my employee talks so much she can’t get her work done

A reader writes:

I got my first job as a manager about five months ago. One of my employees, Jane, is a woman in her late 50s (I’m 30). She’s been with this organization for two years, but spent the rest of her working life in retail or as a stage manager for small theaters. Our organization as a whole is huge, but our office is incredibly small; most of the time it’s just the two of us here. On the whole, our personalities mesh fairly well, so on a personal basis we’re fine. However, she has one very distinct character flaw — she talks a lot. It is not unusual for me to have to cut her off after 20 minutes of her talking at me. We have one other coworker in our office who has told me that she works from home most days because she feels she can’t get her work done in the office with Jane around.

I know that you’ve had other postings about talkative employees and how to discourage chatting in the office, but this is a little different because her job requires talking. Our nonprofit serves constituents by providing care consultations. Jane is the only person in our region who provides these, so a lot of her job entails talking to constituents. There’s no set guidelines on how long these consultations should last, but best practices say less than one hour. Jane regularly has consultations that last close to two hours. I’ve listened in on quite a lot of these (mostly unintentionally — our offices are right next to each other and I can hear it even with both our doors closed) and it seems to me that the reason her consultations last so long is because she talks so much. I’ve had conversations with her about the importance of limiting these talks to 45 minutes, and I’ve given her phrases she can use to end conversations. I’ve also explained the importance of not overloading a constituent with information and how they will retain the advice she’s giving better if it’s dolled out over the course of several consultations. But so far, nothing has worked. She continually ignores my advice and comes up with reasons why the consultation had to last as long as it did. Usually, the excuses she gives blame the constituent.

She also regularly complains to me about how much work she has to do, even though I took away several of her responsibilities to free up her time. I know that she’s feeling overwhelmed because of the amount of time she spends on the phone or with constituents. I can’t take away any more of her duties and we can’t pay overtime (she’s hourly, non-exempt), so I need her to manage her time better. I sent her to a time management course offered by our organization, but there’s been no improvement.

Another alarming fact with all this is that other people with the same job in our organization have three or four consultations with each client. However, in the five months that I’ve been here, Jane has never had any repeat consultations. I feel that this is because she inundates our clients with information and advice (and talks their ear off).

She’s a very caring person who just wants to provide as much help as she can to our constituents, but how do I get her to shorten her conversations so she can perform the other very important tasks of her job?

Oh noooo.

You’re looking at this as “yeah, she’s talkative, but the job requires a lot of talking so what can we do?” But it’s because her job requires talking that you’ve got to resolve this, quickly and decisively. In a job that requires a lot of talking, a person has to talk effectively. But instead, the way she handles this core piece of her job is driving clients away.

Plainly put, she’s failing at key pieces of her job.

And you will fail as her manager if you don’t resolve that.

You’ve offered her resources to help her shorten her meetings, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve told her directly that her consultations must end after 45 minutes (or whatever time you decide). That’s what you need to do here — not a suggestion or a nudge, but “I need you to serve more clients and serve them better, so I need you to ensure you’re not spending more than 45 minutes per meeting.”

You might need to sit in on some of these meetings with her at first so that you’re able to move things along, signal to her when she needs to move on, and coach her afterwards on what you saw. But it’s 100% reasonable to hold her to a time limit. And you’re really obligated to do that — your organization is losing clients because of her and she’s not able to complete other portions of her job. This is a serious performance issue, and it would be a performance issue for you if you don’t approach it that way.

It sounds like you need to give her specific goals she needs to meet around number of meetings per month (or quarter or whatever makes sense) and specific numerical goals for repeat appointments (since those appear to be a mark of client satisfaction), as well as restore the pieces of her job you’ve taken away to accommodate her talkativeness. If she can’t meet those goals, she can’t do essential parts of the job and you’d need to proceed accordingly — meaning be prepared that you might need to let her go and replace her with someone who can meet the key metrics of the job.

I know that’s especially hard to do when someone is a nice person, but we’re talking here about someone who’s alienating clients and driving them off. It’s a big deal. You have an obligation to your organization and the people it serves to lay out clear expectations for her to meet, give her some intensive coaching with an eye toward figuring out pretty quickly whether she can meet those expectations or not, and take fairly swift action if she can’t.

(Along with all of this, you’ve also got to address her more general talkativeness in the office — it’s not okay that the other person who shares the space doesn’t feel able to work in the office because of Jane’s disruptiveness.)

These posts may help:

is your problem employee coachable?

how to deal with employee performance problems

how can I stop softening the message in tough conversations with my staff?

what to do when you inherit a struggling team

{ 195 comments… read them below }

  1. Diamond*

    If someone talked at me for two hours under the guise of ‘care’ I would be actively avoiding their calls. She’s likely leaving people more frazzled, overwhelmed and stressed than before, which is presumably the opposite of your intentions. She’s driving your other employee away. This is a serious flaw.

    My old boss was the same – she could talk AT you for hours and would frequently inundate clients with information. I used to avoid her where possible for fear of being trapped by the talking.

    1. Kendra*

      This. Plus, with all of this talking she’s doing, do the clients get a chance to speak? Someone dumping tons of information on you and not giving you a chance to ask questions about it is doing the opposite of helping.

      Maybe some courses on effective listening could help?

      1. Aurion*

        Yes, this. If she’s talking at the client so much that her consultations drags on to double the time that should be allotted, likely the client isn’t getting a word in edgewise…and clients seldom choose vendors/suppliers/service providers that don’t make the client feel heard. Even if the service OP provides is unquestionably what the clients want/need…there’s probably more than one fish in the sea.

    2. valentine*

      Due to her penchant for bending OP’s ear until asked to stop, I’m thinking Jane is not just getting ahead of herself information-wise, but providing a lot of filler, such as personal anecdotes. If she weren’t talking at OP for 20+ minutes, I’d be more inclined to see her as a gushing font of good intentions, though one still doesn’t want to be on the other end of that. No amount of wanting to help will suffice. She needs to walk the talk and I’ll be surprised if she learns to stem her own flow.

      OP, the person in Jane’s role needs benchmarks so both of you know whether they can excel in the job. If you have to fire her, perhaps a probationary period would make sense for the next person.

      1. Olive*

        It’s not really clear though, if she’s giving personal anecdotes, or just talking a LOT. I have a coworker who repeats everything over and over throughout conversations, making them last twice as long. for example if she were giving a recipe, she would give the ingredients, then repeat them again just to confirm, and then explain what type of bowl is best to use, it needs to be a certain size, and what type of hand motions to use to stir, and oh a wooden spoon is probably better, and then that certain ingredients are better at certain times of the year, and it’s best to serve it at certain types of functions. Now did you write that recipe down? Let me go over it all again for you just to make sure! So calls that should take five minutes, take 15 minutes, so I can’t even imagine what the caller thinks..

        1. LMTM*

          OP here. This is the type of talking that Jane does, but it’s also mixed in with irreverent personal anecdotes. So she tells a lot of anecdotes, and tells them in a way that takes 2 to 3 times longer than it should

      2. Annonno Today*

        Right, this is key. I once consulted with a counselor about an issue I was having, and there were just too many of her own anecdotes. I paid for the session, I’m here for solutions, don’t tell me about when your father died or whatever. It isn’t relevant to my situation.

        I’m smart enough to know when an anecdote is illustrating a solution, and hers weren’t.

    3. Kalala*

      I don’t know, I feel like I’d rather have one long meeting than coming in multiple times (which can be a pain to organise and to travel to). So there might be some people who prefer her way of doing it which is worth considering.

      1. Fikly*

        Everyone has a limit to how much information they can absorb in one sitting. Yours may be higher than average, but you have to aim how much information you convey in conversation to average, at max, to be effective and not put people off.

        1. Koala dreams*

          That’s true, and it’s also dependent on what kind of information. Most people can focus longer if it’s a back and forth conversation, compared to only listening and taking notes. The content also depends. Some topics are more exhausting to talk about than others. I often get very tired from talking to a therapist, for example, since the topics usually are very emotional. The key is to make the best choice in the situation. For some things 15 minutes is the best, and sometimes you need more than one hour.

        2. LMTM*

          OP here. I agree with this, especially given the nature of our work. Our clients are usually calling because they’re in crisis, so they’re easily overwhelmed by floods of information

      2. Harper the Other One*

        If she’s not communicating effectively, though, those 2 hour consults could very well be leaving people with LESS information than a well-run 1 hour consult. And given that multiple consults are the norm, and her clients never come back, I’d guess they’re frustrated and overwhelmed. And possibly late for other things, if they were expecting the call to be within a certain time frame.

        If she were a good communicator in general and she felt she could increase the length of a consult to, say, an hour and a half and be effective, I’d urge OP to let her try asking a client or two ahead of they’d rather one longer session or two to three shorter ones. But she’d have to show effective communication skills first.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I personally find it much harder to focus on audio when there’s nothing relevant for me to look at. I’m more of a visual learner, so I can do webinars with relevant slides, although if they spend too long on each slide I have trouble maintaining focus. This is part of the reason I despise phone calls. If I know the person well, at least I have visual memory of them and it feels more like we’re talking face-to-face.

          If someone I had never met talked at me incessantly, I’d try to break in and ask for printed material and/or a website after 10-15 minutes, and after the second time doing that I’d probably make up an excuse to hang up on them. (By which time I’d probably be reading the AAM archives instead of listening to them anyway.)

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            I struggle with that too! When I call my parents or listen to a podcast I usually do it while I’m doing chores, driving, or taking a walk.

            When I can’t do those things, like when I’m listening to a church sermon or other live speaker, I take notes. I may not ever reference those notes but in the moment they help me focus and retain information much better than when I just sit and listen.

          2. boo bot*

            Me too! This might actually be helpful in talking to her – it’s not just arbitrarily, “your way isn’t the way we do it.” No matter *how* good she is at communicating, some people (like me) are never going to be able to take in two solid hours of information over the phone. (Also, most people probably aren’t blocking out two hours for these calls?)

            1. Oh Snap*

              Me too. If I’m calling into a conference call at home, I walk around and tidy up or fold laundry or whatever. If I’m in my cube, it’s hopeless- I end up working on something else and paying very little attention.

