how can I get my coworker to stop rambling and get to the point?

In last week’s post about being more concise, a commenter asked:

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.

{ 203 comments… read them below }

  1. Audiophile*

    What would you recommend a person do if it’s a higher level person, like a manager? Do you just let them ramble?

    1. Christine*

      Ha, I was just coming here to ask this very question. We’ve got a higher-up who rambles and interrupts others so he can ramble more… it makes meetings take two or three times as long as they should, and there’s really nothing any of us can do about it.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Oh, he was my boss years ago! We said he had diarrhea of the mouth. Meetings were torture: he’d tell us what we already knew, then tell us things we didn’t care about, and talk and talk and talk. Plus, this was before there were cell phones so we could discretely read a novel while he was talking. We’d also just tolerate it, trying desperately to stay awake, and alert enough to catch the few tidbits of useful information.

    2. the gold digger*

      Yeah, how? I emailed my grandboss yesterday with two questions, numbered question 1 and question 2, each with a yes or no answer.

      All. I. Wanted. Was. A. Yes. Or. A. No.

      Not only did I get a five-paragraph email in reply (in which he did not answer the questions), I also had to sit through a call with him and my boss and listen to him talk about the stuff for 40 minutes. The guy is absolutely brilliant and funny and has great ideas, but sometimes, I don’t want to talk about Vision and Strategy – I just want a yes or a no.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I just had an email chain this morning, 3 layers deep in bosses, where they all completely misunderstood the question and ended up freaking out about something they’d completely gotten the wrong end of. We should both go get a drink!

        1. SJ*

          Bosses and emails, man. My boss constantly only reads half of an email — I mean, it could be 2 sentences long and he’ll only read half of it — and then responds with a demand for additional information that’s, you know, right there in the second half of the email I sent. And last week I was chewed out in an extremely condescending way for neglecting to attach a document to an email I sent him — he was only a few words shy of “I’m a very busy and important man with a packed calendar and I don’t have time to wait for this information.” Of course, I HAD attached the document to the original email; he just missed it. It felt really good to respond with, “This was attached to my first email, but here it is again just in case you didn’t get it on your end!”

          I know he’s a busy guy, but if he read a bit more slowly and completely, we could avoid a lot of the freakouts.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Ugh, yes! A completely different boss has a chronic case of this too. I could write “The sky is blue” and he’d reply “Thanks! What color is the sky, though?”

            1. MaggiePi*

              It feels like this is every person I email. It is so temping just to respond with “See below” and nothing else.

              1. Doriana Gray*

                I actually do that, MaggiePi. I’m not going to repeat something that’s already in the email. I’ve never had any complaints about it, either.

                1. MaggiePi*

                  Depends on who it is. Coworkers, sure. But with the boss or customers, it wouldn’t go over well.

          2. Grey*

            I’ve had bosses and coworkers do that with attachments. I enjoy forwarding them the original message from my Sent folder along with a “here you go”.

            1. Merry and Bright*

              Me too! It’s such fun to do.

              Them: You never forwarded me the hotel reservation, action log, etc.

              Me: Just sending it through again in case it got lost in cyberspace first time.

              The forward function is so useful because I can include the original sending information.

          3. Vicki*

            “just in case you didn’t get it on your end!”

            Just in case, somehow, the email gremlins separated the message from the attachment and put half into your spam folder.

        1. Karowen*

          I’ve responded to my direct boss with a “You’re kidding, right?”

          …definitely a place where it’s helpful to know your audience.

        2. Rubyrose*

          What I have started doing (maybe unfortunately) is coming back with ” I take that as a yes. Based on that, this is what I will do. Let me know if you disagree.”

          So far, to my knowledge, I’ve only had one person be overtly offended by that. And that did not bother me. I’m tired of vendors not answering direct questions, especially after being posed two or three times, because the real answer normally does not put them in a good light.

          1. gsa*

            For higher ups, after a non-answer answer, “I plan do ‘x’ unless you say otherwise/have a better idea…

            For vendors, I restate the question, with escalating levels of snarkiness and typically pick up the phone after two non-responses responses…

            In HS I worked in Food Service. Me: would you like a small, medium, or large?

            Customer: Ok.

            Me: and here is your large!!!

            1. Vicki*

              “I plan do ‘x’ unless you say otherwise/have a better idea…”

              This really depends on the manager. I had one who exploded when I tried this… once.

          1. Audiophile*

            For the 5-10 minutes it takes to let the person ramble, I’m not putting that on my time sheet.

    3. Meredith*

      My former manager was super chatty. Like, she would tell me about the details of her day, what her kids were up to, blah blah blah forever. I’m all about a little small talk, and I liked her a lot personally, but meetings with her about topics that should have taken 10 minutes would push up to an hour.

      My solution was to meet with her shortly before I knew she needed to be somewhere. If she had a 1:00 meeting, I’d meet with her at 12:15. That way, I could have my 15 minute check-in, and she still had prep time for her meeting if she needed it. OR, if she started to ramble and she had all the time in the world to do so, I would say I had something scheduled soon (like, more work – but I made it sound like I had a meeting or phone call to get to at X time). That would put her back on track to what we were actually discussing. I work in an environment where this kind of excuse would fly under the radar though, so YMMV. It didn’t completely solve the problem, because she could sometimes just drop in and start a conversation, but managing her time for her in small ways really helped my sanity and efficiency.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        I did this with my previously chatty boss. A half-hour meeting would easily turn into an hour or more. I started to tell him at the start of the meeting that I needed to be back by X time to cover my coworker for lunch/leaving for the day/a meeting. He’d stay on track AND send me on my way with plenty of time.

        I told my coworker and she started to do it too. To my knowledge, he never caught on.

    4. Christina*

      Oh god yes please advice on this. My manager will spend an entire weekly meeting with our team going slide by slide (all 62 of them) through a presentation she went to, which she could have just emailed us with an FYI, and not telling us about projects we actually need to know about or giving us time to tell her about projects we’re working on–and then complains we don’t tell her things!

      She also does this with people above her and in larger meetings. If someone asks for the new teapot logos, they can expect a 20 minute lecture on the background and context of the overall new teapot branding initiative from corporate. Which, of course, still leaves them asking “…so where can I get the new logos?”

    5. matilda*

      Oh my GOD, yes. When my boss comes in in the morning, she takes off her coat and puts all her stuff down in my office. I easily lose 1-1.5 hours of my day waiting for her to stop yapping my ear off about her commute.

