handle an overly chatty boss? My boss comes into my office to discuss a project, but never seems to get to the point. He’s newish so I hear a lot of “at my old job….” or other anecdotes that seem to go on forever. When he finishes I always have to ask “OK, what do you need me to do on this project?” and many times he will say that I don’t need to do anything, or do something that will take all of 15 seconds to accomplish. My boss loves being the boss and is pretty sensitive to anyone trying to say he’s in the wrong, so what can I say that is direct but not off-putting?

    1. EM

      I had an old boss (who I loved and was actually a really great boss) who would do this. I hated it when he would call me to his office at 5, because I knew I’d be in there for at least an hour. :/

      I just sucked it up and dealt with it because it didn’t really impact my productivity. (I hate to say it, but I just wasn’t that busy at that job)

      1. Chris80

        I have the same problem. I like my boss but she is so chatty – the worst part of it for me is when she wants to spend my entire lunch break talking to me (if I eat at work). I rarely mind listening to her, but wish I could use my break for calm/relaxation! I don’t think there’s much that can be done about it when it’s the manager and not an employee, though.

        1. CfT!!!

          You can always do what my boss does… Interupt and say, “that’s not what I need to know, just tell me: “heads” or “tails”. Ok thank you. That’s all”. Then just walk away or look back at your monitor.

    2. Runon

      How about “I really need to know this but I just want to check that this is a higher priority than this urgent item you asked me to take care of?”
      Alternately if your boss comes to your desk is it ok if you keep working? (My boss is generally ok with this if what I’m doing is minor, moving items, things that require little thought; and I can keep working and still engage with him.)

    3. Lily

      Make sure he is just chatting and not overexplaining, because if he is explaining, then you have to make sure you understand what he is saying.

  2. Sascha

    I was just about to ask the same thing as Anon@1117 above. My boss is very chatty and rambling, so I avoid talking to her unless absolutely necessary, especially when it comes to asking questions. Often she will give me way more information than necessary, and it’s often incorrect and mixed-up, and she ends up turning the question on me. If I ask her “What do you want me to do,” regarding a specific project or task, she will spend several minutes talking about big-picture things, and then ask me what I think she should do about the overall project/task. She has even asked me how to manage my coworkers and resolve personnel issues with them. I wonder if I should take this as a compliment/empowerment but it feels like she’s relying on me too much – I know delegation is part of her job as a manager, but I wonder where the line is.

    1. Charlotte

      Yes, please. Second the above two. What do you do when your boss won’t just get to the point?

      Also, I’m so glad it’s not just me… :)

      1. Kelly L.

        This! I’ve resorted, a few times, to just coming out and asking “OK, what’s the action item?” It feels jargony, but sometimes it gets them to either tell me what they need me to do or to admit that they don’t need me to do anything, it’s just an anecdote. But I’ve been here forever and have some smart-ass leeway built up. :)

    2. Long Time Admin

      Instead of asking “what do you want me to do on this project?”, try asking if she wants you to do A, or B, or C. Actually, only two options is best, considering she might give you long explanations about each one. And whenever possible, ask Yes or No questions. Sometimes these tactics work; sometimes they don’t.

      It’s very hard when it’s your boss.

      1. Chinook

        I ditto the ask yes/no questions. I have a boss who answers “do you want me to do A or B or C” with yes, which I have learned to interpret as he wants me to do A and has stopped reading/listening (he is very busy and I am his assistant, so I know it isn’t personal). Luckily, we have the type of relationship where I can push back with “That wasn’t a yes/no question. Can you please clarify.” but I haven’t learned that yes/no questions get me clearer answers and I can then ask for follow up details as needed.

        And yes, I have sent him a series of emails of yes/no questions. I find it frustrating from my end but atleast I get clear answers.

    3. Tuesday

      My boss is like this as well. I dread asking her questions because she either uses it as a launching point to discuss unrelated things, sometimes without answering my original question in the first place. Those unrelated things are also sometimes not work-related, but stories about her dogs and whatnot. She used to do this thing where the conversation would seemingly end, so the other person in the conversation would walk away. But then she’d say something else as if they were still there, even though they’d have moved out of her sight already. For a while I felt like I had to be polite and go back to her office doorway to give her the chance to finish her dog story or whatever, and I’d observe my coworkers doing the same. Eventually I just pretended I didn’t hear her and would keep walking as she continued to talk.

      Now we share an office and I’m pretty unhappy at work.

  3. Anon

    Lol two issues I know have are being overly chatty or defensive. For a second I wondered if this was my boss writing in. :p

  4. I am a "Chatty Cathy"

    I recognized myself in the descriptions of “chatty” people. I’ve been trying to change. It is usually hours later when I realize how much I rambled when answering a question (if I realize it at all).

    I’m hoping yoga & meditation (2 things that should help with focus) will help.

    I LOVE this blog.

    1. Catherine

      I tend to want to give people all options/scenarios when answering questions, so I’m not necessarily chatty, but sometimes I provide more information than necessary to make a decision. Something that worked for me was to think about all these options for a second, and then choose one or two that seemed best, and don’t even mention the others. If those options don’t work, then the person will come back to you for the others.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Good advice. I do this too, so I’ll try to remember it. I’m also trying to think in terms of mental editing. Instead of the long, rambling, preliminary sentences that in writing are often called “throat-clearing,” I’ve been trying to answer questions as though I’ve already edited those out.

      2. AnotherAlison

        Glad you limit yourself to two options. Someone who shall remain nameless loves to give the backstory to her entire analysis process, more or less without any conclusion, so that mgmt can consider the facts and make their own conclusion. This person is much like the OP (a yes or no question receives a 20 minute speech with many tangents), and mgmt avoids dealing with her because of it.

      3. Jamie

        I totally get this. I’m not chatty – in fact I’m about 100x more social in type than I am irl – but I can be an over-explainer at times, although I’ve gotten much better over the years and figuring out how much information people want.

        When I first started in IT I assumed everyone wanted to know the details of what went wrong and how I fixed it – because it was interesting and that’s how you learn. It took me a while to figure out that it’s not interesting to everyone and they don’t care. Now if I’m not expecting them to know something so X doesn’t happen again I just stick with the summary and am happy to provide more details if people probe.

        But I realized I sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I did this – but it took me longer to figure out how to temper it.

        1. The Other Dawn

          I am the same way. I’m not overly social in person or on the phone, but I do enjoy texting and emailing. And I can be an over-explainer also.

          Like you, I think that my IT fix is fascinating to others when, in fact, their eyes are glassing over and they’re wondering how they can get away. And I also believe that’s how you learn. But, most people just want a machine or program that works. Period.