            2. LMTM*

              OP here. This is a great suggestion and one that I will use to complement the stern instruction I give her to limit the calls

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yes! There’s someone in my office with a similar communication style, and I’ve had conversations with them where they talk at me for half an hour and I know five minutes of that was probably vitally important but I’m not even sure which five minutes it was because they’ll intersperse it with fine details of other related projects that I’m not even slightly involved in.

        3. Nanani*


          It might -feel- superficially nice to “connect via anecdotes” or what have you, but it’s actually not.
          Failing to tailor speech to the audience and context is wasting people’s time, probably confusing, and pushing the labour of organizing the info onto the recipient.
          That last one seems like the opposite of her job.

          1. I'm a Unicorn*

            Exactly! And I feel they’re not really trying to connect with you by sharing their personal anectdotes, they’re really trying to promote themselves. It may be a sign of low self-esteem but I personally don’t want to hear that this document you’re filling out for them reminds you of something that happened when you were a teen and couldn’t find a pencil for a test, and isn’t it funny that nowadays, no one uses a pencil anymore….?

          2. Dr. Pepper*

            A short anecdote or two can actually really help me connect with and understand the other person better, but it can quickly cross the line into excessive and irrelevant, which is probably what’s happening here. If Jane’s talking this much, for this long, I bet clients leave feeling confused and overwhelmed. I don’t mind a long meeting if it’s organized well, but that doesn’t sound like Jane.

          3. Botanist*

            Oh my gosh. Not work-related, but you’re reminding me of the woman who I’d maybe spoken with twice before who cornered me at my mom’s viewing to tell me all about an experience she’d had with the death of a loved one. I really wish I’d had the courage to stop listening politely and say “not the time, not the place.”

      3. Colette*

        I would also prefer fewer meetings – provided they are effective, and I get the information I need. It doesn’t sound like Jane is running effective meetings, though.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Some clients will prefer one long meeting over multiple short meetings. But if NONE of the clients are coming back, I don’t think that she is somehow only getting people who prefer one long meeting.

          Jane needs to learn to read her audience. Give the information the person needs effectively. Which means making sure the meeting is the right length for the client, not the talker.

          1. Observer*

            This. It just does not make sense that she is the only one whose clients NEVER need or want a followup meeting.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, it’s hard to know without knowing the details of what exactly they are doing but that didn’t sound like an inherently bad thing. But I’ll try to trust the OP that it is an issue.

      5. Observer*

        With what the OP is describing “one and done” consultations are not likely to be possible for a significant proportion of the clients. In these kinds of situations, it’s common to have follow up information that someone needs to find or things that people should try and see how it works out etc. The fact that NONE of Jane’s clients are coming back indicates that they are choosing to forgo the service. That’s not good.

      6. Diamond*

        True, I’m not sure what type of consults these are so it’s hard to say. I don’t get the feeling that she’s actually being efficient and combining all meetings into one, though.

    4. Snow Globe*

      One thing that might help (depending on the type of consultations) is a script, or maybe bullet points that need to be covered. She may be rambling because she’s not very organized about what she needs to communicate.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s useful, but it would need to be paired with limits. “Once you’ve checked these off and asked if there are any more questions, it’s time to hang up.”

        1. Colette*

          Also “You should never take more than 2 minutes to answer a question.” or “After 1 minute, check in with the customer to make sure they are following what you’re telling them.”

      2. OrigCassandra*

        As a recovering infodumper, I was also heading in this direction. Structure is helpful for the recovering infodumper! Likely a stricter structure than a less-infodumpy person would need.

        Friends of mine who do library instruction are very used to paring down their near-infinite knowledge into what will fit into an all-too-short class session: three information chunks. Three. Everything else goes into a handout or an offer of individual consultations. I learned a lot from them that has come in very handy in my own classrooms.

        So, for the OP, a structure for Jane might be “opener, three top issues/recommendations, closer.” That’s it. That’s all she’s allowed to cover. I might go so far as to script the opener and closer word-for-word with Jane, even. She won’t like it, I guarantee, but feel free to point out to her (because it’s true) that many public speakers do this, because audiences remember talk openers and closers, so they HAVE to be well-polished.

      3. Gumby*

        Yes! It definitely sounds like prioritization is lacking in her conversations with clients. What are the *most important* things to tell a client in this meeting? What are the 3 most immediately helpful ideas / pieces of advice / resources that you can mention? Immediately helpful because if the client is on step 1 of a path, gushing about how tactic 37 was sooooo life-changing when tactic 37 depends on at least 10 other changes the client has not made, you are basically giving useless advice. It needs to be relevant to *this* client at *this* time and *this stage* of their path. Maybe, if you must, end with a short “there are some other great practices I can recommend, but I want to give you a chance to sit with what we’ve already talked about and not overwhelm you.” (I’m clearly making stuff up since we don’t know the exact nature of the consultations, but the general idea holds.)

      4. Glitsy Gus*

        I do this for meetings and such and it works really well. I tend to ramble a bit if I lose my train of thought or am trying to make sure I have covered everything I need to. If I have my bullet points written down it really helps me cut out that “vamping” that I do in between topics while I get my thoughts in order.

    5. Sparrow*

      I have a colleague (though not a direct coworker, fortunately) who is a talker. But the tricky thing is that she stays mostly on topic, and the information she ends up sharing is often broadly useful and things I won’t have necessarily thought to ask about since I’m much newer to the org. So I’m always hesitant to stop her even though it’s rarely info I NEEDED to know right then.

      Jane very well could be similar – she thinks everything she’s saying is important or providing valuable context and is losing sight of the fact that any value in providing nuance can be lost in the deluge of words. OP needs to help Jane figure out what things are priorities for an initial conversation and what can wait for a follow-up discussion or email.

      I wonder if it’s possible for Jane to sit in on meetings with other consultants to see how they run things and/or to discuss with them their approach and strategy for managing the conversations. It’s possible that she doesn’t know what any other approach would look like or is thinking, “This person will never come back in so I must say everything now,” and someone who has mastered these meetings might be able to give her a better mental framework.

      1. Nanani*

        When the information that might be useful someday is scattered like chocolate chips in a big vat of batter, you’re being left with the task of sifting through the batter for the chocolate chips you came in for.
        Jane is failing at Chocolate Chip Supply Consultant by handing you a bowl and pouring in batter instead of giving you the chips or at least helping you locate the chip-est regions of the batter.

      2. teclatrans*

        Not diagnosing your colleague or Jane, but I wanted to mention that this can be a result of ADHD. No two of us are the same, but it is very common for us to understand material in relation to other points and not be able to see it in categorical chunks (at least, not until after we have laid it all out). See the Rey-Osterith (sp?) Complex Figure test. I struggle in settings like OP described because all of the information feels equally important, and like the listener won’t really get the need to stand away from the ledge without at least a basic description of both gravity and soil erosion patterns, and — if I am really runningaway with myself — some historical geological context for why this outcropping is more unstable than some others. If I were the OP’s report, I would do well with outlines, bullet points, time limits, and feedback from someone who had heard my digressions and could help me figure out how to structure things. And remind me to be curious, and other-focused. Because that’s the real crux of what she has to learn, is how to assess what constituents know and are understanding along the way, and that will take work on her part.

        1. DireRaven*

          I second that ADHD could be behind it. Many women were not diagnosed as children because we did not present like the “naughty” hyperactive little boys, and were more likely to be inattentive (is she forgetting what had already been discussed?), disorganized in thought and environment, hyperactivity expressed through “acceptable” means: running errands for the teacher, being chatty. Girls often also will generally work harder to cover up their deficits (which skews their perception of how much work is really needed). Many never get diagnosed and treated or are treated for anxiety and depression, assuming their difficulties are just “personality flaws”. Plus add in that she is in her 50’s–I am in my 40’s and did not get diagnosed until I was in my 30’s. When she was going to school, it was assumed it was rarer than it is and that it did not affect girls (or that it was rare to do so)

      3. TardyTardis*

        Also, written agendas can be your friend. It’s the only thing that keeps some of the meetings that I’m in on track.

    6. tinybutfierce*

      THIS. However well-intentioned she may be, she’s not actually being nice or helpful by overloading potential clients with more information than they can handle; if she’s the only one in the region who can provide these consultations and she’s driving off clients who need them, that’s pretty distinctly unkind (especially if she’s taking twice as long as she should, which I’d assume also means she’s consulting with less people overall than she should be).

      In addition to the great advice Alison gave, I’d suggest countering her blaming the constituent for the length of her meetings by reminding her that SHE is the one who should be in charge of controlling the conversation. Part of being an effective communicator is knowing how to steer meetings/convos as needed, and it sounds like she’s only grasped that as far as “I’m in control of this and therefore it can take as long as I want”, which isn’t helpful to anyone, including herself.

      The other coworker choosing to work from home as much as possible is also a huuuge red flag. Not only is Jane driving potential clients away, she’s driving another employee away, because they can’t do their own job due to Jane’s inability to do hers. Again, whatever Jane’s intentions or words may say, her actual behavior is incredibly inconsiderate and unkind to everyone but herself.

  2. 'Tis Me*

    Would it be possible for her to sit in on a consult with somebody from another region/shadow them for a few days to see if (a) she tries to cram in 3-4 sessions of information into one (hence it taking considerably longer with no follow-ups) or (b) she needs to do more to control the flow?

    Or e.g. Telling her to start off the consult by going over the topics they’re hoping to cover, noting that after 40 minutes they’ll review what they have included and book in a follow-up session? (And make sure she keeps records of what she’s covered at each session!) Then at the second session, “Last session we covered X, Y and Z. Did you have any other questions on them before we move onto P, Q and R?”

    1. SansaStark*

      I was thinking this, too. If other employees are able to have these meetings in 45 minutes, I think it would be helpful for her and the OP to sit in on one of these meetings to see what is being covered, etc. It seems like it would be very helpful to actually show Jane what a 45 minute meeting looks like.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        With strict instructions, though, that she is there to observe and not participate. She needs to understand that she should be absolutely quiet, beyond general pleasantries at the beginning and the end of the consult. The last thing you need is her dragging another conversation off track, and making the other employee’s work more difficult as a result!