      1. KR*

        Sometimes my boss just wants to talk about his dogs or whats going on around the office or the news and I now consider it a part of my job to be a listening ear. I’m getting paid by the hour so it doesn’t matter to me, lol

        1. AdminSue*

          My boss can go on for hours too. My problem is when I am done for the day, computer off, keys in hand and he starts discussing office business. I put that time down as OT, but then his boss always asks him why I have so much OT!?!?!?! What the heck am I supposed to do?

  2. 12345678910112 do do do*

    I have a strong feeling that MY long-winded coworker is man-splaining. It gives me such pleasure to cut him off, verbally demonstrate that I have a very good handle on the whole situation and am very competent, and then rephrase my question to ask for X specifically. Since he keeps talking even if I’m verbally interrupting, I often use a “time-out” hand signal and loudly say “Breaker Breaker!” to get him to hold up for a moment. He will never stop being long-winded, but at least I am often able to get him on track.

    1. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

      It feels mansplainy when my coworker does it too. There’s another issue where the older people I work with (mostly men, but one woman too) feel like they need to hold my hand and guide me through the processes my job entails, and I’m trying to get to a point where they tell me what they need from me and I just GO, and message them if I have questions or need clarification. I could understand if I was new to the job, or they were new to working with me, but neither one is the case, I’ve demonstrated success in this job and if they still don’t trust me to do my job without them holding my hand, they need to tell either me or my manager why that’s the case.

      1. Colorado CrazyCatLady*

        I had that problem too. My boss is quite a bit older and he would always micromanage and feel the need to walk me through everything. I finally ended up asking him if there was something related to my performance that needed to be addressed. He said no, so I asked what would it take for him to start trusting me?

        It actually helped! He still will do it from time to time but is getting much better.

        1. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

          I’m gonna start by talking to my manager and saying “this is what’s happening, it doesn’t make sense anymore because reasons, I’d like to see it become more like this, what’s the best way to get there?” I don’t expect her to intervene but she might have some good strategies or ways to word things, and this way I would know that my boss is behind me if anyone complains when I push back.

    2. Simonthegrey*

      God, I love my husband, but I think you work with him. The other day we were having a discussion about taxes for my small business and he launched into an explanation. About three sentences in, I put up a hand and asked if he was about to explain estimated taxes to me (again, I own the business and put in the time to research LLCs, taxes, etc., while he actually enters the tax info for our personal taxes but not the business taxes, which we pay someone to do). His face kind of fell that he wasn’t going to get to explain it to me, but I was already a little irritated and just did not have time to humor him.

      He and his dad do the same thing. They just have to share an explanation. It’s not that they think women aren’t smart enough (both his mother and I have higher degrees than either he or his dad; Mom has a Ph.D. and I have a MA), but just that they want to…prove?…that they understand something.

  3. MaggiePi*

    I will pick a few of these to try and hopefully they will help!
    The exacerbating issue with my coworker is that she does think she *is* being concise. Interrupting her to ask for a specific fact answer leads to a 10 second blank stare followed by her starting over(!) the 5 minute explanation she was sharing before, as if you simply didn’t understand. It really tries my patience.

    1. Chriama*

      Maybe try the “tell me in 1 minute” or “tell me in 10 sentences or less” tactic?

    2. myswtghst*

      One thing I’ve found helps is to acknowledge what the person is telling you before re-asking the question. I train soft skills for call center employees, and one thing we coach them on in scenarios like this is that if someone feels like they need you know X, they will keep telling you X until they are sure you’ve heard and understood X, even if you try to move the conversation forward by re-asking the question (or even asking a different question). If they feel like you’ve heard what they’re saying (because you’ve acknowledged it), they’re more likely to be able to move on with the conversation.

      The acknowledgement can be a thank you (“I appreciate you giving me the background, but what I really need to know right now is…”), a short statement (“Got it! I do need to confirm…”), or just reaffirming what she said (“Yeah, that was a tough project, glad we can focus on Y now…”), but it helps you transition to re-asking the question (or re-framing it, if it’s clear she didn’t understand the original question) without her getting hung up thinking you weren’t listening / didn’t understand.

      1. Dulcinea*

        “Repeat, resell, re ask?” :)

        I have to say I do still use some of the skills I learned in commission based tele-fundraising, and the reflective listening aspect is one such skill.

        1. myswtghst*

          Pretty much – we typically refer to it as the Statement-Question technique, and I’ve also heard it called Listen-Acknowledge-Make a Statement-Ask a Question (with the acronym LAMA).

          And I sometimes find myself using the techniques I train on my family and SO, so I feel you there. :)

      2. MaggiePi*

        I think that is part of it, but I’m hesitant to thank her or even acknowledge the background because I don’t want it and I don’t want to encourage her to keep giving it. Is there a more polite way to say, “I don’t need the whole story, all I need to know is should the teapot be red or blue?”

        1. myswtghst*

          I think you can acknowledge the information without making it seem like you needed it – even if you say something like “Wow, that’s a lot of background! What I really need right now is just to know X”, you’re still acknowledging the information, so she knows you heard / understood it. Then, if she tries to repeat herself, just say “I understand that, Joan, but for right now I really just need X.”

          One thing that really matters is your tone – you can be very direct without seeming rude or unkind if you get the tone right. For me, that often means taking a deep breath and trying to smile (but not smirk) before I respond, to ensure I don’t sound as impatient / frustrated as I’m feeling. With some of my really long-winded coworkers, I’ll even interrupt (sometimes on the pretense of clarifying something they’ve said) and then redirect.

          Another thing that can help, depending on the person, is working on how you phrase your questions. Can you proactively give some background (i.e. “So, I know why we went with vendor A for this project instead of vendor B, but I need to confirm if we still use vendor B at all?) to try to head that off? Or can you stick to closed ended (yes or no) or this-or-that type questions (“Did we go with vendor A or vendor B last time?”) to try to rein her in?

          Hopefully at least some of the suggestions shared here help – I’m enjoying looking through the comments for some tips. :) And good luck with your coworker!

    3. Vicki*

      There are people who are truly incapable of thinking things through without talking.
      Your co-worker may be one of them. If you interrupt her, you will break her train of thought.

      This may be one of those situations where you need to allow time for the other person to parse and consider what you want (out loud) and you need to realize that
      a) they will not change and
      b) if you interrupt, they’ll start over

      Try asking for answers in writing?

  4. AFT123*

    Sounds like my real estate agent, ha! I’ve learned how to ask my questions in a better way just from having conversations with him. My spouse would say the same.