          When someone asks me how X happened or what I am doing about Y, I often have think to myself, “Just the facts, ma’am.” Otherwise it just opens a can of worms, confuses people more, or falls on deaf ears.

          1. Lily

            I do think your IT fix is fascinating and I hate bothering you, so I would love to know how to avoid the problem in the future!

            1. Jamie

              You would become my favorite person at work.

              I actually light up when someone is interested and would love to explain. Kind of like what someone else mentioned about the receptionist being kind of lonely – I’m lonely in a specific way because as great as my co-workers are no one is really interested in the behind the scenes stuff.

              I get it – when I go to the mechanic I just want my car fixed and I don’t want to hear about how he won his battle with my calipers and other stuff I don’t get.

              But I do sometimes just crave a technical conversation with someone in house – because I don’t get a lot of that.

              I hope your IT appreciates you.

          1. saro

            Speaking of tangents, wouldn’t a forum be nice? I really enjoy the comments and would like the opportunity to interact more with fellow AskAManagerites.

                1. saro

                  Thank you both, will check it out. But then the anonymity is no longer available, right? I’ll still check it out though! :)

                2. FreeThinkerTX

                  Replying to Saro: You can always create a fake LinkedIn profile, just for the purpose of the Group.

                3. Jamie

                  I understand that dropping anonymity is not for everyone, but don’t create a fake profile to do that. That’s disingenuous to do that to join a networking group.

                  That’s not cool.

                4. FreeThinkerTX

                  Jamie – Oh. Sorry. My thinking is that the LinkedIn group is for non-AAM conversations, not necessarily for genuine business networking. There are lots of conversations I’d like to carry on with other posters, and I’d be find not knowing exactly whom they are in real life, just so long as they keep a consistent anonymous persona.

                  My apologies if I overstepped my bounds.

                5. Jamie

                  Oh no problem – and I didn’t mean to be so abrupt in my response. I was logged into work from home and kind of multitasking that.

                  The linkedin group does have an off topic thread for non-work related stuff, and people start work related threads, share articles, etc. in the main group. There is also a sub-group which is totally optional with has threads for local meet-ups for people who live near each other.

                  Personally, nothing would make me happier than if people connected and helped others get great fitting jobs through that group and I have a feeling it’s a matter of time. I know it’s the first place I would go if we were looking.

                  But I can totally see how that wasn’t clear from previous postings on that – but on the topic of anonymity I had a weird moment of holy crap – my whole name is attached to this …and as weird as this sounds I did a search through AAM archives before I did the Linkedin thing just to make sure I hadn’t said anything too specific that I didn’t want attached to me.

                  Turns out all these years of tossing off comments and I didn’t say anything I’m ashamed of – kind of amazing for me…ha.

                  But it does feel weird to unmask at first – and no one should do it if they don’t want to – but it’s just a place to go for kind of tangential stuff or things not covered here so we don’t hijack threads.

                  As of now we have 669 members over there and it’s a pretty incredible pool of talent from all kinds of industries, locations, and fields. And it’s civilized – the discourse is similar to the comments here although with less traffic. There’s not a problem with flaming or trolling – just really cool conversation with a variety of opinions.

  5. Ash

    Chiming in to say that I recognize a lot of myself in the description of the employee. I think some people do it as a reaction to bad managers. At my previous position, if my supervisor asked me a question, I would answer it succinctly. Well then we would play 20 questions where she would want me to get more in depth, or accuse me of forgetting something/doing something wrong, etc. So to head that off I would say as much as I could, which would just get me into more trouble because I would misspeak or something, and that would start another round of questioning… So I was damned either way.

    When I start my current job, I found myself doing that again and was able to break the habit, but it takes a lot of self-awareness to do something like that. I think the OP’s employee probably has 0.

    1. I am a "Chatty Cathy"

      My chatty habit isn’t due to a bad manager. It is partially due to being a stay-at-home mom for years. I need to “re-learn” how to speak “professional-ese” again.

      1. Anonymous

        My mom is a Chatty Cathy. She babysits full time since my siblings and I all have kids now. She gets really excited to SPEAK ADULT and pours it all out whenever she gets the chance. Sometimes I find it annoying she talks me ear off, but it’s my fault too. I still love her though. :)

  6. Liz in the City

    At Old Job, I had a very nice coworker who would come over to chat for 20-30 minutes EVERY MORNING. I think she was lonely and wanted a friend and even though I thought I was giving clear signals (verbal and physical cues, even turning my chair around, checking email as she was talking, saying things like “I really have to get to work”) she would just drone on and on.

    OP, you’d really be doing this person a service. I used to dread when this otherwise nice person would come over to talk to me because she was such a time suck (plus, Old Job looked down on any employee interaction).

    1. B

      This!

      Every morning, with the coat on the chatting commences and does not stop. I also have the issue of the person being an oversharer (WAY oversharer). It is frustrating, infuriating, and annoying to say the least. And asking a question is never pleasant because it takes 20 minutes, has explanations for a 14 year old, and half the time is wrong – but do not tell them that.

      Please, for the other coworkers, talk to this person. I beg it of you.

    2. Chinook

      I work with this person and then when I point out that I have work to be done (or just avoid that part of the office until I have time), she runs to the boss and complains that I am not a team player. Luckily, the person she complains to is on the same level of the person I assist (who is too busy to do this) and while both are technically my managers, my “person” tells me to poke my head up there every so often so they don’t complain too much but not to worry about it too much.

      Is it wrong to actually want to work at work?

    3. The Other Dawn

      This! I totally have someone like this at work and I DREAD when she comes near my office. She will start talking to the person outside my office, but it’s obvious she’s trying to include me also. I don’t bite though. I just keep my head down and keep working. Occasionally I will throw her a bone and ask how she’s doing or whatever, but not very often. It’s too much of a time suck and it’s hard to get away because she doesn’t usually notice cues such as my noncommittal grunts and averted eyes.

  7. glennisw

    I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me! I have BOTH a chatty manager and a chatty co-worker!

  8. the gold digger

    I am a bit of a chatter, although with me, the issue is more that I try to get clarity when I am confused.

    As in, when my boss starts to talk, he will say something that confuses me and could affect the rest of the conversation. My tendency is to ask him a question about what is confusing me.

    He does not like that. He wants to say everything before I talk. Last week, he said, “It’s really annoying when you ask questions! I lose my train of thought!”

    Which of course sent me into a shame spiral because I do not take criticism well because I’m sure that the next step is “And you’re FIRED! And I’ve NEVER LIKED YOU!”

    But – I am glad he told me that I was doing something he doesn’t like so I can fix it. I am concentrating very hard now on just keeping my mouth shut until he is done talking and just writing my questions down.