    2. AMT*

      This is a good idea. It might help for her supervisor to be able to draw a concrete comparison with her own style—e.g. “This person has already covered topics A, B, and C in the first half hour, and I noticed that by that time you usually haven’t finished with topic A, so what do you think you could do to keep things moving?”

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        I think this could be useful. Sometimes you have to see something in action to really get it.

        It could also give you opportunities to see where she is doing well, say, she is good at identifying which elements of your service would best help the client, but then when she talks about them she goes on way to long. Meanwhile Steve was way more concise with his descriptions and overall control of time, but it took a bit more for him to narrow down what was needed. It could help you show her how to use her strengths to her benefit, while also learning how to rein in the things holding her back. Say, one SHORT personal anecdote really helps the client feel like she understands and their response helps her know what they need… Five is way too many, takes too long and moves the conversation off course.

  3. Heidi*

    I feel exhausted reading about Jane. She really needs to hear that her talking is limiting her productivity. The facts are crucial here. Her consultations are twice as long as normal. She’s not retaining clients. It’s going to seem harsh, but letting it go on is more harmful than helpful. Is there anyone at another office that does this type of consultation that she could shadow? Perhaps she needs examples. Or would it make sense to stage practice consultations that get recorded so she can see what she’s like? It’s mortifying to watch yourself, but that might be what gets through to her. This would be a lot of work, though, so think hard about how much you want to invest in reforming her.

    1. Bree*

      I was also thinking about recording a few sessions (real if possible, given confidentiality etc, because she might be better in a “fake” session). Then, listen through with her, flagging exactly when she went off track and how. It’s not just general time management, probably. It’s likely specific ways she is going off script – Is she inserting too many personal anecdotes? Repeating herself? Covering material available in other resources? Not listening well and making the client repeat themselves? Asking open-ended questions when she should be asking closed ones? Jumping from topic to topic instead of approaching the conversation according to a structure?

      Whatever it is, she may not be fully aware she’s doing it, and hearing it really happen might help.

      Although in general, I get the sense she just might not be well-suited to this job…

      1. Tom (no, not that one)*

        That may work.
        But then – set up (with management approval) a kind of ‘role play’ where a role player/actor calls Jane for a consultation (that way, no privacy issues) and record what happens.

        This might be the best way to get things changed – if she can listen to herself .

      2. AyBeeCee*

        Recording a session was also my thought.

        Also, if it’s possible, get an idea of how much time she talks vs. the other person. Yes she’s supposed to be imparting knowledge but if she’s literally talking 90% of the time that still seems out of balance. Having someone else run a session like that and comparing the ratio would be helpful to establish what “normal” looks like, but if Jane is the only one at your organization who does that it might be difficult to come up with comparison stats.

      3. AKchic*

        It might also help to record the people who are doing well, too. For training purposes, to see what they are doing *well*.

        Actually, sitting in on a few of the meetings for all of them wouldn’t be amiss. It gives the LW a chance to see how the meetings are supposed to run, what seems to work in a standard one, as opposed to Jane’s twice-the-average-length meeting, and where she deviates from the norm.

    2. Jaybeetee*

      This was something I was thinking – if possible, have Jane shadow someone else’s sessions to see how they keep things on-track. Though that still requires some self-awareness on Jane’s part.

    3. JSPA*

      Yes! If it’s not a privacy violation, record her actual client interactions, then have someone else who’s less prolix hash through them with her.

      If that’s not doable for privacy reasons, bring a hired “client” in for same.

      Also reverse the process and have her sit in or sit through an analysis of a correctly planned and timed session.

      Giving her intermediate time points may also help. buy minute 5 the client should have X information and she should have y information from the client. By 15 minutes, she should have covered a b and c, and gotten Z from the client. For the next 3 minutes she should remain perfectly silent writing down questions that the client poses. After she has covered precise answers to those precise questions — and only then — is she allowed to ask the client if they would like additional information on D, E, P^2, or the square root of Q.

      Or whatever rubric is reasonable in the job.

  4. RUKiddingMe*

    Thinking about the fact that her previous career was in retail management she may have developed a habit of talking at people and for more time than reasonable.

    Lots of managers do, not *just* in retail…

    This may be something so ingrained in her at this point in her working life that it will be nigh near impossible to change.

    I mean I’m hopeful that OP succeeds, but it might well be a lost cause in the end.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      Not retail management, just retail and being a stage manager, which are two separate kinds of work she’s done. ( I know, it’s a minor detail, but I’ve seen conversations get off track here, when a comment is based on a misreading of the original post and then others jump in to comment on the reply and base their comments on the information in the reply, and so on.)

      In this case, your comment is still relevant! She’s obviously not experienced with having to verbally convey what sounds like a fairly complex body of information, while at the same time giving clients a chance to talk and listening to them attentively., as she is required to do in these consultations and needs help learning to do it effectively.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      I do think this could be part of it. I know a lot of my friends who do really well in retail are pretty much masters of extended small talk. They can talk to anyone about anything for as long as necessary. I bet that is a hard habit to break.

      I will say, though, being a theater worker myself, Stage Managers tend to be the opposite. Most I know are clear, concise and very aware of exactly how long EVERYTHING takes. Heh, it is a very different kind of skill set, as a general rule.

  5. Artemesia*

    This person is almost certainly not salvageable but removing work so she can natter on even more endlessly was the exactly wrong approach to managing her. And as Alison notes, the problem is her lack of productive work with her core responsibility. She appears to be unaware she is driving people away and appears to be utterly incompetent. Time to manage.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I kind of draw that hard line here also.

      Some people just do not control their talking. They start and they never stop. I have watched in manufacturing settings where some people actually do need to be Chatty Cathy or Charlie in order to maintain high levels of outputs. I really notice this because for me to get higher levels of outputs I need to be quiet. That’s just me being me. These people babble on and on about anything and everything. They very seldom notice that I am not following along.

      Basically, what you show here, OP, is that this woman either can’t or won’t control her conversations. When I worked retail we were told, “Control your customer.” This means pulling the conversation back to talking about business and it means showing the customer what their next steps would be if they are interested. Someone has to sit in the driver’s seat, we all can’t be passengers at the same time, someone has to drive the car.

      In the employee’s case, seeing a client is not “visiting” with the person. She is having a conversation for a purpose. There are questions to be answers and instructions to give.

      I know of a person, I will call Sam. Sam is a well degreed professional. In meetings he comes across like he is visiting his buddies. When he finally talks on the business at hand, he’s either indecisive or he is negative. Sam will say, “You can do X or Y or Z.” The group listening to him has no idea what he just said, so he explains what x, y and z are. Then the group has no idea which choice to make, but if we wait much longer we will have enough learning under our belts to get the same degrees Sam has. If the group gets an idea, Sam will speak right up with five reasons why the idea won’t work.

      Meetings with Sam routinely show lack of progress. Decisions are a long, drawn out process. When it is announced that Sam is coming to the meeting, the whole group groans.

      Sam is The Professional in the room, what is needed is a recommendation and the logic behind that particular recommendation. Be ready with plan B if plan A is not acceptable. Steer the damn car, Sam.

      OP, I would tell her, “I have tried helping you with this problem. It’s fine that you don’t like/ can’t use my suggestions. It’s not fine that you don’t come up with your own ideas and FIX the problem. If you cannot fix this, we cannot not keep you in place here.”
      From there, I would set some kind of time table. This could be that I need to meet with her on X date to hear her plan of how she will fix this OR if there is no substantial and sustainable improvement by X date, she will be put on PIP/terminated/whatever your next steps are.

      OP, it’s okay to use other workers to get a gauge on how long something should take. It’s okay to trust what you are seeing as being correct. And it’s okay to expect outliers to rope in what they are doing so they achieve the same pacing and results.

    2. Non profit, meh*

      It sucks being a young manager in a non profit. I feel for OP and hope they can get a real job soon. Non profits have to take what they can get, so to speak. What competent employees are left with are the “Janes” of the world. Yeah, they mean well but they are completely incompetent.

      1. Let's not knock nonprofits*

        You do realize that Alison has worked for many years in the nonprofit sector, right? Just because an organization doesn’t make a profit doesn’t take away from the fact that they are doing a real and needed service, often understaffed and under-resourced.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, and many do make “profits” — those profits are just poured back into the organization’s work, rather than distributed to shareholders or owners.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        What? That’s such a bizarre statement. There are nonprofits that are competitive, highly prestigious, rigorously managed, etc., and — like in any sector — there are nonprofits that are poorly run. There’s wide variation.

    3. Close Bracket*

      “This person is almost certainly not salvageable”

      That’s a strong conclusion from a short summary.

  6. Batgirl*

    It might help to try diagnosing or categorizing what she is/isn’t doing as a way of considering if she’s coachable. Is she:
    – Failing to allow conversational turn taking?
    – Not picking up on the verbal clues?
    – Telling unnecessary anecdotes?
    – Giving several consults in one lump sum?
    If it’s something like the first two, she may just not have the conversational skills to do the job. Something like the latter two, however, could be just a script issue. It may just be her misunderstanding of what a typical consult should be like and you can have her write a loose script of what she’d include, then edit and help her keep to it.
    I’d have her sit in on one of your consults as a model before coaching her on hers.
    It’s not a great sign though that she can’t even do office chat without needing to be told to stand down.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I also think it’s more likely that her problem is with some kind of conversational skills, or planning skills, and not with timeliness in general. I like the examples given here. Maybe she needs training in effective listening, for example.

    2. AMT*

      Good point. If someone told me I was talking too much in client meetings, it would be hard to fix the problem unless I had specifics on what I was doing. “Pause frequently to give the client time to respond,” “limit your explanation of X topic to 2-3 brief sentences,” or “don’t get into more than a two-minute conversation with Officemate because she’s busy” are much more actionable.

  7. UKCoffeeLover*

    I’ve run advice services and we had set appointment times, with clients coming in back to back so the adviser could not over run.
    I agree with everything Alison has said, this lady needs very clear boundaries and targets.
    Honestly, from my knowledge of a similar sector and what you’ve written, she does not seem to be cut out for this type of work.

    1. Sparrow*

      I used to be in a similar role and, yes, knowing someone would be waiting at X time meant I learned very quickly how to manage conversations so they didn’t run over unless there was a truly exceptional situation. It is critical part of the job.