  5. Rabbit*

    Can we apply these for long-winded S/Os? ;) My S/O will tell me a story about Bob at work that typically runs like so: “So, Bob had the craziest interaction with Susan today. You know Susan, right? She has that dog that had the limp last summer.. poor dog. It got nipped in the shin by a llama in Colorado. I didn’t realize llamas were aggressive either! I’ve always seen them at petting zoos, so I figured they were docile.. hmm, makes me wonder if petting zoo animals are domesticated or just docile. I bet–” this is where I tear my hair out and screech, “Bob and Susan!? What the hell happened!?” At least I don’t work with him!

    1. the gold digger*

      (ducks head and whispers, “That would be me with my husband.”)(Because LLAMAS!)(And related questions about animals in zoos)(where we shouldn’t be keeping animals ANYHOW)(oh, you didn’t take Prof Tempkin’s Phil 101 class where we talked about animal liberation?)(That Peter Singer is a nut)(What DID you take freshman year?)

      1. Oh, I'll Answer The Phones.*

        I am also this person. Only I will inflict long, sad conversations on my SO when he interrupts me about how he needs to listen more / better. Like that joke about the guy whose girlfriend keeps telling him to ‘Watch!’ the movie. “Watch!” “I am!” “No, WATCH!” *guy opens eyes harder*
        He’ll then figure out a way to both agree and gently inform me that one way to circumvent this problem is for me to talk less. He is the best, and we put up with each other’s nonsense.

    2. Adam*

      No S/O, but I have a good friend who I have to work very hard not to let my eyes glaze over when she talks about certain subjects, mostly ones that annoy her. In both speech and text. Texting can be a hoot as sometimes she’ll have a bad day and send me multiple long texts to the point where I can check my phone and have a small pamphlet to read.

    3. ginger ale for all*

      I once asked my ex what he did in the Army. The explanation was well over an hour long and it included a description of each division and their party practices. These practices included drinking out of a toilet at their military balls. Apparently each division of armed forces has their own recipe for toilet punch. He told me those recipes.
      The short answer was that he drove a tank and was some kind of marksman.

      1. ArmyWife*

        Haha! Toilet punch! Love it! I’ve only ever known it as a punch bowl ceremony … 10-15 kinds of alcohol, each one symbolic of something in the unit’s history, poured one at a time into a large silver (or other material) bowl. Then all the officers/NCOs bring up their mugs and get a sample, toast and drink together. Some units/regiments have engraved silver bowls that are decades old. (So not just each division of the armed forces, but each unit within the Army, etc.) What also makes me laugh is that my husband has been in the Army for 29 years (Infantry) and I’m still not 100% sure what he does on a daily basis. ;)

    4. Amber T*

      I went on a (first!) date with a guy that did this… for a solid 75 minutes. Oh yes, I counted. We met for coffee and started talking about what we each did for a living. He had just finished grad school and was looking for a teaching position… and he wanted to be a teacher because… and did I know the requirements for becoming a teacher in our state was this… and the reasonings behind that stemmed from this court case… and once he went to court for a speeding ticket… and the judge reminded him of so-and-so from Harry Potter… and he gets mistaken for Ron Weasley… OH and his favorite teacher that inspired him was… and he did a silly thing when he was 7… and there was this awesome prank he pulled on his brother when he was 9…

      It went on for so long I’m not sure he took a breath. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise (I tried!). The guy at the table next to me kept throwing my pitying looks.

      The sad things are 1) that’s not even the weirdest part of that date and 2) that’s not even the worst date I went on.

      1. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

        Out of curiosity, did he get a second date? Or was that basically a deal-breaker?

        1. Amber T*

          Short answer: no second date. I would have given him a second and final chance if not for other things.

          Long answer: I had just graduated undergrad and he grad school. I had just moved back in with my folks and most of my friends from high school had flown the nest. My mom is the type of person who will make friends with literally anyone, so when she discovered one of her new acquaintances had a son roughly my age in a similar predicament, why not set us up? So our moms connected us. Cool.

          After the 75 minutes of none stop talking on his end, he looked down at his watch, said “I have to go” and hopped out of his seat and out the door. I was still sitting. And I continued to sit there slightly flabbergasted for a few more minutes while the dude next to me laughed.

          The kicker was that, even though he and I had talked with each other prior to set up the date in the first place, HE HAD HIS MOM ASK MY MOM TO SET US UP A SECOND TIME. I can chalk the none stop talking on a first date up to nerves and see if a second one would have made it better, but I draw the line at having a 25 year old man have his mom ask another mom for a date with his daughter.

            1. Kristin (Germany)*

              Seriously! I am picturing this as the ‘meet cute’ story the best man tells at your wedding.

            2. Amber T*

              You know, you’re not the first person to ask me that. I definitely missed an opportunity there :(

    5. VintageLydia*

      This is my husband to a T. Enough that I may send this and the other “how to be concise” letter to him because I KNOW he does this at work, too. And these tactics work, although you can add things like “hurry up” hand gestures and more rude interruptions (I mean, too rude for the workplace but not rude between SOs or very close friends.) When he’s going on a tangent I just interrupt and say “READER’S DIGEST VERSION” and I’ll get a more concise answer. Frankly his own coworkers could do the same because he’s a pretty laid back guy who appreciates a certain amount of relatively polite bluntness and knows this is a problem he has (he’s a loud talker, too. I get on him for that as well.) But it wouldn’t surprise me if THEY don’t realize they can interrupt him so rudely.

      1. Amber T*

        I love this. I remember when I was applying to colleges and I had to write several short ‘essays’ – 100 words or less. My dad could not understand why I had to limit my answers to 100 words. So whenever he gets on a tangent, the automatic response is “100 words or less!”

    6. lowercase holly*

      yup, sometimes i am the long-winded one. but my SO will make the “let’s get on with it” hand motion which is totally cool.

    7. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

      If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s doing a thing that drives you crazy, please tell them! Just a simple “honey, I love you, but you tend to ramble when you tell stories and it’s starting to drive me nuts, could you please try to stick to the main details next time?” Could be after a story, could be right as they’re about to tell a new one, but say it. Bring it up soon, when you can talk about it calmly, rather than wait until they do it one too many times and you explode.

      Maybe it’s me, but the only thing worse than being told I’m annoying someone, is finding out that I’ve been annoying someone for months and I was never given a chance to nip it in the bud and now they’re pissed at me.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Between all the dating and relationship talk here and the dating talk on the pet peeves post, I really want to have a relationship/dating open thread but cannot figure out how I can possibly make it relevant to the site.

              1. E F and G*

                Might I suggest making it a slow day post. Another snow day or holiday seems like an appropriate time to me.