    1. A Teacher

      You’re boss kind of sounds like a jerk. We all have tendencies where we’re not perfect. I can be the one that is “chatty” for me its just processing out loud so I’m sure that I’m getting what info you need to you as quickly as I can. I have worked hard to not overshare and am very conscious of how people are reacting to me. That said (and the flip to this) I HATE when the undersharers or those that already know ask a question assuming I have an answer and I have clue what they’re talking about or when they don’t give the info I need to do my job.

      Again, we’re all people and interpersonal dynamics are “fun” but to the OP, I’m sure its annoying and I wish you the best in the situation.

    2. Rana

      Notebook. Write down your question and ask him when he gets to the end of his thought/comes up for air. Seriously.

      I come from a family of babblers and interrupters, and married into one where every sentence is carefully laid out brick. by. brick. one. word. at. a. time. and god help you if you interrupt before the whole edifice is created. Writing a note to myself so that I don’t forget my thought before the other person finishes what they want to say is really helpful (and it’s a lot easier to do in a work setting than, say, hanging out in the living room).

      1. Rana

        And see, there’s a perfect example of what happens to me in conversations. I find my thoughts jumping ahead and I miss something important, like you having already come up with that solution. Sigh.

      2. Cassie

        This reminds me of when I was the assistant in a beginning level ballet class. There was one girl (around age 8) whose hand would shoot up as soon as the teacher started giving a combination and the teacher would always tell her to hold on until she (the teacher) was done saying or showing the combination. This happened for nearly every single step.

        Even when the teacher explained various aspects of the combination to the class, the girl would still want to ask her question and get an answer. Maybe she craved the attention of the teacher and class and the only way she thought she could get it was by asking questions. I could totally imagine her as an adult rushing to ask questions before her boss was done explaining.

        (Not saying anybody on here is like that, though!).

  9. Taryn

    I’m a chatty employee, and I know it’s something I need to work on. My boss? She loves to say, “Get to the point.” I think it is SO RUDE! She also loves to say, “I don’t need a thesis answer.” RUDE RUDE RUDE!

    1. B

      You might find it rude but obviously this is a major issue she has with you but does not know how to address. Think about the reverse…would you want to be on the receiving end of a lengthy response when it is a yes or no question or one that only requires a slight bit of backstory every time you as the boss need something? Not so much.

    2. Legal Eagle

      Maybe she could soften her language, but I don’t think she is being rude. She is just being very direct. (That was a recent post, I believe!)

    3. fposte

      I can’t tell if the problem is that she’s saying this snottily or that she’s saying it at all. It’s certainly not pleasant if she’s being snotty, but she’s telling you that you’re performing your job in a way that’s a problem for her, and that’s important information. If she asks you something and you take her time with a long discussion without getting her the answer she needs, an overall plan where you’re “working on it” doesn’t help her just then–she needs to ask you outright to cut to the chase. If you’re defensive about her correction, then it’s even likelier that you’ll be cut out of stuff entirely.

    4. Ash

      It’s not rude if your boss is doing it. If you know you have a problem talking to much, and it’s gotten to the point where your boss has to specifically tell you to speak less, then maybe you need to change your behavior.

      I will say though I had a friend who would ask you to tell them about a situation or a story or something, but if you didn’t tell it as fast as they wanted, would interrupt you with “ANYWAY…” in a really angry tone of voice. We are no longer friends…

    5. Jamie

      I totally understand what the others are saying – that Taryn needs to take the feedback and adjust to brevity…but I do think her boss is rude in how she’s making this point.

      My mom was a lovely woman and so well intentioned – but she could ramble. She knew this about herself and gave us all a little trick to get her back on track when she was getting too far afield and we’d just say – cliff notes – and she’d get to the point. It was a like a family joke, and sure no employer should have to be as delicate as you’d be with your mom but the difference between

      “Get to the point” and “Can you just give me a brief rundown?” is huge. The second one doesn’t take much longer to say and certainly is less cutting.

      But it’s tough in typing too because I’m reading “get to the point” with a harsh tone and that would be hurtful. I could be wrong – depending on delivery.

      1. Job seeker

        Jamie, I think you have a good point. I can be kinda chatty at times and so can my mother. Although, I would never say anything to her to hurt her feelings, I notice myself when I do this. I think people that do this sometimes don’t realize it and it is a hard habit to break. I am still working on breaking mine.

      2. hildi

        I think this just speaks to the point about how there are relationship-focused people and task-focused people. In my classes I give everyone the following passionate speech: “The relationship focused folks need to work on being less sensitive. If you know you’re dealing with a task focused individual and they say something that feels kind of rude, let it go. They are probably not focused on the relationship right now. They are focused on what’s important to them and that’s the task. They can work with you regardless of whether they like you or not.

        “On the other hand, you task-focused folks: you need to understand that when you’re dealing with relationship focused people that it is critical for them that they don’t feel the relationship is in jeopardy when dealing with you. They mistake your “get to the point” with a blow to the relationship, you need to be aware of that and find a softer way to say the same thing. ”

        Ugh, I can say it a bit better with more examples when I’m speaking; that and my fingers are getting tired of typing it! But I hope you get the gist of what I was trying to say. I truly think it’s a perspective issue: some people need to be less sensitive and others need to be more sensitive.

        The problem I see is that people like to dig their heels into their preference and say, “well, it’s just the way I am. They need to get used to it.” That’s an excellent tactic on Planet Me, but on Planet Earth we all need to do a better job understanding and trying to work with different perspectives. (Oddly enough, I find that the task-focused individuals visibly balk at this concept. The people focused people are the ones enthusiastically nodding their head–in agreement with “be nicer to me!” and also with “I need to be less sensitive.” Further proof of the two preferences).

        1. fposte

          That’s a really useful approach. I think our empathy skills often start and end with “How would I feel if…?” and never realize that many people would feel very different indeed.

        2. Megan

          Wow, hildi, thank you so much. I really needed that today. I am pretty sure I’m a task-oriented person, and that conflict is at the root of some coworker difficulties I’m experiencing. Keeping this in mind will help.
          Also, I DO think that at work, where possible, being task-oriented is more effective (so I’m guilty there too!) but this is such a great way to think about it.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Honestly, I do think that in many jobs being task-oriented is more effective. There are some jobs that are heavily relationship-building-oriented, but if that’s not the case, getting work done is usually the right focus.