    2. WellRed*

      Yes. I am curious about this overall business model. How is she not running over into other appointments unless she has so few. Doctors, therapists, stylists all need to be consultative and they keep to a schedule or their biz would fail.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I agree with this, and I’m also wondering why there’s not an outline for the providers of what each appointment should cover. It might also be handy to keep a similar outline as a notes sheet or pamphlet for the client to reference later, since they’re being barraged with a ton of information even in an appointment with a clear and efficient consultant.

  8. Jackalope*

    Other people have commented on how to tell if she might have to go. If you decide it’s better for her to stay here are some things that have helped me (I too tend to chat more than is needed although in my case it’s not as much, say 5 extra min for a normally 20 min interview or 15 for an hour interview). First of all I have gotten both the questions I need to ask down to a format where most people will understand them (i.e. figured out the best way to communicate all of the important necessary bits without lingo and without adding anything extra). I also know the most common questions from others so I can have a short answer. And while it originally felt rude, I’ve practiced acknowledging people’s comments but not continuing down their rabbit trails. For example, imagine that I’m selling ice cream. I say, “What flavor would you like?” The customer says, “I want strawberry. My granddaughter LOVES strawberry. She’s five and about to start school and she’s so excited.” Instead of asking about the granddaughter and/or sharing stories of kids I love starting school, I’ve practiced giving responses like, “How lovely! Would you like a cone or a cup?” It’s helped me cut down on my times in many interviews.

    It sounds like you may already be giving her ideas like this but just in case I wanted to share.

    1. AMT*

      The cone-or-cup thing is a lifesaver in healthcare and other talky-yet-time-sensitive settings. Knowing how to steer away from anecdote traps and toward relevant info can shave hours of irrelevant conversation off your day.

  9. Akcipitrokulo*

    I get that you nees someone to do those meetings… but you need to find someone who isn’t driving people away. Hire someone else or train someone else.

    Actively discouraging people from returning to your service by talking at them for 2 hours is worse than not having a meeting at that time.

  10. Traveling Teacher*

    I wonder if you can provide documentation with time limits for each portion of information needing to be conveyed/discussed? It seems like creating some formatted “lesson plans” could be good here.

    While learning to teach effectively, teachers in training need to clearly lay out what info they’re going to convey, what standards that’s going to address (here, perhaps two or three key points of info per session?), and also anticipate how long each teaching point is going to take. When I first started teaching, that was the hardest part to judge, but over the first six months, you get a pretty good grip on it. Using an actual tiny alarm clock and really watching it is one of the most helpful things to visually see how long things are taking. Perhaps she could download a big clock widget onto her desktop?

    In addition, for a lesson plan, you write down possible questions students might ask and sample responses, aiming to see if you’re really building up a lesson structure that will help the students to learn, and it also helps the supervising teacher to see inside the trainee’s thought process. There should also be a wrapping up point and several alternates, just in case things are progressing more quickly/slowly than normal. I would be really interested to see if Jane is capable of anticipating client responses for these cases. That’s a skill honed over time, but if she draws a complete blank–seems more than likely since she sounds more like a steamroller than a converser–that’s where she’s going to need training, in addition to conversational redirects.

    But honestly, it sounds like she…isn’t great on picking up on conversational cues, so this might not be something that she’s capable of learning. Hopefully I’m wrong, though, for her sake!

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      This is a great suggestion. I have bullet-pointed “scripts” on my desk for when I’m taking enquiries from clients – they’re mainly to make sure I don’t forget to get all the details, but they’re also really helpful to keep me on track. If she’s doing these consults by phone she could have them printed out and consult them without the client seeing.

    2. blackcatlady*

      Yes to this! Work with Jane to come up with a PowerPoint that she brings up on her computer. Each slide would be critical information in bullets. MAKE her practice with you to keep on point and on time. She suffers from diarrherra of the mouth.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        Logorrhea. ;) Without knowing how meetings are conducted, I don’t know if this would work during a real meeting, but it could be a good way to practice in a role-played meeting, at least.

    3. Sara without an H*

      I like this. If Jane is just winging these conversations, making her develop a plan and stick to it might keep her on track.

  11. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    OP, have you tried introducing Jane to the idea of emotional consent? She’s using people as a dumping ground for her emotions, regardless of how a person feels about it. By talking at people, she’s robbing them of their ability to say ‘no, I don’t want to do this/can’t do this’ and crossing their boundaries without even checking to see where the lines are.

    This does *not* mean in any way that she’s a bad person! It’s because you say she genuinely wants to help others that this concept might get through to her. She might be horrified to learn what she’s really doing and work to change. There are some videos out there about emotional consent and emotional dumping, so you can start her off with those.

    And to echo what others have said, I’ve also had a health care professional give me so much information that I couldn’t absorb it all. They did it with other patients as well. They thought they were being helpful, but patients were sick and already overwhelmed, and we couldn’t follow any of it. Then the health care professional would get angry when patients didn’t remember the information in follow-up appointments (those who came in for one – many didn’t bother).

    Good luck and I’m glad you wrote in about this. There are a lot of people who struggle with this, both as talkers and receipients of their emotional dumping, and this is going to help them out as well.

    1. Isabelle*

      I would be curious to see how Jane reacts when shown a video of someone talking AT a customer, would she recognise herself? I really like the idea of introducing her to the concept of emotional consent and dumping, hopefully it may lead to a positive change.
      It would be a kindness to Jane too because I would imagine that she is the same in her personal life. She must have had 50+ years of not just colleagues but also neighbours, friends, family and acquaintances dreading interactions with her.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I’d be curious as well! Any psychologists about who can explain how it should best be handled?

        Yes, it would be a kindness because you’re absolutely right. If she does this all the time, there are a lot of people who avoid her. She’s probably lost friends as well and doesn’t know why.

    2. Kaitlyn*

      Yes, there’s a power differential between a client and a service provider in the helping sector. Clients will often feel compelled to sit through poor service because they’ve waited for a while to get the referral, or because it’s the only service provider in the area, or because it’s the one they can afford. Even more reason to ensure that they’re getting support, rather than leaving these marathon meetings feeling overwhelmed and like they made a bad choice by coming to you.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Yes, you’re absolutely right. There’s a huge power imbalance and while Jane might not be a bad person, she’s definitely taking advantage of it and causing harm. I really hope she means it when she says she wants to help people, and that OP can get through to her.

        feeling overwhelmed and like they made a bad choice by coming to you.

        That’s exactly what happened with me and the other patients. We sat through appointments because we didn’t have a choice, and we were hoping to get some kind of help. When we compared notes later, we found many of us didn’t return and didn’t even read all the information. There was too much of it, and it felt as if the provider was trying to show that they were ‘helping’ us without actually helping us. The provider also didn’t tailor the support to each individual. We all got the same advice, regardless of our situation, which we also all found out later. The provider has likely been losing patients and I doubt they’ll know why (I was thinking of telling them, but doubt they would listen).

  12. Marmaduke*

    Is Jane the only one doing these because she’s the only one in that role, or because she has a specific certification that is required for the consult? Have you witnessed a successfully example of one of the consults firsthand? It might be helpful if you and Jane could observe a successful session together and/or have a seasoned pro observe one of Jane’s sessions, then discuss together afterwards what you saw and what specifically was and was not effective. Then you can work out a few specific goals for Jane and work with her to formulate a plan to reach them.

  13. Koala dreams*

    In a caring job, it’s easy to over-value the being “nice” part of the job, and undervalue efficiency. The clients needs the service to be efficient and useful, and it’s not enough that the provider is nice. Also, there is the issue that it’s rude to keep a meeting going for an extra hour, or not letting other people speak. It’s a common complaint for example among sick or disabled people that providers don’t value their time and expect them to be able to set aside extra time for things without advance warning.

    As for the other employee not being able to work in the office full time, it’s worth looking over the physical environment. If the conversations can be heard as far as from another room, you might want to look into putting some fabric in the rooms or another solution to diffuse the sounds. Maybe the other employee will still prefer to work from home when possible, but it’s a good thing in general to improve the sound landscape in the office.

    1. Impy*

      I’d also argue that it’s not ‘nice’ to waste someone’s time like that and it’s certainly not ‘good’. Not to mention her wasting the scant resources of the non profit.

  14. NYWeasel*

    I could totally believe that you were actually writing about a vendor I have to work with. She books meetings right up to my lunch hour, but then talks in circles at me for so long, that I’ve had meetings run over 3x as long as they were booked for.

    My perspective as the client is that her inability to run an efficient meeting is very frustrating, to the point that I am actively dodging my meetings with her. More than once, I’ve had to say “I will not discuss (topic) anymore as we are not the people who can resolve this issue, and it’s wasting our time to continue to talk about it.” Even saying that bluntly to her doesn’t stop her—she’ll say “yes, but…” forcing me to repeat myself 2-3 times to shut down that dialogue.

    What’s even worse is that she is so focused on talking AT me, she doesn’t absorb what I’m saying, so I find myself repeating information week after week. She shares feedback from her team that is faulty and misrepresented. While Jane’s productivity is taking a hit, she may also be alienating clients, the same as my vendor is.

    I suggest that you have her prepare clear agendas for each meeting, and that she share them with clients ahead of time. Not simply “Teapot Donations” but “Review three options for teapot donations – 10 mins”. And then she should create detailed notes of what information she plans on sharing. You then can see exactly where/how she’s letting meetings run off the rails. Without her planning ahead of time what’s she needs to cover, it’s very difficult to show her what she’s doing wrong bc it all seems important to her right now.

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! Create an agenda with the time allotted for each item. AND, make sure Jane has a clock or watch available to her. Otherwise, she’ll be guessing at how much time she’s spending on each agenda item. That will not give her the means to remedy this. IF she’s anything like my boss, he was floored when he was told his 5 minute phone calls actually lasted well over an hour in length. He had no idea.

  15. hillrat*

    Sadly, in my experience, training talky people to be less talkative almost never works, unless the person in question is super conscientious and consciously willing to grow and improve in their job. Some people have a deep-seated psychological need to “project into the world” verbally and in fact this tendency seems very common, although with Jane it seems to be way above the norm. However, first Jane’s unwillingness to change has to be properly established.
    The OP (manager) first needs to create expectations for best practices with actual targets and follow-up (e.g., publicly exploring WHY some clients don’t return for follow-up) and then make it clear that everyone in the organization will be held to these standards. Once it becomes clear whether or not Jane is serious about doing things “the new way,” then the manager needs some sort of performance plan for Jane put in place, which Jane is free to either pass or fail.