                Or just tie it in badly – life is like a box of chocolates, dating and working are surprisingly close, llamas.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          What jack said. Who cares if it’s relevant! Just like the Sunday open thread is for anything BUT work-related topics, you can create an Off Topic Open Thread and then pick a theme for each one (if you plan to do it on a recurring basis).

        2. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

          And I’m definitely not helping >_< I can't help it, it's been on my mind all week! But I'm sure it's temporary. I hope.

        3. Chriama*

          Well you have the non-work related weekend open threads. Maybe once a month/quarter/whatever there can be a different-themed open thread instead of/in addition to the generic weekend open thread?

          1. gsa*

            Or next open/non-work somebody says something about dating/relationships…

            I have dollar that says that thread will have current comments until it get closed!

        4. Prismatic Professional*

          Have you ever used the same technique at work and in a relationship? How did it go? Have you ever applied techniques you learned for relationship issues to work issues? Compare/contrast the dating world and interviewing. ^_^

        5. ArmyWife*

          Do it! Besides, I want to hear everyone’s “craziest date stories” because I have a fun one I can share.

        6. Bowserkitty*

          Agreeing with others – don’t bother making it relevant. Just do it. Maybe April 1st??? It’s a good day for complete randomity, and I know in another workplace community I was a member of we used to reserve April Fool’s for complete FFAs.

        7. ginger ale for all*

          Maybe have a thread on the first Sunday of each month and see how it flies? But I have gotten some great advice on the non work related threads so you already have a venue, just not a dedicated one.

        8. Sidenote*

          The Sunday off-topic post! Friday – work related. Saturday – general life. Sunday – relationships. :0

        9. Vicki*

          It’s relevant!
          If manager/co-worker stories make people think of relationship issues, then relationship stories will make people think of co-workers!

    8. Preggers*

      This is exactly me and my husband!! I’ve learned to jump in early and say, “Yes, I know Susan. Please tell me about her interaction with Bob before you forget what you were telling me.” I feel so sorry for anyone who works with him. When I read these comments, I think to myself I wonder if they are talking about my husband. lol

      1. Simonthegrey*

        I wonder this about my husband, but to be fair, I have a lot of the same communication patterns. I just happen to be more aware of judging time, and of who wants to hear the whole story. I read body language. It also helps that the people I most talk to are my husband (see: same communication pattern), my best friend (also same communication pattern) and my dad (also, same….you know what? I see a pattern here).

    9. Camellia*

      For my husband I just say, “TALK FASTER” and he knows he better get on with the story. I also do this sometimes when watching tv or movies. When there is no dialogue and the lone actor on screen is just walking from Point A to Point B I will say, “WALK FASTER” and hit the fast forward button. [evil grin]

      1. the gold digger*

        You know if you turn on the subtitles and then click the fast-forward button once, you can watch a 40 minute episode in 30 minutes, right? I can still understand almost all of the dialog, too, as long as it is English with a newscaster/Midwestern accent. (For Foyle’s War, I have to read most of the subtitles.)

    10. Stranger than fiction*

      Omg yes. Same here. And then he sometimes asks me why I’m not listening anymore.

    11. Pennalynn Lott*

      Boyfriend has ADHD and this is totally his M.O. except he will add in a whole bunch of pronouns after only mentioning names once, so I have no idea which “she” he is talking about by the time he’s 3-4 sentences into the story.

      Sadly, he gets really, really angry when I try to encourage him to Just Get To The Point Already. So I spend a lot of time nodding and saying “Ah,” or “Hmm,” while not actually paying attention to him because it’s just too darned painful for me to try and follow along. [“Thanks for trying to share your day with me, honey, but I have absolutely no idea what you just said.” But I guess it all works out in the end, because his ADHD causes him to forget 80% of what we’ve talked about, anyway.]

      1. J-nonymous*

        Oh god. That’s my boyfriend too. (Though he has excellent recall of our conversations.)

        The pronouns thing makes me feel like I’m losing my ability to comprehend sentences.

    12. Be the Change*

      Laughing my fool head off here! Because that’s me and my husband, and I won’t tell you which is which!

  6. Sadsack*

    This isn’t really the same thing, but a person in my department takes a long time to get out her questions to me. She starts out with, “Hey, I was wondering…” and then it’s like she tries to take as long as humanly possible to drag out every single word all while rubbing her chin and staring up at the ceiling. It’s as if she hasn’t formulated her question until she gets to my desk. So, it’s more like, Heeeeyyyyy, IIIIII waaaas woooondeeeeerinnnnnggggg…”.

    I’d love to just tell her to spit it out already, but I find myself just staring at her, wondering what exactly her point will be when she finally gets to it.

    1. Sadsack*

      And I mean she drags out the entire question that way, not just that first part! Every single word.

    2. Ann*

      Same here! Except that my coworker isn’t dragging out the words. She’s pausing after almost every single word. I can understand having to pause once or twice to gather your thoughts, but (again, and I’m not at all exaggerating) it’s after almost every word. It’s not a stutter; it honestly seems like she can’t decide on more than word at a time in advance and needs to pause to think of the next one. She also has a complete and total inability to answer a yes-or-no question with just “yes” or “no.”

      I understand that this might be some kind of speech disorder, and I feel bad for admitting it, because she’s a nice person, but she’s usually the last person I go to in the department with questions.

      1. Simonthegrey*

        It sounds a little like aphasia or some kind of processing issue? Sometimes when my brain gets going too fast I find that I shut down like this. It’s why I prefer asking questions over email.

    3. a*

      My roommate does this. First, to get my attention, she says my name but draws it out really slowly. Then, after I say, “Yes?” she pauses for about five seconds and then says, “I have a question” (or sometimes, ‘I have an idea’.) Then she waits for me to ask her what it is before she’ll ask it.

      It would really suffice if she just asked the question or told me her idea without fishing for me to ask her about it.

  7. Bend & Snap*

    I used to be married to this. Every conversation was like the Spanish Inquisition because he never answered anything directly.

    Communicating in writing was MUCH better. I recommend that as often as possible.

    1. Simonthegrey*

      Wouldn’t be so bad if it were like the DragonAge Inquisition. Maybe a few more demons.

  8. Adam*

    I used to be pretty bad about rambling, particularly if I was nervous. I was once in an interview where I was asked (very nicely) if I’m a more concise speaker or if I ramble a bit. I proceeded to say I consider myself fairly concise…with an answer that was somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute long. The comedy of it was not lost on me after the fact (seriously, time out long 30 seconds can be when you’re talking).

  9. CC*

    This may not always be appropriate, bu I think asking questions via email can be helpful. My manager tends to ramble a little bit, but every time I have asked him a question via email he has given me a clear and concise answer and provides a general case for how to handle an issue in the future.