            1. hildi

              Right, I agree with you both. At the end of the day it’s all about getting the work done. I think though, there’s room to acknowledge that for some people how the work gets done (the interpersonal skills used) is just as important to them to feel like they are part of an effective workplace. That’s not to say that we need to spend all of our time making sure Sally feels good about me and us and that I need to spend an extraordinary amount of time stroking her ego. It’s more about understanding that there are a lot of ways to get the job done and for some people, the interpersonal skills play a big part in that.

              Oh man, you really logical people, please don’t skewer me. My thoughts makes lots of good sense in my head but they make not be as fluid when I try to type them out.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              I do agree with that in theory, but you’ve got to take efficiency into account. I don’t mind taking an extra minute on a regular basis to make someone feel good about the interaction, but not an extra 15 or even an extra 10. And often not an extra 5. Occasionally, sure, but not in most interactions. That’s just not an efficient use of time.

              1. hildi

                Sure, I totally agree. And in your answers across the board, you promote the interpersonal skills and delivery and tone that hits the mark for most reasonable people. That’s a more concrete example of what I’m talking about as far as making sure the relationship is basically preserved. I know I was being pretty vague.

                I think the fact that people write to you about complex interpersonal situations indicates that those basic things you promote are tough skills for some people to really develop. That’s all I’m talking about here. I certainly agree with you that spending dedicated and obvious time stroking another person’s ego for the sake of getting work done isn’t smart at all. Or necessary. I think connecting wtih the people-people in a way that makes sense to them is done in the basic way that you talk about all the time here.

                1. Jamie

                  I cannot tell you how often I’ve referred to the relationship people task people thing in my head since you first explained it to me. Knowing that may not change my behavior all the time (I’m polite but not always smiley or chatty) but it’s helped tremendously in being aware of why certain things bother some people and not others.

                  I’ve found that if, when I have time, I make an effort to do a little small talk now and again with the relationship driven people it buys me a whole lot of slack when I’m rushed and need to cut to the chase.

                  It takes it from “Jamie doesn’t like me” to “Jamie’s in a hurry” and their response to that is night and day.

                  I don’t do it to be manipulative and in fact, I’ve personally gotten a lot out of trying to be more interactive when time permits. I think it’s made me a better manager, because people are more willing to come to me with stuff.

                2. hildi

                  Oh HOORAY!!!! Jamie, your testimonial is exactly what I’m talking about. Exactly. I’m thrilled and totally humbled that the explanation has worked for you. That’s the payoff/benefit that people experience when they kind of embrace this concept (both ways, of course).

                  I think awareness is the key to the whole thing. I’m obviously the people type and I have to try very, very hard to reign in my extra chatiness, my sensitivity, etc. when I’m dealing with the task people in my life. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I totally blow it. But being aware of the differences in genuine preferences can mean the difference between walking around being pissed off at people all the time (both ways) or being like, “you know…..it drives me crazy when Jamie says something in a blunt way, but at least I understand why she does it.” Understanding is so key. Understanding is not carte blanche accepting. Understanding is not undermining your own preferences. Understanding is not blowing aside your own needs and ways of operating. It’s just a way to see someone from a different lens and realize they aren’t doing it to make you crazy, with the hopes that one day they can give you the same consideration.

        3. Lily

          As a person switching from relationship focused to task focused at work, I think the task focused people are balking at spending time and energy on being nice to unproductive people, when you don’t know if the investment will pay off. I mean, how nice do you have to be for them to do their job? I am naturally nice to productive people!

          1. hildi

            I totally understand what you’re saying. Ideally, we want everyone to be both productive (task focused) and nice (people focused)! But here’s a sticky way of thinking: do task focused people automatically assume that relationship focused people are unproductive? I guess it would be same as the people focused people assuming that task focused people are cold hearts and can’t be dealt with. It’s not really accurate and not entirely fair.

            It’s definitely not a matter of being fakey nice to people in order for them to do their job. I think it’s a matter of communicating with people in a way that makes them more likely to want to cooperate with you. Somehow sending the signal that you still like them as a person, yet you are focused on getting XYZ done. I don’t think it’s as time consuming or as difficult as some would dread it to be. I think communicating with others in a way that makes them want to cooperate with you is done through tone of voice, positive body language, and a general perspective shift that fposte said above. It’s actually not always about treating others as I want to be treated. It’s more effective when dealing with people to treat them in ways that they would like to be treated. I’ve heard it termed the Platinum Rule versus the old Golden Rule.

            1. KellyK

              I *love* the Platinum Rule. (There’s a convincing argument that it’s incorporated in the Golden Rule because the “if you were them” is implied, but it’s good to have it spelled out that different people want different things.)

            2. Lily

              If Alison embodies both the task and relationship focus, then that is my goal. Right now, I feel like I am still not task-focused enough for some people. I practiced praising my kids for effort and accomplishments as a parent and I praise employees, too. With some, I feel the praise increases the likelihood of them trying to tell me what to do. So, I want to stop.

              Maybe I’m misunderstanding the concept? Is somebody who complains and complains about her teammate relationship-oriented? Or someone who complains and complains the boss prefers a co-worker? Are they complaining because they are not getting what they need in particular relationships?

              1. hildi

                I would be interested to hear Alison’s or Jamie’s perspective on this but I’m thinking that the type of people you referenced at the end there are moving into the territory of difficult/unreasonable individuals?

                I suppose some people that devolve into the unending complaining could be a relationship person that’s not getting their needs met. However, I think there are plenty of people (task and realtionship both) that don’t get their preferences met all the time and are able to remain professional.

                I would suspect that the advice would be to have a frank discussion with the complainers. I suppose you could explore that angle of if there is something that’s not meeting their needs and see if the fix is reasonable or not. That being said, this relationship/task concept is just one tool in a toolbox to better understand how other people like to communicate and prioritize things. It can help understand a person’s motivations, but at the end of the day if a person is not getting the job done, meeting performance requirements (of which behavior is a component) then that’s a different arena of management you’ve moved into.

                Though I’m less confident about this answer than other ones I had so I’d like to see someone else weigh in!

                1. Lily

                  As an relationship-oriented person, what do you do when your feelings are hurt by a task-oriented person? I’m guessing, you won’t immediately stop performing your duties, but how do you deal with it when it continues to bother you? Relationship-oriented people ought to be MORE open about having frank discussions, right?

                  Someone was emailing me a lot, so I scheduled a standing appointment with her, because I figured she needed more of the relationship. Then she started dropping by, but not during our scheduled time. Does she need the meeting to be spontaneous? Unfortunately, I can’t accommodate that, but do you have a suggestion about how to explain this?

                  I’m thinking that I have a team with a task-oriented person and a relationship-oriented person. At least Bob is always complaining that Suzy won’t listen to him and Suzy always is getting her way. Isn’t that a complaint about the relationship?