    Just like other companies do it…

    1. Impy*

      I sort of wish Jane had written in. I used to ramble a lot. Therapy and meditation have curbed that tendency by huge amounts, as has writing a lot. I feel like it stems from feeling unheard and invisible. However while I don’t think she’s doing it deliberately, it’s still not acceptable.

      1. your favorite person*

        Did you know you were ‘rambly’ or did someone have to be very blunt for you to see it? I’m curious what made you realize it was a problem.

        And yay medication and therapy!

        1. Impy*

          Bit of both, it was something I knew was a problem because it got worse when I was tired or stressed. But someone did say something once or twice, and after I’d I’m in therapy for a bit, a co-worker gently mentioned that I seemed ‘sharper’. Effectively my brain has been soupy for various reasons.

        2. Impy*

          Also (see I’m rambling again) I am a naturally disorganised person. I now use apps and lists and decluttering to keep my house and life in order. To me therapy and writing is the mental equivalent of taking out a few bags of trash.

      2. Quill*

        I’m from a family of very talky people and I benefitted greatly from acting courses, plus having friends who I mutually infodump to. Not everyone wants to hear about the anime one of us is watching but if one of us is driving / cleaning / playing a phone game it can be much easier to be the minimally active listener and give off vibes of “I may not retain any of this but I’m happy you’re happy.”

        The acting courses helped with the presentation of getting through lines on time & making anecdotes much snappier. So did writing fiction but that only helped on concision, not presentation. For example, my anecdote for the holiday cookie party this week jumped off someone else talking about how they weren’t ready for their kids to learn about Santa. Everyone else jumped in with when they or their kids learned about it.

        Me “I was about eight when I figured out that Santa and the Easter Bunny had the same handwriting. I was the oldest, so I didn’t know how long to keep pretending… eventually I had to be sat down the summer before sixth grade, and told ‘there are two things you need to know before you go to middle school: where babies really come from and that Santa isn’t real.'”

        A personal anecdote needs to be structured like a stand up bit, a two part setup and punchline, to stay concise and be good for chitchat with strangers. Jane is setting it up like an essay, which is bad for the memory and clearly wasting time, and could probably benefit from some similar training.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Similarly with writing. Students are forced to write to a minimum length because they typically aren’t really engaged in the topic. Unfortunately, this trains them to pad. Then out in the real world, the imperative usually is in the other direction, to write concisely–but not too concisely! This is an entirely different skill, not typically taught in school.

        2. Filosofickle*

          My trick was practicing haiku! Making concise, declarative statements (without qualifiers and parentheses and asides, lol) was difficult to learn. Often I still use too many words, but now I know how to pare it down when necessary.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Everyone else is doing their job, so I don’t see why they should have to sit through a Jane Lecture.

      However, I totally agree that there is probably some mechanism driving the behavior and I would be surprised if it could be fixed. Jane should have pulled it in by now. OP, if my boss has to talk to me once about something, I’d die a thousand deaths in embarrassment. I’d fix it immediately and it would never be even a glimmer of an issue again. OP, the average employee does NOT respond in the way Jane has to a boss’ correction. They just don’t.

      While it is easy to see there are probably underlying issues, it’s not your job to find those issues and it is not your job to help her with those issues. It all boils down to, “This job requires you to limit yourself to 1 hour interviews with a client. Can you do that or not?”

  16. Corrvin*

    Well, the first thing OP needs to know is what’s happening on Jane’s calls! They need to listen to the calls, either both sides, or just Jane’s. Then there needs to be a sort of “this is how you do well at these calls” outline. Jane should be brought in on making that outline, because it might be enlightening on both sides. (Just because Jane is bad at it doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what could be better.)

    Does OP– or someone else who manages or coaches Jane– have time to sit near her for a couple of calls and give her a visual cue (raise a hand maybe?) when she needs to return to the ideal call outline? Or does the phone system have a “whisper” function where someone can monitor an employee’s call and speak to just the employee, not their caller? (That’s really useful for brief reminders like “No dog stories” or giving assistance.)

  17. TimeTravelR*

    Someone in my carpool is a talker…. Sometimes it’s okay to chat, but she can talk forever about nothing, but also about the same thing over and over and over. I sometimes have to check to see if my ears are bleeding when I get home.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Does she insist that you be actively engaged? I can read my Kindle in a moving car, and with talking around me, but throw in an expectation that I be engaged in that talking and things go downhill fast.

  18. Lady Carrie*

    Maybe the OP could call a few of Jane’s customers to get their assessment Jane. This could also be an opportunity to make amends or get those folks assigned to another consultant.
    If I needed “care advice” and the initial conversation with my consultant went poorly, I might appreciate a manager contacting me to help make things right.

  19. pcake*

    By letting Jane overwhelm clients with information, the OP is failing those who needed counseling. I’m also concerned that Jane may be taking amounts of time to talk about personal stuff (dog stories, tales of things that happened to her or that remind her of a client’s situation) or other non-counseling related stuff. Since she’s the only one who can do this counseling in the area, your clients are put in an impossible position.

    Perhaps by sitting in on some calls – and doing so randomly going forward – you can find out first what is taking an extra hour per call. Is it non-counseling related chatter, giving an overwhelming amount of information or perhaps repeating her talking points? You can’t really address the problem till you know what it is.

    And even then, it may not be that easy. Jane may be doing lots of non-counseling talk because she feels she’s putting her clients at ease.

    Is there a way to find out why the clients aren’t doing repeat calls with Jane? Can you do a follow-up or survey? You can find out if they got the information they needed and if they were satisfied with the counseling. Tell them their responses are confidential and never tell Jane what specific client made which comments. It’s possible that they aren’t doing repeats because they got the information they need or because Jane was annoying or intrusive. But the only people who can tell you what Jane is like to get counseling from is the clients.

    1. pcake*

      Something meant to mention is that when you’re sitting into counseling sessions, Jane’s dynamic with the clients and what she says to them may change even if you don’t say anything. So sitting in may let you know what’s going on, but it might not.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If it does change then that shows Jane CAN fix her problem.

        However, OP, you have to consider at what level you want to manage your employees. Do you want to get down in the weeds and manage moment by moment what is going on?

        The ONLY times I have done that was to make corrections on situations that were fixable. Since you have gotten ZERO improvement with all you have done so far, I am thinking this is not fixable. I tend to favor telling Jane you have given her your best ideas, the ball is in her court and she has X days to totally and permanently fix this problem. If you don’t see results in X days she will be terminated.

  20. Angwyshaunce*

    I’ve known some serial talkers in my time. The worst offender is a friend’s spouse who will take up practically all air time in a conversation. If they’re drinking wine, buckle up – ’cause we’re in for an hour-long stream of consciousness monologue.

    My belief is that this is simply a type of personality coupled with a lack of social awareness. I don’t know if coaching can help someone like this. I don’t think anything short of an intervention would be effective.

    OP, I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to fix the situation. I’m just suggesting you be prepared to make some difficult decisions.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I do think it can be coached, but the person needs to be willing and interested in learning. Also, it might be too time-consuming to learn social skills for on-the-job training. One problem is that social skills are expected to be picked up by observing others and drawing conclusions, so it’s relatively little material on how to teach these things. Another is that most people start learning these skills as children, so an adult who can’t do turn-taking in conversation, like the person you mentioned, is very far behind compared to peers who learned turn-taking in pre-school or primary school.

    2. Nanani*

      Lack of awareness, for sure. Or at least lack of shits given about listener enthusiasm for the stream of chatter.

  21. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    I’m going to disagree that Jane is fundamentally nice. She is bad at her job, uses it to fulfill her emotional needs to the detriment of the clients, refuses to improve, and has actually gotten you to give her less work. Sounds like she’s got the perfect situation. It’s time for real consequences.

    1. MsM*

      I mean, to paraphrase Sondheim, nice isn’t the same as good. It doesn’t mean empathetic, or compassionate, or genuinely wanting good things for other people; it’s just…nice. So yeah, Jane can be nice and still be too obstinate or self-centered to see she’s not doing her job well, and that if things don’t change, she might need to be in a different role.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        As someone who was married to one nice person, dated another, and have the nice-person tendencies myself (working on it…), I really like this comment. In my observation, what nice people are trying to accomplish by being nice, and what they want above anything else, is to be liked by everyone. But you cannot realistically have everyone who knows you, like you, because people are different and want/like different things. Another thing is, oftentimes, to please person A, you have to throw persons B, C, and D under the bus. It’s not easy being a nice person! Only thing that is even less easy is being a nice person’s loved one or colleague.

    2. China Beech*

      I concur; basically another employee gets “rewarded” with Jane’s work because that employee is competent. LW needs to step up her management.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Just because she’s bad at her job doesn’t mean she’s not nice. But being nice doesn’t mean her behavior is okay. It’s similar to someone who does something crappy but has the best of intentions. Intentions are irrelevant when the behavior is inappropriate. Same deal here…she could very well be caring and nice, but the OP is using that assessment to excuse her behavior and the fact that’s she’s not doing her job.

      1. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

        My take is that Jane isn’t nice, not because she’s bad at her job, but because she’s using “nice” as a cover for her shitty behaviour.

        1. Zennish*

          I’ve worked with several of these people. They define themselves as “friendly and outgoing” and it’s a bedrock of their personality. When you try to coach it, all they hear is “be less friendly and outgoing” which they think is just crazy talk, so they ignore it. I don’t doubt that Jane honestly thinks she is nice and caring and etc. and is internally appalled when anyone suggests she talk less, because she hears that as “be less friendly”.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            The trick is to learn that “friendly” and “outgoing” are not joined at the hip. They are perhaps not quite orthogonal to one another, but it is entirely possible to be friendly without being outgoing: hence the meaningful phrase “companionable silence.” Two people, for example, sitting next to each other, each reading their book. Relationships like that are entirely lovely.

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yes! I’ve seen this a lot with people who have jobs that focus on relationship-building. They’re inappropriate towards others, so they can go back and report to their boss about what great relationships they are building at meetings and trainings, while violating that person’s confidentiality to get their accolade. It’s gross.