    I suspect a lot of ramblers aren’t meaning to go on and on, but aren’t particularly adept at working off the cuff and need a little time to come up with an answer that is phrased how they want. If you are leading the meeting, giving a heads up ahead of time may let the person phrase everything as they want.

    1. Argh!*

      A rambler I have worked with will continue the pontification via e-mail if I cut off the face to face sermon. I’ll say, Well gotta get back to my home base, and then three hours later there’s a long e-mail finishing what I thought I’d escaped. At least when that happens only one person is wasting company time, though.

    2. Allison (who wrote that comment)*

      I used to ask questions in e-mail, and then get a call from that person so he could reeeeaaaalllly explain it to me. He’s getting better about just answering the stupid e-mail.

  10. LiveAndLetDie*

    Wow, I’m tempted to ask if the OP is someone I work with! There’s a guy I work with who does this exact thing, to the point that I probably could have written the same comment.

  11. Clever Name*

    I had a coworker who was a rambler, but it was because he had a huge ego and liked to hear himself talk. He wanted to make sure everyone else knew how Brilliant he was and that he had Big Ideas. The sort of sad part was that I actually knew more about his area of expertise than he did, and I learned it in about half the time. He didn’t like me much. :)

    1. Argh!*

      I have dealt with one of those. The rambling was pseudo-brilliant — brilliant enough to fool people with only a passing understanding of the subject. But I actually knew as much or more and could suss out the BS. He stopped talking to me.

    2. NicoleK*

      Former BEC coworker loved to ramble about herself and how awesome and accomplished she was.

  12. Dawn*

    There’s this great book that I’ve read called “Mastering Communication at Work” by Ethan F. Becker which goes over, among other things, how some people like to put the point first and then provide the background, while other people like to give the background first and then the point. It’s just down to the communication style that people have- some people have to have the background before they understand the point, others have to have the point before they hear the background. The book has some great strategies for how to communicate well with both types of people- I don’t remember the specifics, but it’s worth it to pick up the book at the library!

    I think that the people at work who like to ramble are the types who must have all of the background info before getting the point. Either that, or they love to hear themselves talk.

    1. Blue_eyes*

      Yes! Or they think by talking it out, instead of thinking first and then verbalizing a fully formed thought.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yes! I think this played a big role in the breakup of one of my long-term relationships, actually. I didn’t figure it out until it was too late. I’m a “ponder for ages, finally distill the perfect question” person and he was really “think it through out loud.” So when he said something, I assumed it was His Real Opinion Forever and Ever, and would get inordinately hurt by things when he was just sounding them out. On his end, he’d see me going quiet during an argument and thought I was giving him the silent treatment, when really I was just thinking how I wanted to word something.

        1. VintageLydia*

          This is the same dynamic I have with my husband. It can be especially bad with social justice things because he wasn’t exactly raised in a progressive household. He’ll say something that, in my opinion, is pretty bad but if I just shut up and let him speak for 10 minutes he usually talks himself into a position that is less terrible, sometimes with prompting by me but it’s been almost 12 years so he knows all my talking points ;) It helps that he used to work in TV and occasionally including news so he KNOWS how the same event can be truthfully talked about that can be played into the biases of people all across the spectrum depending on the reporter or producer–often without realizing themselves they’re doing it.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Not to derail entirely onto boyfriends, but with the current one, he has a few weird hot buttons that disguise the fact that he’s actually pretty great on the issues. He will rail for a million years against “political correctness” and then turn around and rail against racism and sexism. It’s like that one phrase, “political correctness,” short-circuits him, but he actually espouses most of the opinions that get bashed as PC.

            1. Lore*

              I have one of those! With mine it’s the idea of hate crimes that enrages him so much it takes a long time to figure out it’s a free-speech absolutism position.

            2. VintageLydia USA*

              Same here. He struggles with the idea of privilege since he feels like that phrasing makes it seem like it’s his fault that poorer people or minorities or whoever gets a statistically lower chance at the opportunities he’s gotten. He’s beginning to understand the concept but I’ve been having to come up with ways to explain it in a way that sounds like I’m assigning blame (and since my own education in this is spotty at best, it can be difficult.) That he (and I) still benefit from the structures of society even as we’re both pretty outspoken against the harmful effects.

              That said, his favorite way to rile me up is to say some thing outlandishly sexist to see my reaction. He still calls it out when he sees it or hears of it. He’s very aware of the bitchy woman vs. assertive man in the workplace especially because he’s seen that in action.

              1. Simonthegrey*

                This. My husband has struggled with “privilege” as a concept. He grew up upper-middle-class in a smaller town, his mom worked at the university, he went to a pretty prestigious set of schools for our area, was recruited for his musical capability to a “big deal” school but didn’t go, etc. However, since living on his own, and especially since the economic downturn, he has been “American poor.” Never without food/shelter/internet, but living paycheck to paycheck. He doesn’t believe me that even though our income was until very recently below the poverty level, we still benefit from privilege. He will always say he has never benefited from being white or male. I work in a very diverse environment and even though I grew up poor, I went to a good college (scholarships yo) and I recognize the privilege that has helped me. This is the one issue where he and I have had issues. And the thing is, he recognizes just how unfair our criminal justice system is, he understands wage gaps and passionately supports A Certain Politician, so it’s just like that WORD is his hangup.

    2. Liza*

      That book sounds useful–thanks, Dawn! I know I’m a background-first person and I sometimes struggle to write emails the other way.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Another interesting divide that’s come up before is people whose first instinct is to look something up vs. people whose first instinct is to ask a person. (I’m a big, big looker-upper.)

    3. Ethan F Becker*

      Thanks Dawn, I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Chapter 1 covers what Aristotle called “Patterns for reasoning” Folks can find that chapter as the free download from amazon I think.

      But in general, your right about that. Some folks just like the background first. We’ve found it less about what’s “Right” or “Wrong” and more about what is effective or ineffective. If your a manager, and your direct report is being highly “Inductive” they are not trying to make you upset, it’s simply how they process. A good skill for the manager is to learn how to how to listen inductively. It’s not easy. In our book, we interview Big Jon Platt, the President of EMI publishing (Now he’s at Capitol Records). He shares how powerful it was for him to learn how to listen inductive, even against his deductive tendencies. Managers are tempted to vent and complain. That’s ok. But as A skilled manager develops her skill, she won’t make fun of one way or the other, but recognize it, and learn to pivot as needed. It’s pretty cool when it’s done effectively. Easy to understand, hard to do!

      Thanks again for mentioning the book!

  13. Snarkus Aurelius*

    True story.