                  My advice had not changed the tenor of Bob’s complaints, so I suggested that they meet together with me. Suzy didn’t answer but Bob didn’t have the time. If Bob was relationship oriented, then he would want to take the time right? At the time, I didn’t follow up because I figured that if Bob didn’t have the time, then the problem had been solved or gotten less serious. Should I have?

                  Maybe he isn’t really relationship oriented, because he then told the entire group about his conflicts with Suzy at a meeting right after she left. I guess a relationship-oriented person wouldn’t do this, unless he was extremely frustrated? But I don’t think I can do more than I did, which was to tell him (and everybody else) that I had offered to get together with them and I think we should do that. I was pretty proud of my answer considering how flabbergasted I was, but is there a better response?

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I think you’re getting sidetracked by the question of task-orientation and relationship orientation. You have employees ignoring emails from you, openly complaining about each other, and some of the other problems you’ve described in other threads. I think your bigger issue is that you have what sounds like a highly problematic staff; you need to address that as your most urgent issue.

                  I wouldn’t respond to public employee complaints by telling the group that you’ve offered to get together with them. I think this all goes to some fundamental issues about authority, and whether you’re willing to use it with staff when there are problems. It sounds like maybe you’re not comfortable doing that, but you’ve really got to be setting the standards for what behavior is and isn’t acceptable, holding people to that, and enforcing consequences when that doesn’t happen. I’m a little worried that your staff is doing whatever they please, and you’re trying to cajole them into behaving differently. But you have authority; you don’t need to cajole.

                3. Lily

                  “I wouldn’t respond to public employee complaints by telling the group that you’ve offered to get together with them.” I wish you would tell me what I should have said, but I suspect I wouldn’t be able to remember exactly if it happened again anyway. I suspect being authoritative has to become habit first.

                  I always get distracted by the relationship because I’m afraid I’m offending unintentinally! If I’m addressing the work instead of the relationship, I could tell Bob and Suzy, Bob is responsible for X and Suzy is responsible for Y. Bob, please do “…” which I need and you have leeway in “…” Is that better?

                  I can’t imagine a big-picture conversation with Bob about his relationship with Suzy, but I could bring up the consequences of openly complaining about a team member. Given that Bob seems to prefer email, I hope I am justified in emailing him back.

                4. Jamie

                  My rule of thumb about offending unintentionally is if you are professional and polite (which is not the same as deferential) if someone gets offended that’s on them.

                  Sure – if I’m rude it’s my fault if I offend someone – but we can’t take everyone’s little idiosyncrasies (and we all have them) into account for everything. We’ll go crazy and nothing will ever get done.

                  In delicate situations I parse my words and re-read each email before sending and to make sure it’s professional I imagine it being read in an HR meeting or court. Would I have to defend or explain my tone or words? Re-word. If not – if it’s professional and polite but not warm and fuzzy – oh well.

                5. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Agreed with Jamie.

                  As for wording: “Bob, I expect you to deal with your colleagues pleasantly and professionally. If you have an issue with Jane, please work it out with her directly. Do not complain about her to others, because that’s not a productive working environment for anyone.” Then enforce it.

                  But based on other comments you’ve shared in the last couple of months, I suspect it’s that last part causing the problem — you HAVE to be willing to enforce your directives, and to enforce consequences when they’re not met, up to and including firing. If you’re not willing to do that — and if your staff doesn’t know you’re willing to do that — you cannot manage effectively. I really think you’re facing a fundamental issue about whether you’re willing to exercise your authority in the way managing requires.

                6. hildi

                  @Lily – totally check out the book “It’s Ok to Be the Boss” by Bruce Tulgan. We have been using his training video and curriculum in some of our supervisory classes in the past few years. We even hired him to come to a state-wide managers’ conference that we put on this year. His stuff is just excellent. I think I like it so much because the way he describes setting expectations, enforcing boundaries, communicating with employees makes sense to my mind–it’s nothing really earth shattering; it’s just common sense management advice. A lot of what Alison says here on the blog I see paralleled in what he talks about. But the way he describes things has made quite a bit of sense to me. My favorite part is the Top Myths of Management. It really blew apart some of my preconceived notions. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, particuarly as you’re dealing with situations where you need that extra reassurance that it is indeed ok to be the boss!! :)

                  As a side note, if you’re interested in more of the task/relationship stuff just for more awareness in a general sense, you can contact Alison to get my email address and I’d be happy to send you some links and resources.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                I agree with hildi — those are problem employees, most likely. Deal with them as such; don’t feel you need to accommodate that (and in fact, you shouldn’t).

                1. Jamie

                  I agree with this, too. I find differences in styles and how people approach the world fascinating from a sociological standpoint (or is it anthropological? It’s early and I think it’s kind of both).

                  However, with problem employees it’s about the behavior. If someone is ignoring emails or whatever else it’s not my job to care why…it’s about meeting objectives.

        4. Vicki

          In the MBTI (Psychological Type) world, “relationship focused people are F and “task focused” people are T.

          A statistically higher percentage of women are F and a higher percentage f men are T, which makes some people think these are gender differences. (it’s only roughly 3:1, so it’s not a strong enough gender difference to claim gender.)

        5. Amy

          I think this is dynamic. My immediate supervisor is VERY relationship-focused to a point where I have had to be much more task-focused in order to keep professional boundaries. Sometimes I am shorter than I could be, but it’s necessary sometimes.

      3. FreeThinkerTX

        I think it totally depends on delivery. I was talking to a fellow board member for an organization I belong to, and answering the question, “Why are you on crutches?” Somewhere after the 3rd or 4th paragraph of my response she said, “Can you get to the point?” It wasn’t snotty, but she wasn’t giggling, either. It brought me up short, but in a good way. I had to remember that all the “gory” details of my journey through the county hospital system are only interesting to me (and *maybe* my immediate family). I was grateful that she gave me a clear signal on how best to communicate with her — and I wrapped it up in one sentence.

  10. Jason

    I have the “chatty” problem with several people in my office. Instead of talking to them, I use email or Skype. Reading their long-winded answer is much quicker than waiting and listening to it.

    1. Hooptie

      Yes Yes Yes….we have an analytical team member who tends to give a dissertation rather than a quick answer. I’ve learned to do two things:

      1 – Send information requests via email
      2 – Ask him to only provide bullet points with relevant information.

      Works like a charm, since the act of typing it out helps him to gather his thoughts and channel them more appropriately. I believe the format of bullet points satisfies his need for structure as well.

    2. Rana

      As a chatty person myself, I’d much rather respond to a query for information via email myself. It helps me pull my thoughts together and gives me a record of what I told the other person, which I’m sadly likely to forget if I’ve only said it verbally.