    4. Anonymous Poster*

      I agree that it’s time for consequences and what she’s doing isn’t “nice” for the people she’s meant to help, but she sounds like a very inept person who might or might not also be a kind one.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I have noticed that talking with some people who seem very nice, can feel like drowning. When I have to start searching for oxygen, I stop feeling like this is a nice person to talk with. I assume this is why clients do not call back.

    6. Zap R.*

      Also, Jane is dealing with vulnerable people who have a right to a certain standard of care. OP has a responsibility to make sure these people receive that standard of care and it looks like Jane’s too self-absorbed to give it to them.

  22. Impy*

    My mother does a similar job, consulting with individuals who provide care to family members. She says two thirds of her job is listening, because no-one ever listens to carers, and they often don’t listen to people being cared for either. I’d wager she’s making them feel more stressed and alone and it’s why they haven’t been back. Crack down.

  23. What’s with Today, today?*

    She’s likely making these clients want to scream. I’m currently finding a new eye doctor because what should be a 20 minute eye exam takes at least an hour. My eye doctor can’t talk and work at the sane time, and she stops the exam to chat with me about everything that pops in her head. We don’t know each other outside her office, and it’s just too much.

  24. Archangels girl*

    In my experience people who don’t like to talk are understanding/sympathetic to those whp do. But the opposite is rarely true. People who love to talk truly can’t comprehend that there’s any other way to be. My prediction is that you will have to let her go. In their minds, talking is like a cookie. If one is good, two is better. Her take: My job is talking. If an hour is good, two hours must be twice as good.

    I haven’t heard other commenters say this either… talking is only half the job. The other half is active listening and appropriate response to what you hear. A script is no help with this. I bet anything that Jane can’t do that at all and it’s almost impossible to train, but if you were thinking of sending her on some training, you might consider active listening training. Good luck.

    1. Zap R.*

      I don’t think that’s an entirely fair assessment of us chatterboxes. I don’t think it’s a “liking to talk” problem in Jane’s case but a “lack of emotional intelligence” problem.

    2. Argh!*

      Great point. Despite my abhorrence of bureaucratic forms, I would suggest a form for this situation. If Jane has to pull information out of people rather than stuff information into them, and she’ll be held accountable with the filled-out or not-filled-out form as evidence, she may be able to rein herself in.

  25. Jaybeetee*

    Back in my museum days, I had one tour guide who often ran very long on his tours, sometimes twice as long as they should have been. Apart from information-overload, this could cause tour groups to be late for other items in their itineraries, could cause problems if a larger group had been split between multiple guides and the others were stuck waiting for his to finish, and could cause problems with the other employees because we were a small crew, and if he was late/no-showed to wherever he was supposed to be next, that impacted the rest of us. I spoke to him a few times, but he didn’t really get it – kept talking about enthusiastic groups asking lots of questions, wanting to provide a good experience, etc etc.

    Then I missed my lunch break one day because he was supposed to replace me elsewhere in the building.

    Two things happened after that. One, my annoyance at the situation seemed to actually get through to him, and it finally clicked for him that this was an actual problem, not just him caring too darn much about the subject and the visitors and me being a buzzkill. Two, Grand-boss got involved, and we decided to have him write out his own plan for keeping his tours on time. We had been providing suggestions and scripts, but he had to figure out how to actually do it. He did submit a write-up, and that particular issue did improve after that. (Unfortunately we had to eventually let him go for other reasons – he was a problematic employee in other ways).

    It might seem juvenile to assign Jane “homework”, but you might find a collaborative approach helpful. Ask her how *she* intends to get her consultation times on-track. Make clear that this is a real problem – I think others with this issue sometimes have a bit of a “I just care TOO much” martyring issue, they think they’re going “above and beyond” to provide a good client experience, just not in line with the rules, man. She needs to understand there are ramifications for the clients and the office when she does this, and that it’s actually poor performance on her part. So how will she address it. Getting her involved in the solution might be more effective.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      I was thinking that Jane and the OP need to create a “starter pack” of information to be shared. No more than five items, with a minimum of three. Or even a flow chart of responses.

      If OP’s job is to provide consultations to llama herders, the initial inquiries can be broken down into two categories: health or behavioral. If it’s health, then Jane can further break down the inquiry into preventative call (I’m trying to assess if my llama’s issue is normal or should I be concerned?) or physical issues. (My llama has a big, smelly abscess. What should I do?)

      The last stage of the flowchart should be further resources to read at home.

  26. Cucumberzucchini*

    I wish more managers would address this kind of behavior head on. What is she talking about? Herself? If she’s using these sessions and interactions with coworkers to unload about herself that’s not “nice” behavior, that is needy and entitled.

    I’ve encountered so many people, especially in retail that probably think they’re providing good customers service by chatting someone’s ear off but they’re driving me away and making it so I never want to go to the store. If I’m headed to the door and finally get my hand on the exit that is not the time to keep bringing up new topics. Personally I’ll just leave or cut these talkers off. But frequently I’ll be with a friend or my husband who don’t know how to shut it down and I don’t want to take over the situation. Learning to read social clues when people are over hearing you talk is so important.

    I once had a client that took a 45 minute meeting well over two hours talking about his hobbies with no break. I was so miserable I never wanted to deal with this client again.

  27. Federal Employee 167590*

    Is it remotely possible that the reason Jane doesn’t have multiple consultations with the same clients is that she is so thorough that they don’t need follow-ups? That she’s actually really efficient? I mean, that sounds unlikely, but it’s worth thinking about. It’s definitely something Jane might claim if you speak to her directly about this. Since that’s the case, it’s worth giving honest consideration to beforehand.

    1. Lance*

      For her to never have any of five months’ worth of consults call back, though? Not a single one? Sure, there’s some tiny chance that she’s giving each one all the info they need… but that sort of time frame with zero calls back leads me more so to believe that most, if not all, of the constituents got frustrated and went elsewhere.

    2. Arctic*

      I was thinking that too. I definitely know it is very unlikely. But I do think the OP needs more information here. She should be listening in on calls (with the proper legal disclaimers and such), they should absolutely be getting feedback from constituents. Nothing about how the clients feel about the Talker or whether she’s conveying information should be a mystery here.

      Those are just good business practices and quality assurance. The other people who work there may be sticking to the time but not doing a very good job.

  28. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Yes to everything Alison said. You also need to re-frame your thinking because you’re excusing her behavior because she’s “caring”. She’s not doing her job. You need to set goals and expectations for her and if she can’t meet them, there need to be consequences that are very clearly and directly laid out.

  29. Tomalak*

    Apologies if this seems a but off topic, but I strongly agree with the implication that it’s much easier to take in information if it’s delivered over a short time – even/especially if that means it’s quite densely packed.

    I’ve been through a lot of internal training in the last two years and struggled mightily to retain information that is delivered over the course of 90 mins when it could easily have been 20 mins. Worthwhile points come in such a slow trickle that I can’t help but switch off. Please, please, anyone giving these kind of talks: don’t think that if people are sluggish and unresponsive, the answer is to labour your points even more! The answer is to move on from your last point to the next.

  30. Amethyst*

    Ugh. I’ve fallen victim to these people. They don’t know when to shut up, or they say something like, “I’m sorry, I’m keeping you from your job” and go straight back to nattering on, holding me captive until someone comes to the rescue or I finally break free by being extremely rude (“I’ve gotta go. Good luck!”) or walking as I do a hi/bye past them, and refusing to stop cuz otherwise it’ll be 20 minutes taken from my day.

    I feel bad for the clients she’s supposed to help. If they’re expecting a 45 minute meeting and it goes on for well over that, they’re gonna go elsewhere for help. Jane needs to learn to sit down and zip it and keep the extra unnecessary info to herself unless it explicitly pertains to the client sitting in her office.

  31. S-Mart*

    I’ll admit up front this is unlikely given the sum of the information we have on Jane, but something to consider: does she have no follow-up consults because she is succesfully getting 3-4 consults worth of information out in one extra-long session? If that’s the case, is it a good thing or a bad thing? OP hasn’t mentioned any negative feedback from clients, so I’m somewhat wondering if they are being served satisfactorily, but just not in the manner OP is used to.

    Even if the clients are all happy, the other excessive talking has to be worked on – especially the driving a coworker to not come in! I’ve known a couple people socially (not professionally, thankfully!) who seem to be incapable of allowing silence, and it is exhausting/made me push away from that relationship.

    1. annakarina1*

      My least favorites are when people are retelling stories of how they told off someone and say stuff like “So then I said . . .” or “I looked them dead in the eye and said . . .” It’s often more sounding like boasting and casting themselves as the badass that shut someone down, and ends the story with “and then they were silent after that.” I’m sure the story actually happened, just maybe not as cinema hero as they’re making it out to be.

  32. Jean*

    I used to work with someone who had a similar issue, but in an industrial sales role – she would spend an inordinate amount of time on every call (sometimes 40+ minutes, for a call that should typically take less than 5) telling personal stories. She had been with the company a very long time and was close/friendly with a lot of our customers. Which is nice and all, but don’t spend hours chit-chatting every day and then cry about how you don’t have time to get your work done. She would sing/hum horribly while streaming music in her headphones too, which drove me up a wall. Just overall lack of self-awareness. She and I were peers, so unfortunately I had no authority to make it stop.

    Good luck, OP. I agree with Alison here. Make it clear that she HAS TO cut it down or else she can’t continue in the role. I ended up quitting to get away from my Jane (not the only reason, but definitely on the list).

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This sounds to me like a sound principle taken too far. If she was close with the customers, then catching up on how the kids are doing in school is, at least arguably, good client maintenance. But extending a call by a factor of eight is a bit much. If a five minute calls takes ten minutes, that is relationship building. At forty, the clients likely find the experience less delightful than she imagines, and in any case she has other work that needs to be done.

  33. CheeryO*

    This really shouldn’t be framed as a “talkative” issue. I do on-site inspections for my job (which is not even the same situation, since at least the people we’re talking at are being paid for their time), and I have some super talkative coworkers who are very good at turning into efficient machines when it comes time to get to work. The ones who can’t/won’t do that will monologue at our regulated community for literally hours on end, usually about the same few topics every year. It’s absolutely detrimental – you can see the person’s eyes glazing over, so they’re not even retaining all of the information, and nine times out of 10, they are going to try to have as little interaction with the person as possible going forward, which is not at all what you want when you’re trying to have a productive relationship.