    I once sat in a legislative committee hearing where a professor from a local university was testifying on a specific subject. He was 25 minutes into answering a legislator’s question with no signs of stopping.

    Half of members of the committee were openly sleeping while the other half were on their phones, and the guy still kept talking.

    It takes a truly unaware person to pull that off.

    1. Jaydee*

      I feel sorry for his students. I’m guessing he was used to lecturing to a room full of college students who were asleep, doodling, playing on their phones or laptops, etc. so while everyone in that committee room was thinking “when will this ever end?!” the professor was pretty sure class was only half over.

  14. Blue_eyes*

    I would try to look at it from his perspective. What is he getting out of talking so much? Does he think he’s being helpful by giving all the information? Does he talk in order to think (like a Myers-Briggs E type)? Is he just a poor speaker? Does he like the sound of his own voice? There are lots of things that could be going on here and knowing a little more about why he talks so much may help you think of potential solutions.

    1. Argh!*

      OP writer isn’t a mind reader! And really, does it matter what the reason is? A person can change their behavior without having to change their underlying emotional makeup. A more productive conversation would put the psychological “blame” on OP writer: “I am having trouble following you. Could you condense it to one sentence?”

      The chatterbox would be far more likely to seek help for a problem if they see it as a single behavior that they need to change.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I agree. It doesn’t matter why he’s long-winded. It matters that his behavior is causing a problem. Plus you’re assuming he is aware of his behavior and he knows it’s a problem in need of a solution.

      Besides, even if there’s a known cause, he’s not likely to change if the reason is unflattering to him, such as being a poor speaker or his ego.

    3. Blue_eyes*

      I guess I wasn’t clear. I was thinking that you might approach him differently about it depending on the situation. I don’t think the OP needs to spend time asking the coworker why he’s long-winded. If the coworker thinks he’s being helpful and is a considerate person, then explaining that the short version would help you more may be enough to solve it. Whereas if he has a hard time being concise then he needs to work on his speaking skills.

      Considering the other person’s perspective is rarely a bad thing.

      1. FTW*

        I agree and am surprised no one wise has mentioned this. Don’t people have communication styles that come across as more long winded than my own. I have come to recognize that they value being listened to, and that on the long run, I’ll be more successful if I let them day their piece.

      2. myswtghst*

        Late to the party but I agree. The reason why the windbag rambles on and on might impact how you approach them, and impact whether or not you even have a chance at changing their behavior.

        Someone who just really loves to hear themselves speak might never get more concise. Someone who thinks out loud might do better answering questions via email, where they have time to re-read and edit. And someone who is just really concerned about you having the full and complete background might do better with some acknowledgement and questions worded with “I have this background” already included.

  15. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    What would you do when 1. The person is higher level than you and 2. Isn’t actually talking about the subject at hand, but is just talking and talking and talking to make it seem like he knows what he’s talking about? For example, you ask him why is the sky is blue and he’ll go on at length about different layers of the atmosphere, the hole in the ozone layer, cloud formations, and weather events, but never get around to light refraction. What do you do? Besides fantasize about putting your thumbs through his eye sockets because I’ve tried that and it hasn’t helped.

    1. Amber T*

      Haha again I wonder, do you work with my dad? (I commented below)

      What seems to work with him is making your questions as specific as possible. Instead of asking “why is the sky blue?” ask “what does light refraction have to do with the color of the sky?” If he starts to deviate and starts talking about the ozone layer, interrupt and ask “what does that have to do with light refraction?” Since it’s your work proximity associate who’s at a higher level, you (probably) can’t be as forceful, but throw in a few “I’m sorry, but…” and “excuse me” and that should work better.

      Some people are born lecturers who honestly like to hear themselves talk – it makes them feel smart. And they’re “helping” because they’re teaching you something (I promise, it’s 100% about them).

      1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

        LOL no I don’t think he’s old enough to have kids that work! Thing is, he’s not lecturing, he’s not imparting interesting if useless information. It’s more like he’s just talking around whatever you asked. Here’s a different example. Management has come up with these new metrics for us. And he came by my desk to explain them to me. He showed me a print out telling me I was at 85% or some such. I asked him where the 85% came from. His answer was “the background.” I said yes, the background systems, but where do these numbers get pulled from? Is it how many per hour? How many are we expected to do? And is that across the board or divided up by work type. He just kept talking about “the background” being the location of where the information comes from. I usually have to ask him a question 3 times before I get a straight answer. I think he keeps talking because he thinks if he talks enough people won’t notice that he has no idea what he’s talking about, eventually people will just say “OK” and drop it because they don’t want to deal with it any more.

        1. Amber T*

          Ooh it’s one of those… yeah it sometimes ends up being the same thing. If you ask my dad a question about something he’s familiar with, he’ll give you a 20 minute answer instead of a 10 second answer. If you ask my dad a question about something he’s not familiar with (and honestly has no clue over), he’ll give you a 20 minute roundabout answer instead of just saying “hmm, I’m not sure” and figuring out a way to help you get that answer.

          It pretty much gets to the point where you stop asking or you just answer with the “OK, got it” in a minute and a half.

        2. MaggiePi*

          Yep, I’ve met this person. It’s like they think the phrase “I don’t know” is some kind of horrible and irrevocable failure that I will forever judge them for admitting.
          (Instead, the damage their reputation with me by not ever admitting what they don’t know, since knowing where your knowledge ends and when and where to seek help is often quite an important skill.)

  16. Argh!*

    ” Interrupting her to ask for a specific fact answer leads to a 10 second blank stare followed by her starting over(!) the 5 minute explanation she was sharing before, as if you simply didn’t understand”

    That’s actually a symptom of OCD or OCPD. I’d go to her boss or my boss for advice on that.

    1. Kelly L.*

      It actually reminds me a lot of one of the political candidates. Not his politics, which I won’t argue here, but his speaking style, which got roundly and famously mocked by one of the other candidates. Let’s dispel with this notion!

    2. i like being anon*

      I’d be careful of jumping on armchair diagnosing. It may be a symptom of OCD, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the speaker has OCD or OCPD. Not everyone who displays certain traits falls into a certain diagnosis.

      1. Argh!*

        Right, not a diagnostic symptom, but something that is really unusual and more common in people with a serious mental problem. If it *is* due to a diagnosable disorder, it will be more difficult to get them to see that they are creating a problem for other people. And they are probably wasting the time of many others too. I’d ask my boss about it. I have had bosses who just accept people’s eccentricities, so those bosses are useless, but if there’s a chance someone in authority can intervene, it could help.