      (My husband regularly teases me for telling him about things – in an excited tone of voice that says “Look at this cool thing I learned!” – that he himself told me only a few days earlier. Heh. That never happens to me with email.)

  11. Lanya

    OP, why not try emailing this person when you have a question and you don’t have time for a long drawn-out chat session?

  12. Tasha

    I know I’m a chatty employee when asked question but it’s from years of bad management who wanted justifications for every decision and move I took. It does start to be an ingrained habit so be patient if it looks like they are trying to deal with it.

  13. glennisw

    My recent manager was a “can’t see the forest for the trees” type of person, so often I’d find myself asking her a question – say about one particular aspect of a client’s business – and she’d jump in and ask questions about other miniscule details. So, if the question had to do with what fee to quote for a service they were contemplating, she’d sidetrack me onto something completely different, like their insurance policy. It was maddening, because I would be after one thing – what to quote the client in response to an inquiry – and would leave her office with an entirely different list of issues to discuss with the client.

  14. Snow Bunny

    Isn’t it funny that the “Chatty Cathies” are usually the people who not only cannot read others’ body language for signs of boredom or disinterest, but also never have a break in their sentence structure to allow folks to interject?

      1. Jamie

        Actually – if not for the Chatty Cathy’s of the world I would have no friends.

        I’m not an initiator of contact and it’s the Chatty Cathy’s of the world that find me when I’m new somewhere and give me someone to talk to, show me the ropes, introduce me to people.

        And if I’m not swamped or in a hurry there are times I appreciate the interaction and human contact…because they are happy to carry the load of most of the conversation. I dare say they have made me friendlier.

        1. Jamie

          That’s not to say I don’t understand the OP’s issue – I do.

          I was speaking generally that it’s not always bad – but it is frustrating when you need info quickly and you are trying to get stuff done.

          1. K

            Agreed! Like any other style, there are pluses and minuses. And none of us hit the precise right balance of communication all of the time; sometimes we’re going to screw up by giving people too little information or too much (and most of us will probably do both). The question is really how to reduce the screw-ups that really take up a lot of time, like the type the OP is talking about rather than that being chatty is a bad thing in and of itself.

    1. Rana

      Speaking as one, don’t wait for me to pause. Speak right over me. It may hurt my feelings a bit, but (a) I’ll get over it, (b) I’ll remember better to not be so bad next time, and (c) it’ll make me stop talking long enough for you to take over.

      1. Rana

        The irony is, of course, that when I’m the one asking the question, I want a short-and-sweet answer too. Heh.

  15. Sarah

    This is my life. Our receptionist won’t stop talking. I can barely call it talking. It’s more train of thought. She will call (it doesn’t matter who she is calling) and will ramble on for 5 minutes – never completing a thought or asking a question. She acknowledges that she does this. We’ve had talks with her about this. She continues to do it. She likes to joke about her rambling, but I don’t find it funny when I am busy (or really, when I’m not busy). She’s made me late to meetings. It’s really an impossible situation. We’ve tried the “I don’t have a lot of time, but tell me about X.” It doesn’t work. The worst part is that because she doesn’t stop to listen and process things, she jumps to conclusions about things – often making her upset when there’s no need to be upset. For those “chatty cathies” out there, please make note that your unproductive behavior isn’t funny. It makes others unproductive and frustrated. It makes jobs a lot more stressful than they need to be.

    1. -X-

      If she’ s making you late for meetings, prevent it by just leaving. Say “I’ve got to go” and turn away.

      If she’s seriously wasting your time in other ways (not giving you answers you need), eventually you have to talk to her boss.

      1. Sarah

        We all share the same boss. I’m at a small art museum. The issue is that we’ve talk to her – at staff meeting, at planning meetings…no changes.

        She does get to talk to people (visitors, people here for meetings, phone calles, etc.). We also have our maintenance person on the first floor where she is located. I think it’s more of a personality issue, but my boss is unwilling to do anything because the receptionist also handles invoices and other administrative work my boss doesn’t want to do.

        I think all of this can be solved with annual performance evaluations, which we don’t have. (And I’ve been requesting)

    2. Chinook

      This can also be a side effect of working reception. Everybody else can chat for a moment or two with colleagues, but the receptionist can easily spend days without interacting with colleagues (I know I did and that was the only time I found myself being chatty) While your receptionist may have a bigger issue, that lack if human contact can affect even the quietest receptionist and make us have a “chatty” moment with the first sign of life we see at work (which can be doubly worse if you live alone – imagine spending days with your only human contact being the odd client or answering the phone as the switchboard operator.)

      1. Elise

        I think that’s a good point. Companies generally hire a sociable person to be the receptionist. Then, they stick them in a location away from co-workers so the only humans they can interact with are the customers or venders who call or come by — and they often just want to be directed to someone else.

        So, you end up with someone who needs social contact, not getting any. This may be what leads to the extreme hugging situations.

  16. Ivy

    I had a coworker who was VERY long-winded, which is actually a big pet peeve of mine. I get annoyed when someone takes 5 minutes to say something that can be said in 1 minute. I’m not talking about people that like to small talk, but people that just over explain. I have my issues with small talk as well, but that’s a different issue I think.

    Anyways, back to my coworker. Not only was she long-winded, but it was impossible to interrupt her because she would just start talking louder. She would literally talk over you until you gave up. It’s insanely rude and unbelievable annoying. I can’t imagine what she’s like in interviews…

  17. Diane

    So the point is . . .

    It’s important to remember that some people need to process information outside their own heads by talking themselves (and you) through the nuances until they discover their point. These are often the same people who need time to think through an answer or comeback. It’s a learning style and a communication style. And it can be very annoying for people who don’t process this way.

    It can be unlearned, because I used to spend much more time processing externally, but I still need time. That’s why it takes me three hours (or days) to think of a snappy comeback.

    I’d approach a chatty employee or coworker with an acknowledgement that this is a real learning style, and it’s tied to how long people need to develop an answer. But it can hurt them in interactions that value on brevity and clarity. If you can, ask for an answer well in advance. Email the question and let Chatty McChatterson know you need a short answer in an hour or three.

    If Chatty just rambles about non-work, I’d suggest a polite, direct big-picture talk about how you need your mornings (or whatever) to settle in/tackle your priority projects, but an occasional lunch or coffee break to catch up would be great. Make it about you. It just might work.

    1. Janet

      This is good. I feel a little bit for the chatty employee and this may be unpopular but I do think effective managers need to learn to tailor their conversation styles a little bit just to meet everyone halfway.