    Jane is actually being extremely rude AND failing at her job by not suppressing her urge to talk endlessly, and she needs to be managed ASAP.

  34. Wintermute*

    While, obviously, I don’t know your demographics, as a former field researcher for a big-10 university, I would urge you to investigate whether she has a point when she says they are talking a lot. One study I was on was all older people, it was about health and economic factors affecting retirement (and how they interrelated). I was inducting a new cohort into the longitudinal study so I had a lot of younger people, mid 50s, but I also had my share of earlier cohorts.

    Sometimes talking and listening is part of the service you provide. I would be working with socially isolated people sometimes, and what should have been a 1-2 hour re-interview turned into six or more (!), sometimes I’d leave, go get dinner, come back and they’d want to talk more. And this was WITH me only being able to give neutral, scientific feedback like “that’s useful information, thank you” or “thank you for that” or just “mhmm”.

    I don’t know the business you do, but it could well be that this is part of what she is providing. That after a long series of encounters with some apparatus, or periods of social isolation, especially if you deal with complicated bureaucracy, stigmatizing issues or marginalized populations (which, honestly, is the source of a lot of roles like this), they may have a LOT they need to get off their chest when they find a sympathetic ear.

    That said, I think you really need to implement some quality control. Be open to the idea that she is doing exactly the right thing, but also, you need to find out yourself. Don’t apologize for evesdropping! You’re the boss! You wouldn’t apologize for reading a data entry operator’s spreadsheets, or for inspecting a teapot stampers teapots, after all. These conversations **are** her work product. You should be recording them. Then go over recordings listening for key points. Play them back with her. Set up a game plan. This is her major work product you’re not really managing if you’re just giving her vague “keep is shorter” instructions. That’s like saying “this teapot– need to make it better, okay?” She may not know what “better” looks like in context. You need to be able to provide context “okay this is getting there but I need it to be short *and* stout”. Listen to sections and be able to ask probing questions and guide her to discovery as well as provide input on what went well and where you see problems. Pro tip: you can listen to playbacks double-speed and understand them most of the time and there’s software that will strip dead air out to compress several hours of call into a much shorter time period, they use it in call center QC.

    If she finds herself meandering in conversations then I encourage you to give her an outline. Having objective-based interactions is a skill you learn, and a skill you can be taught. Teach her to think “this person has the emotional/mental bandwidth to absorb four things from this conversation, what four things will help them the most?” and to structure her thoughts. Oftentimes meandering conversations that just ‘go with the flow’ end up unfocused and confusing and scattershot because they go from A to B, to C, dip into D before dashing back to A again as you remember something, heading back towards D to where you were before swerving into C to finish a thought you’d had there, and so on. You can’t trust her at this point to have structured conversations that remain cognizant of their purpose, so help her out.

    If you’re not using any kind of CRM software to take interaction notes (and you should be, to provide continuity if these conversations need to be split among multiple sessions and people) then have her take notes, and hold her accountable for their completeness. You can go over these notes with her after the fact, and compare them to the recording as well. If they don’t match, first guide her towards good notes and then hold her accountable for accurate characterization of her conversations. Use that to compare to her objectives. If they match, cause for praise (and probably a call that is of the length you expect)! If not, you can use that as an accountability tool: “we talked about following this ten-point outline, I count 47 items on your notes– can you explain what happened to lead to that?” Maybe she has a good answer, like it was a crisis situation and she had to go off-script, maybe it’s an opportunity to coach. If they DO match the outline but still go for hours and hours, then you really need to pull that call and listen to it. You may find a lot of digressions, and this is where you go back to goal-oriented conversations. “when you started talking about pets… what objective did you have in mind for that? What were you hoping to learn to teach in that moment?”

    Also, timers, maybe even times written on the outline. Have her set a timer, “okay, rapport-building and chitchat, five minutes, when the egg timer goes off, start wrapping up and guiding towards point 1,” “when the second timer goes off, you should be wrapping up point 1 by finishing out a thought and checking for understanding,” and so on.

    You might have to say outright “it’s okay to leave things unsaid, in fact you HAVE to . Give them as much as they can handle, don’t firehose all over them. Dialogue, don’t monologue. And it may be a very useful to use the analogy of the assembly line– an experienced operator can send parts down the line faster than a more junior operator downstream can handle them. Same with ideas, someone that deals with certain facts and situations all day long can relay information faster than someone who is having to take time to process and understand can handle them. Figure out a good benchmark for bandwidth and HOLD HER TO IT. “Not overwhelming clients is a key part of your performance here, I need you to ensure you’re communicating information at a rate your clients can understand it. That means . This is vitally important to your success here, do you see any barriers to you sticking to that?”

    Also, do you do any kind of feedback/followup with your clients to ask how useful they found the information? If you’re not coaching from direct client feedback you are missing the #1 tool for managing people that talk to people.

    1. Koala dreams*

      If you do recordings, you need to consider things like confidentiality, informing the clients and so on.

      1. Wintermute*

        This is a good point, that part needs to be worked out with legal. Though, I’d argue that it’s so fundamental for a manager to be able to observe and analyze the primary work product of their employee that even if it’s a little uncomfortable, you need to find a way. If your situation isn’t amenable to recording setting up a way to listen in would be the next best– you would still need to inform the client, of course, but most people are pretty used to a “calls may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes only” that they don’t pay it much attention.

        Also it’s vital that she not know what calls are being evaluated, otherwise you risk the observer effect, if this is a matter of diligence not competence. If it’s a matter of competence then she wouldn’t do better being watched, because she cannot do better, of course. But you really need to see “typical every day” calls not “boss is watching” calls.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          The suggestion that people “don’t pay it much attention” in this context sounds like trying to get around real consent/privacy issues. The clients might feel they have no choice but to let the calls be recorded for nebulous “quality assurance” purposes, especially if they can’t easily choose another provider. But that’s not real consent, and being told the call is being recorded could also get in the way of useful sessions, and of return calls.

          I assume that the LW is being deliberately vague about what service their employer is providing, but it sounds rather more personal than paying the electric bill or even refinancing a loan.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I don’t know if this would be practical in this context, but rather than recording real enquiries one hotel chain that I used to work for did “test calls” – someone would call up with a fake enquiry and you would be graded on how you handled it. You would gain points for following up quickly by email, conveying specific points about the venue, handling difficult questions well and so on, and I imagine you would have lost a great deal of points for drawing out the conversation for two hours. You were warned in advance that you would be getting a test call at some point, but you wouldn’t know which call it was and most of the time you would forget it was supposed to be happening by the time you got the call. It was a little unnerving, but it was a pretty good tool. Again, I don’t know if this would be practical in terms of the type of consultation this person is doing but a fake enquiry would at least avoid the consent-to-record issue.

        3. Koala dreams*

          If the calls are about sensitive or personal issues for the clients, an automated message is not enough. Of course it depends very much on the contents of the calls.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Excellent advice. Has the OP’s organization ever done any kind of follow-up with clients to make sure they’re needs are actually being met in these sessions?

  35. mf*

    If I were Jane’s manager, my biggest concern would be that she seems unwilling to take ownership of the situation. She seems to think there’s nothing she can do about the length of her calls and blames the client for the long conversations. Jane needs to learn that she has the power to “steer” these conversations and end them when necessary.

    I’m going to echo what someone further up the page suggested: can Jane shadow someone who does a similar job? It might be helpful for her to see how another employee handles chatty clients. (If not, then there might not be much you can do. Some people just refuse to see that *they* are the problem.)

  36. FormerTheatreArtist*

    It might be helpful in training to draw on her stage management experience. As a stage manager, she should be used to closely following scripts (though more to have an eye for other’s mistakes) and keeping an eye on the time. Have her use a stop watch, and give her notes to follow closely. There are parallels that should help her remember the training you’re giving her.

  37. mcr-red*

    Can you either role-play, like you pretend to be client and she does her thing, or can you shadow her to see how she handles calls? I have a feeling she’s not picking up people’s body language or verbal cues that they are done. I’m naturally a very quiet person, and I tend to pick up “talkers” and that is what I tend to notice: They seem oblivious to the fact that the other person is done with the conversation/just asked to be nice/etc. I’ve had to redirect the conversation with talkers before, “So you were saying about the TPS reports?” when they are rambling about their pet, or “We’ve gotta go and they’ve gotta get back to work” when they are rambling to the cashier who just asked how their days was.

    Maybe you could point out some things to her, like, “If your client is saying, “interesting” or “that’s nice” you need to move on.” Or “talking about your personal life is fine, but remember, we need to be more focused on the client’s needs. You need to turn the conversation back on them as much as possible.” I’m not saying she’ll take the advice, but she may!

  38. Nonprofit, meh*

    Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. Non profits typically don’t offer much in terms of compensation and hire people based on “passion” rather than competence. In the end, you get what you pay for. Hopefully you can use this experience to get a better job in the real world within the next few years.

    1. Impy*

      Jesus wept. Non profits can be dysfunctional but they typically exist because people need their services. You might not put much stock in them, but for a lot of marginalised people, they are a lifeline, and those people deserve more than just the ‘incompetent’ staff.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, you’re spreading a lot of inaccurate info about nonprofits on this post. Competently run nonprofits don’t hire for passion, they hire for skills.

      Plenty of incompetent for-profit businesses hire for the wrong things. It’s a problem in every sector, not just nonprofits.

  39. Jennifer*

    I think if she talks to her about this issue it’s possible she will go the opposite way and barely speak at all. I believe that she is a nice person but it’s just difficult for some people to accept feedback that’s basically telling them “don’t be you.” This job may not be a good fit. I do think the idea of having her shadow someone who does the job well is a good idea.

    I’m not a talkative person and have gotten feedback about that too. I adjusted as best I could until I was able to find another role with the company where I could keep to myself mostly. It’s very difficult to fundamentally change who you are and I went home exhausted every night.

    1. Argh!*

      Speaking as a talkative person, the odds of her going that opposite direction are probably very small. A more likely unintended consequence would be going the opposite direction in content – from being helpful (in her mind) to becoming a complainer.