    3. MaggiePi*

      Our boss just accepts it or on occasion will ask for the “executive summary.” That one doesn’t work so well since I’m not above her. So it’s coping strategies for me, and, as someone said elsewhere, remembering I am paid by the hour. :-)

  17. Amber T*

    Sincerely wondering if the OP works with my dad. You can ask him why the sky is blue, and he’ll explain why the grass is green, why a lemon is yellow, why a firetruck is red. But if you say “that wasn’t my question” he’ll look at you blankly and ask you what your question was.

  18. Jillociraptor*

    Oh no, I work with this person too. He’s our IT guy, and I now know the history of every machine in our office, as well as literally every detail of his daily life. Because my desk is in the open part of our suite, he also stops by to tell me about the tech issues everyone in the offices is having. There is no such thing as a conversation of less than 10 minutes with him. I feel terrible because he’s very pleasant and helpful, and he looks SO SAD when you do any of the things on this list, but I don’t have hours to dedicate to what happened to my boss’s computer when her predecessor tried to install Acrobat!

    1. Preggers*

      That’s our maintenance guy! You ask him if the toilet is fixed because you have to go. And he tells you the history of every toilet in the building, which ones he’s installed, which ones are original, which ones he’s fixed, etc. Meanwhile I just need to go to the bathroom! I think he just loves what he does and loves teaching people but it can be a real pain.

      1. Karowen*

        Yes! We have this guy too. And then it devolves into a rant about the building and the plans he has for the building and then he’s showing you building plans and you’ve peed on his floor.

  19. retail employee*

    Any tips for retail employees and their long-winded customers? It will take some people 10 mins to tell me their camera doesn’t work. All the while a line of people are staring me down. I will try to nicely interrupt and tell them I need to know what exactly they want fixed before they tell me everything else.

    This mostly doesn’t work, and the customer gets very grumpy that I am interrupting their long-winded story. “I’m TELLing you what’s wrong! Just let me finish (tells entirely irrelevant story for 10 mins until finally complaining that their photos are orange).

    Answer, after looking at camera for 2 seconds: Camera does not have flash on. The party was in a dark restaurant with orange lighting. Strangely, most of these types are upset that it did not take me as long as their story to figure out what was wrong. It’s a mixture of them wanting to sound intelligent about their camera but having to fess up that they still need help, I guess.

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      Unfortunately in customer service, some people just want to be heard. Even if you can’t fix their problem, if you listened to it, they’ll walk away happy.

    2. Preggers*

      Yes, customers want to be heard but they also want to know someone actually cares about their problem and wants to help them. I listen for a bit then if they are talking to much, I say “oh how horrible that must have been to have your camera not work for your daughter’s first birthday, let’s make sure you don’t miss any more important moments, have you tried x, y, or z?”

    3. OhNo*

      In general, I’d say the above comment that some people just want to be heard is 100% correct (although it’s terribly frustrating). If you really need to move them along, though, sometimes interrupting with a possible version of their question helps.

      Halfway through a long story about a wedding or whatever, you can interrupt with, “I see. So you weren’t able to take pictures of the wedding?” This will usually prompt them to move on to the next phase of their story (e.g.: “No, I was able to take pictures of the wedding, but they all turned out blah blah blah”). If they’re especially long-winded, this at least can help you narrow down what the problem isn’t while they’re circling their way around telling you what it is.

    4. nm*

      I’ve had far more problems with employees not listening to me – and it’s tough when I do know more on the subject, so I am trying to explain what is happening. I find with long-winded people, I just listen, and ask questions, and go through the mental checklist.

      (I was once on the other side in a similar situation – except I replied, I know, I turned that off. That is not the problem – please look into “X”. Wait, well why? Because of the the reasons I just explained? Oooooooh I see…) haha, we all have those days!

  20. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    Funnier example: I used to work with someone like this. She’d go on and on and on about something, from what she ate all weekend, to why she could only buy her kids shoes at Stride Rite to whatever else you didn’t want to know. And after awhile of talking she’d say “So, in a nutshell…” every. damn. time. Except that wasn’t always the signal she was about to be done talking, sometimes she’d keep going and another 15 minutes later you’d get another “So, in a nutshell…” and just hope you passed your saving throw and that she’d shut up really soon.

    1. Gene*

      I was at an industry conference, hanging in the bar with friends when someone did that; long, rambling story, then said, “To make a long story short…” My filter had disconnected sometime during the story (the whiskey may have had something to do with that) and I said, “Too late!” In the total, staring silence that followed I looked around and asked, “Did I say that out loud?” Gales of laughter and the story was finished.

      This was 10 or more years ago and we are all still friends – and I still get reminded by them.

      1. Windchime*

        I like to listen to the “On Point” radio show on NPR, and occasionally they have people call in. There are lots of people who like to ramble, invariably they start out with, “I’ll make this quick” or something along those lines. And then off they go, rambling about nothing. I’m guessing that the screener has probably told them to make it quick but it doesn’t matter; I can always tell who is going to ramble because they start out with assuring the host they will “get to the point”.

        1. ginger ale for all*

          I think that describes half the callers on NPR. I know one of the people who coordinates the callers on one of their shows and he said he attributes it to the fact that they have been waiting so long to ask their question while listening to the show that their questions become more nuanced as they hear more in the discussion.

  21. Hannah G.*

    I had a manager do this one time and I just had to tell him that he went off on tangents too often during meetings and I preferred to stay on topic. Our planned one hour meetings (which could have easily been 20 minutes) often went over and he would try to fill the time with small talk or work chat that wasn’t relevant to us. Thankfully, my old manager and I were close so I didn’t feel awkward letting him know he was rambling. I think most people know that they do this but don’t think it bothers anyone unless someone says something – or they are just completely clueless and can’t read social cues.

    Another couple of options if you don’t want to be direct: 1) suggest shortening the meeting to half the time – that way everyone can focus on what’s important. 2) start incorporating “meeting efficiency” into the work place :)

  22. Cheddar2.0*

    I work with 2 people (they’re my supervisors) on the same project: one is verbose and long winded, and the other is succinct to the point of leaving out critical details in her desire to get the communication over with. I’ve been told that part of the reason I’m on this project is my ability to act as an intermediary for the two and make sure no info gets lost. I spend a lot of time sending emails back and forth.

  23. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    Maybe I’m one of these people? Ha! I had a teacher in HS that would go off on tangents so predictably that if we wanted to get out of a test or presentation we didn’t want to do, someone just had to bring up World War II, Galena IL, or Soccer, and he would talk so much about it that we’d end up getting off the hook.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Waterskiing was the key for one HS teacher of mine.