      At my old job the CEO was very quiet. But a few times a year he’d walk around and say hello to all of the employees and chit chat with them. You could tell it wasn’t something that came easy to him and he probably put it on his calendar “3 p.m. to 4 p.m. – chat with employees” but he did it. And to me, it went a long way that he was making the effort to chat and that he recognized it was important for the bigger picture.

      So of course, I don’t think a manager should have to sit there and listen to their employees ramble on for hours and hours, but if you recognize that you have an employee who needs to talk through issues a bit more than others, meet them halfway. Schedule occasional meetings where you can allow them to talk it out. Perhaps she feels she doesn’t get enough one-on-one time with you and when she gets the chance to talk regularly, the conversations may become more succinct.

      But I really think it’s dangerous to say “Effective communication is MY way of communication” – rambling about non-work things isn’t effective, but there have been so many times that the great big idea have come from just a casual hash-out conversation.

      1. fposte

        Sure, but there are also times when people have had less time to work in important things because they’ve been talking about where the pens are for fifteen minutes. When you’re talking about how much *time* a particular activity consumes, it’s not only not dangerous but absolutely legitimate to say “My way of doing it is the way I want it to be done” (presuming you’re the supervisor, as the OP is, and we’re not talking any illegal shortcuts or anything). It’s like the previous post about the employee who couldn’t handle calendaring and wouldn’t use the calendar–the supervisor gets to require the efficient method.

    2. fposte

      I’m a chatter too, but it’s just not reasonable to expect people to wait for an hour to get an answer rather than expect me to trim it down on the spot.

      1. Diane

        Yeah, I agree it’s not often reasonable, especially if you have a question that a reasonable person could answer right away so you can get back to work.

        I’m just thinking of ways to frame it to give the chatty person some insight into what they’re doing and steering them into more productive ways to provide information. And it really is much harder do manage upwards.

    3. Lily

      I like the idea, but it didn’t work when I tried it. Unfortunately, the people who were telling me that they didn’t have time to get together with me individually were the same ones who wanted to talk about their individual issues in front of everyone at the team meeting.

  18. Diane

    I’m going to amend my answer with anecdotes, because I can :-).

    I had a coworker who would just walk off while I was talking. I learned to hit the high points and leave out all the good bits when I talked to her. Strangely, we’re still friends. I had a boss who would contradict everything I said, even if I was agreeing with her point and adding something, so I stopped talking to her. And then I had a boss who couldn’t make a clear point without creating so many tangents and new assignments that she later forgot about; I also avoided talking to her. My last “evaluation” turned into a long tangent wherein she created a task that was meant to solve a tiny problem but would have created a much larger one. I never did learn how I was doing.

    1. FreeThinkerTX

      I had a contrarian boss at the last place I worked, a mom-and-pop operation. “Mom” would contradict everything I said, even when I was agreeing with her. And she would contradict by agreeing with my agreement, but starting with, “No, …” The first few weeks I was there we went round and round with each other, until I learned to just nod and smile very wide. I *had* thought she’d been trying to have a conversation with me, but really she just wanted an audience in which everything she said was Right. (Which I am happy to provide, honestly. I just needed to learn the ground rules). But maddening, nonetheless.

  19. Ellie H.

    I have this issue with a coworker. It’s not necessarily that she gives me a too long or involved answer to a question, but that she is always (and I mean really always – multiple times a day) providing me with a ton of information that I don’t want or need. It stresses me out because when she tells me something, she assumes that this means that I will be taking on some of the responsibility for knowing about it, when sometimes it’s things that I just have no need or desire or even ability to have anything to do with, or don’t have time to fully comprehend and get on top of at that moment. We do share a lot of responsibilities and they probably should be more clearly delineated/structured, but there really are some things I don’t need to participate in. She’s also often including me in meetings that I do not need to be at or to know anything about. It’s just too much. She’s talkative about non-work/personal things too, I have burned so fast through my repertoire of noncommittal responses, mm-hmms, smiles, etc. etc. At least when it’s work related I can say “Thanks for letting me know” which you can’t really fit in after random personal remarks. I really like her as a person and she’s great to work with otherwise, but the information overload can get pretty stressful.

    1. Colette

      Have you tried asking, for example, “Is there a reason you need me to be involved in this meeting?”

      Different people have different expectations about how much others should or want to be involved – it’s possible that’s where this is coming from.

  20. Anon

    I’ve got two that fall into this category. One works directly for me and the other is a step down and one manager over, although while the other’s manager’s position was vacant she sort of-kind of reported to me. Given that both have worked here for 15+ years, have incredible minds for detail, deep historical knowledge, and connections to all the departments that we need to get work done, I deal with it. Can it be frustrating? Sure. But if I’m really pressed for time, I’ll put a time limit on it or as for a bullet point email. I have accepted that this is how they’ve grown to work and me trying to change them now will just be painful for all of us. If they weren’t productive, it’d be another matter.

    I used to be a chatter-er. I would speak in meetings just because I thought I had to. Nothing I said was off-topic or irrevelant, I just took 3 minutes to say something that could take 30 seconds. I realized that my horrible boss mirrored this behavior, so I stopped doing it so meetings could be shorter and it stuck.

    1. Yup

      Craig Ferguson has a great line about that. He says that before speaking, you must ask yourself 3 questions:

      Does this need to be said?

      Does this need to be said now?

      And does this need to be said now, by *me*?

      He says that it took him 3 marriages to learn it, LOL.

  21. SJ

    How are there so many commenters here who know/admit to being overly chatty? If you’re aware of it, stop! I have a coworker who will literally talk for 15 minutes after a question about anything.

  22. Yup

    Lots of good perspectives from everyone else, I’ll just add that sometimes it’s about asking specific questions. Asking a chatterer “what’s the status” might be an overly broad starting point. Perhaps something like “Hi Cathy, I’m trying to get up to date on ABC Project. When did we send them the contract? Last Tuesday? Great. And have they signed it yet? They haven’t? OK. Have you had a chance to speak with anyone there about it this week? Great, thanks for doing that.” Sort of guiding them along to the key points you need.

    It sounds like you’re new to managing this particular person, so perhaps she’s still getting used to your style. I usually takes me a few months to get a good handle on how a new boss likes to receive information. Some are quick-and-to-the-point, some like comprehensive explanations. So giving her a chance to see what type of details are most important to you may help clarify to her what you’re actually asking.

    1. Another Amanda

      This!
      I had an employee who had to give EXTREME detail for every question I asked or any problem she was having. Life got so much easier when I learned to ask very targeted and specific questions.

      When she was describing a problem she was having, I also learned to very politely, but quickly cut her off by summarizing the key issues and solutions before she had a chance to prattle on for 2o minutes about it.

      These two things made a world of difference in both our moods. She felt like she got to tell me what she needed and Igot the info with much less filler.

  23. Parfait

    My chatty colleague just repeats the same points over and over and over, rephrasing slightly each time. Sometimes she giggles in between.

    I keep typing, I keep repeating variations on “OK, I got it. Yes, I understand,” etc until she goes away. This sometimes takes 5 or 6 tries. God knows how long it would take if I actually engaged with her actively.

    1. Diane

      There’s a way to short-circuit this repetition, straight from toddler psychology 101. She’s repeating until she knows you understand. So rather than saying, “yes, got it,” show her you get it by paraphrasing the point back to her. If she repeats, then you can try the direct, “Yes, I got that. Thanks!” Then tell her to go away.

    2. Anonymous

      I have a giggling chatty coworker who I simple do not smile or give any positive response to her giggling chattiness she’s mostly stopped. Which lets me get far more work done.

    3. Lily

      This is a professional hazard of teachers! They get so used to repeating themselves in the classroom, that it carries over into the personal life!

  24. Cassie

    As indicated in my posts on this site, I am extremely wordy when it comes to written communication. I tend to over-explain.

    Also, if I’m not able to ask clarifying questions (a frequent problem with international collaborators who need answers quickly), I’ll go into multiple scenarios so that they can see what the options are.

    When it comes to verbal communication, my bosses are experts at cutting you off. One will start saying “oh, okay” and repeating that until you stop talking. The other will say “okay” and either walk away from you, or if you are in his office – he will stand up and walk you out. It’s problematic when you have a serious issue that needs to be discussed and you end up feeling like you’re at the Oscars and are being played off stage…

    1. Jamie

      I had this problem and I cured myself over overly wordy emails with bullet points.

      I did it because I like a lot of technical details – but I realized I was burying my I need you to do X in my Interesting info about X paragraphs.

      And I know my audience. With some people I can still type like me. With others I know I need to keep paragraphs to 1-2 sentences and a lot of breaks – so even sentences are bullet points.

      Once I started communicating in the way other people prefer to receive information rather than the way I want to give information my life because much easier.

      1. Lily

        I am afraid of putting requests and questions in the middle of a paragraph, so my paragraphs always end with the question or the request.

        I’d be embarrassed if my boss cut me off as Cassie described! On the other hand, I had to figure out that I was taking up too much of my boss’s time when she postponed a couple meetings and then put a natural time limit on them by making sure she had another meeting exactly one hour after my meeting with her. During this period, I tried to figure out which topics I should cut, but she consistently answered that everything was interesting! I would have preferred a big picture conversation.

  25. Not So NewReader

    Sometimes you can use humor. And you kind of have to want to use humor- that helps.

    “Uh, excuse me… but I think your tangents are having tangents…”

    “Your are into your seventh nested digression and I am getting lost…”

    “That was a TOday thing!”

    “My limo is double parked. I need to move it soon.”

    For people who talk too fast:
    “Can you put your words closer together? I am nodding off between your sentences…”

    Clearly, you need to use your own judgement and tread with caution. But I am seeing some situations here that probably could be reversed with some humorous remark. This doesn’t always have to be something that causes stress or tension. The idea is to think of something off the beaten path that is funny and catches Chatty off guard. I use my drive time, or quiet time to think of things to say. I can’t demo voice inflection here- but voice inflection is really helpful in the delivery.

    Another technique: Some chatty people are happier knowing that you will come back and talk more in a little bit. This gives them enough to let you go for a the moment.

    1. Sarah

      We’ve (co-workers and her boss) tried to joke/add a laugh about our co-worker’s rambling, but then it almost excuses the behavior. We’ve tried to be more direct too. Unfortunately, nothing works.

  26. Sissa

    Actually, I would mind chatty less than the type that starts offering her opinions as truths when you ask for something simple. I have a colleague who, when I ask for something like “where’s that video file again, I need to hand it over to Joe”, starts talking about how it’a bad idea to give Joe the file and that I shouldn’t do it and that it’s against some imaginary rule of hers, and other unrelated bullcrap. Now THAT is hard to stop. Give me a chatty colleague any day, if it means I can do my work without her intentionally smacking a hammer on my productivity!

  27. Womble

    How timely… I just listened to a Career Tools podcast that covered how to finish a conversation:

    http://www.manager-tools.com/2011/02/finish-a-conversation

    I’m coming from the perspective of being a task-oriented, assertive person, so I’m all about “give me the answer I want then get out of my way”. This cast helped me recognise that in order to be more effective, I’ve got to give people a little more time than I’m comfortable with, and then how to end it in a manner that doesn’t needlessly burn bridges.

  28. Heather

    Thank you for these tips for talking to defensive people in a way that helps them open up to needed feedback – my parents are defensive too, and boy that gets frustrating for us kids.

  29. J

    HAHA.. I do this on purpose to my bosses to get them to quit asking me anything. And yes it is very effective at keeping others from constantly wanting to chat. I like to be left alone to my work. So when I arrive at a new location(my job requires lots of travel), I talk incessantly from day 1. And after about day 2.. nobody wants to talk and they just let me work and move on.

  30. J

    Nope. Not kidding. Some IT companies still employ people based on their job knowledge and not their interpersonal skills.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Most places also factor into hiring and retention decisions what someone is like to work with and whether they seem efficient or not. Lots of people aren’t going to hire someone with a reputation for incessantly talking.

  31. J

    If I listed all my accomplishments nobody here would believe them and think I’m just another anonymous poster bragging about things that aren’t true. I originally posted thinking that some might see the humor in it and not take to a bashing war against me. But as this is turning into, one of those “matter of fact” conversations.. The matter of fact is that I’m now 31 and retiring after I finish up the next few months of this contract. I guess that must be due to the fact that nobody will hire someone who is an incessant talker. The matter of fact here is that I work harder, faster, and better than those in my career that have been around for twice as long. I’m highly sought after by all but 1 company and that is because I threatened to report them for asking me to falsify my resume in order to win a government contract. So by all means let’s take this to the level that people want to try and go, and make all the posts we can about the incessant talker that will never get hired as I sit on a beach while the to the point talkers are still working. Incessant talking has nothing to do with hiring someone in the IT world. Most IT professionals are innate talkers by nature due to the fact that the only time we have human contact outside of the internet is at work and 99% of IT employers understand this. The 1% that don’t understand this.. well there’s a reason they are only 1%.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      “Lots of people” won’t. Not “no one.”

      If you really think it’s okay to talk incessantly as a strategy and that it won’t impact the way people see you, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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