      I also did this with a boyfriend once. He was driving late at night, trying to stay alert, and was annoyed with me that I couldn’t come up with enough conversational topics to amuse him (because I was just as tired). Can’t even remember why we didn’t just pull over. I do know I then asked him one brief question about jazz.

      It was an hour’s drive. He talked about jazz the whole rest of the way, with no input from me except nodding.

      1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

        With my husband it’s the Marvel Civil War. I can’t tell you how many times he’s told me the ENTIRE STORY. And with the movie coming out? Sweet fancy Moses.

        1. OhNo*

          Lol, that’s usually me in any group of friends. Any mention of superheroes will have me going, “Well, actually…” followed by about ten minutes of nonsense no one cares about.

          In my defense, discussing comic story lines is basically like discussing the plot of any TV show: fascinating to the people that watch it, and interminably boring to anyone that doesn’t. I make a point not to complain when my friends talk about Game of Thrones for an hour, so they can hush up and let me rant about Ant Man’s bipolar disorder for ten minutes.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Game of Thrones…and now you’ve found my weakness!

            BF will ask me “So Jon is Ned’s bastard, right?”, and he gets a 2-hour explanation of the R+L=J theory.

            1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

              I’ll do this IF he asks and even then, I know when to stop and I don’t pull out a wipe off board to explain things like I want.

          2. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

            He just did it. Went on about the comic and the movie that isn’t even out yet! Now he wants me to read it. I said sure, if you read Alligent before we see it this weekend.

    2. Amber T*

      My friend group refers to this as “pulling a Ted Mosby” from HIMYM. We usually just say “stop being Ted” when someone starts going on and on about something they have an interest in but we don’t. It’s also a verb – “I won’t Ted Mosby you with the details, but…”

    3. Hellanon*

      Yep, I had a boss who could be misdirected down any number of primrose paths. Of course, I’ve grown up somewhat since then and rarely try that trick on people anymore… very rarely. Really.

  24. ggg*

    I have this co-worker. We’ve heard many of his stories multiple times, but even if you say, “Oh, I remember you telling me about that!” he cannot short circuit the script he has in his head. He must tell the story exactly the same way, with the same details, again, like Teddy Ruxpin.

    What is actually kind of amazing is that he keeps track of his open parentheses. So he may start telling you about Bob and Susan, and the llamas, and isn’t this interesting about llamas, and by the way the president of Peru…but he will actually deftly close the loop on each of his sidebars, in reverse order, like a computer programmer, until he is right back on track with Bob and Susan, without ever stopping.

  25. Jack the treacle eater*

    Have to say, on the other hand it would be useful to know how much detail managers need – it often isn’t anywhere near as clear as managers think it is.

    1. voyager1*

      Oh buddy I can top that. The manager who one day wants bullet points, then the next day you give her bullet points and she goes on and on with questions, that if you would have communicated how you wanted to in the first place one could have avoided. Yep had her as a manager. It was like bi-polar management styles all in one person. You never knew which “manager” you were dealing with till the meeting started. It was terrible because of you tried communicating with email, sometimes she would respond sometimes not and sometimes you went back and forth all day or days with her questions.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      The challenge is that it varies by topic and situation, so the answer changes all the time. My boss doesn’t need a 150-word recounting of how I scheduled a meeting, but she does need detailed information about how I’m resolving a major budget issue that might affect many other divisions. It’s important for employees to learn to think with their “boss” hat on and anticipate this as much as possible.

      But a best practice is to provide information on two levels when you’re not sure: start with the key take away, and be prepared to provide more detail (other by writing it below in an email, or having a question ready that’s something like, “Does that cover what you need, or would you like more details?”

  26. Bowserkitty*

    One of my old coworkers was like this. He was fully aware of it and would even offer to stop rambling when it would occur in meetings, but my bosses would oblige him and I think the enabling could be part of the problem. It can indeed be difficult to interrupt things like that.

    That said, he remains a dear friend of mine and I have never met somebody so dedicated to the position they are in. I always said he would probably work for free if money didn’t matter because he was so passionate about his job.

  27. LQ*

    I’ve found with a very specific kind of person really acknowledging their expertise seems to cut down on future versions of it. So a couple of times saying “You know I completely trust you with the details, so you can just cut to what you need from me” has helped here and there. Not for everyone. But very helpful when it happens.

  28. Sketchee*

    It really depends on your personality and communication style. Since I tend to be naturally curious myself, when a person who loves to talk I usually give in to a conversation “sprint”. Just deep dive into jumping into what they’re talking about. This takes my usually a bad habit of interrupting when I’m really interested in a subject, and makes it comes in handy here. (I have an honest “Ooo didn’t mean to interrupt!!” moment a split second after I do it.)

    I also used to work with a woman was a good friend and a manager of a different area. I told her that sometimes I’m in a conversations that I honestly enjoy, and yet don’t want to put so much time into them at work. She said she thought it would be funny if I just walked away, changed the subject, ended it anyway possible.

    I have a really jokey personality, so I can usually feel comfortable with “Wow this is really interesting, boss! I’m completely enjoying this conversation. Anyway back to the project! What’s do we do about X? Y or Z? I think Y.” This has to be in the lightest happiest tone with an unbreakable smile and eye contact.

    And some individuals are really not comfortable receiving jokes. Got to know your audience. So for them, I emphasize my need for clarity. “Ok boss I hear that about details X, Y, Z. I’m still confused. Did you say we’re doing A or B?”

    It’s a bit of falling on my sword. As if I missed it. I don’t mind that if it gives me the information I need to do my job.

  29. TL17*

    You could stand up and make windmill motions with your arms and say, “get on with it!”

    That might be a little to-the-point.

  30. SusanIvanova*

    Coworker Coffeecup used to do this too – we’d meet for what was supposed to be a very quick status update – 15 minutes for a 5 person group. But despite the fact that Coffeecup wasn’t actually getting anything done, he’d ramble on for 15 minutes all by himself. I just tuned him out, because being able to say “my task was X and it’s done” when he was just making excuses was so satisfying.

  31. Mythea*

    I actually have a boss who is super long winded who keeps inviting me to meetings to keep him (and others) on track. It is one of the most satisfying things to me – that he understands his ability to ramble and while not able to curb it, has no issue with me dragging things back to the agenda/topic. I will let him talk for no more than 5 minutes off topic, and then I interrupt and remind him/the group what questions we are actually looking to answer.

  32. That Marketing Chick*

    No matter how I try to do this, I feel like I always come across as a b@#$% or feel I am perceived that way (I have a strong personality), so I usually sit there and let them talk. :( I need work on this one!

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