    2. Observer*

      It’s possible that this is just who she is and it really is unchangeable, in which case it really is a bad fit. But I really think that there really is nowhere near enough information to conclude that from what the OP has said.

      Being a poor communicator is not an inherent character train in most cases. And the OP is not saying “Don’t be you” they are saying “Don’t DO X”

  40. I'm a Unicorn*

    Oh my, I could totally see my friend in this letter about the talking too much. And yes, she was given goals, she had tasks taken away from her, she was given a separate space away from others, but in the end, she couldn’t meet the goals.

    Her excuse? She got the “difficult” clients that took more of her time. She was doing “quality” work while blaming her co-workers, who did the exact same thing, of doing shoddy work.

    However, the goals of her department were numbers of widgets, not how long you took to explain the widgets.

    Eventually she was let go. At first she did realize it was due to her not meeting her goals. Then a year later she started blaming age-ism because while she did work there a long time, and they gave her many chances, she also had a wealth of information. But in the end, that wealth of information does not guarantee that very annoying habits and not meeting your goals will be overlooked.

    PS – due to those talkative reasons, I also tend to limit my time around her because I’m a much more introverted person who can’t stand BS.

  41. Kaitlyn*

    – Name the problem. If she’s sharing personal or off-topic information, name it. If she’s going too deep in areas and leaving clients behind, name it. If she’s not organizing the information she’s sharing so has to loop back to earlier parts of the conversation, name it. Whatever the issue is, name it.

    – Develop a script! Every job I’ve had interacting with clients, be it phone interviews or client intakes or whatever, have had scripts attached. You introductions, high-level information, and drill-down information that can be shared if the client needs it.

    – Train her and coach her how to use it. Practice. Do trial runs.

    – Develop metrics where you can track improvement or failures. The client return rate is a good one; so is the time run-over. Are there client satisfaction surveys? Do you track service use after the appointments? Time she spends talking vs the client?

    Two years in the role is not so long that you can’t implement changes to how she does it, and you can take control of this!

  42. Cautionary tail*

    This reminds me of a person who called looking for someone else who was out for the day. I just happened to be the unlucky soul who answered the phone. She didn’t care that I was not the person she was looking for and launched straight into a monologue. I was in the middle of something and could not get a word in – at all. She just kept talking. I then put the phone down on the desk and left the room to take care of some tasks which took over ten minutes. When I got back to my desk, I picked up the phone and she was still yammering on, unaware of what just transpired.

    1. Auntie Social*

      My lawyer boss did that–every once in a while he’d say some random comment—“how interesting, and did she?”, etc. The call lasted 90 minutes. At the end he said he’d do X and Y, and she agreed. I asked what all that was. “THAT was a $900 TC and instructions from the client.”

  43. Quill*

    Jane is hitting all the buttons of “nosy older relative who we all avoid telling things to because she is too. much. information.” This is not a dynamic you want your constituents to experience!

    A thing that I’d recommend just based on “managing the amount of information dumping” is giving her coaching on what she can summarize. So instead of explaining and over-explaining the ins and outs of proposition Yikes, Nope, and TMI, you can have her actively listen and be like “this sounds like it’s mostly a Yikes issue, if you have questions at the end I can provide you with more details about Nope and TMI.” Most of the time the constituent will NOT want that or have far more specific questions.

    But also, look into what call centers do to develop scripts and time limits! This way she can focus more on customer service than socializing and sympathizing, which is what she appears to think her job is.

  44. Argh!*

    She may believe that the clients don’t return because her long consultations give them all the information they need. That may even be the reason she does this. It would be worth the time to do some homework on what the other people in similar positions talk about in each consultation. If they expect to meet 3 times, they will have a mental (or even written) plan for the stages the client will go through. Even if they don’t, you could set that expectation for Jane, and even give her a checklist for talking points to give to you after each meeting. The last item on the checklist could be setting up a return appointment.

    Also, if you followed up with the clients who haven’t returned yourself, you could determine if she is indeed driving people away. Even though she drove the coworker away, you shouldn’t make assumptions about the clients. Feedback from the clients could also help you with coaching. Is it the length of time she took? Her level of detail? Does she get sidetracked and confuse the client?

    It sounds like Jane is dedicated to pleasing the client, not pleasing the boss, so if the coaching is directed toward that goal, I think (speaking as a social justice warrior myself) the coaching will be more effective.

    1. Observer*

      Actually, this does not sound like a focus on pleasing the client at all.

      But, it certainly would be a useful exercise to follow up with people who don’t come back.

  45. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    All my Janes are client representatives, those people get sent to voicemail now any chance possible (it’s always a 5 second issue that drags on for 37 minutes, no joke). If a service provider did it I’d never return either. Just like a hard sale or not taking no for an answer. She’s actively chasing away the people you’re there to assist :(

    I hope you find a way to reel her in because of the harm being done to your mission!

  46. Trek*

    I would have Jane sit in with another person completing a consultant and take notes. I would make it clear she is not to say a word during the meeting and give the coworker the heads up that they can cut her off if she starts talking. I would explain that after a few examples if she cannot shorten her consultations to 45 minutes then you will need to discuss transitioning her out of the role. Make it clear that her job is in jeopardy if she cannot meet this requirement.

  47. RC Rascal*

    I am a stress talker. When I am under a lot of stress and nervous, I will talk too much. It is one of my weaknesses, and I actively work to manage it. It tends to especially manifest itself on job interviews, first dates, etc.

    It is possible Jane is a stress talker, too. You said the bulk of her work history is retail and theater management. It’s possible she doesn’t feel like she has a good grasp on the job and is talking excessively to make up for her feeling of inadequacy.

    My two cents.

  48. Laura H.*

    You say that Jane worked retail, I have something to offer that I hope can be useful.

    I have to talk with my customers as part of my job- the goals of which are: Make the experience pleasant, fulfill their purpose for coming in, and do so efficiently and thoroughly. None of those are either or- it’s all necessary.

    I’ve developed “scripts” of my own to use that while pleasant and genial also push towards that end goal of “needs met.”

    I do have to be reminded to keep some of my spiels short. That’s ok and I appreciate when that happens. I also tend to lean on thorough rather than hasty. I want them to come back, but not to correct what would have been an avoidable mistake.

    I would outline the end goals for each call withJane after you listen in on a few of the calls (the length may not be all her fault all the time, and you should find that out as well). And then she should be held to that standard within reason.

    Good luck OP.

  49. Observer*

    I think that Alison framed this very well.

    I’d put it a bit differently. You have 2 problems and BOTH need to be directly addressed.

    The easier one is the simple talkativeness. You need to start cutting her off sooner, and more consistently, intervene when you see her doing that to the coworker, explicitly empower the coworker to cut her off, and have a big picture conversation with Jane. You need to be very clear and direct – “You cannot have long conversations with other staff about non- work related items. And you cannot keep talking to other staff about your work unless it is required to resolve a specific issue” or something like that. You could try the first 3 items and see how it goes before you go with that conversation, but you must be ready to have it.

    The second problem is a bit more tricky. But if you look at the effect on her work, it becomes clearer and easier to address. And that is the core of the issue – the talkativeness is not the REAL issue here, her lack of effectiveness is. THAT is what you lead with. ie “You are not seeing enough people and you are not giving the ones you de see satisfactory service.” Hold your ground on that – you have a reasonable frame of reference here and you have heard her conversations. And you should ABSOLUTELY NOT apologize or even try to “explain” that fact. It’s a perfectly legitimate thing for a supervisor to do in a situation where you have a reason to believe there a problem.

    Once you make it crystal clear what the actual problem is, you talk about remedies. The primary one being that she keeps these consultations shorter with coaching as needed. This is not a time management issue, it’s a matter of effective communications. If you have any resources for that, definitely provide them to her.

    And be prepared to let her go and replace her. It might just come down to that.

  50. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — The Upstream Commentariat has done a great job giving you practical advice on this situation. (If you haven’t yet read Wintermute’s post, ctrl-f it at once.)

    I’m a little concerned about your view of yourself as a new manager. You say that this is your first management job, you’ve only been at it five months, and that Jane is in her late-50s, while you’re 30, and that Jane is a “caring” person. What this says to me is that you’re not confident in your role as manager, and thus unwilling to actually manage this nice, caring person who isn’t doing well at a core function of her job. That Jane is “nice,” and that she’s older than you, aren’t relevant here. What is relevant is that you have an employee who isn’t performing well on a core function of her job.

    By all means, look into setting up some guidelines for her, and targets she needs to hit. Sit in on some of her calls and give her explicit feedback after each one. Quit taking work off her plate. But I think you also need some training and support in how to manage. Is there someone in your organization who is senior and has a reputation for effectiveness who might be able to mentor you?

    1. Lana Kane*

      I think this comment is spot on. I know from experience that rustling up courage to make tough decisions is difficult as a new manager, and you will get better at that. But the way you will get better is by being able to assess situations in the way Sara described. If you aren’t able to secure a mentor, is there someone in your org who seems to you to be an effective leader?

      I’d also recommend doing some reading about leadership. The book Crucial Conversations is always mentioned, for good reason. It will help you see why setting strong performance parameters, and discussing them when they aren’t being met, is so important for both you and your staff. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown goes into the work you need to do *yourself* before you can lead effectively.

      I know from experience this firs year of management will feel, at the end, as if you’d just gone through a growth spurt (growing pains and all!)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I was 30 something years old managing 50 something year olds. I will admit, I did hesitate before approaching them. I had it drilled into me to respect my elders.
      Then it dawned on me that I would be disrespecting my elders if I did not speak clearly. There is a difference between speaking clearly and speaking cruelly. Speaking clearly is done with an even keeled tone of voice. Speaking clearly involves giving explanations of what is expected, how to do something and so on. The goal is to give the employee enough information so that they have a job today, next week and next year because they understand what is expected and needed from them.

      Once I realized speaking clearly involved giving people the power over their own situation, my hesitation melted away. And I got feedback. “You never let me embarrass myself, you tell me where the pitfalls are BEFORE I start the task. You make sure I know how to handle problems I might have.” And, “You make sure I know what my job is today and what our employer expects out of me overall. I can count on you to tell me what is best to do.”

      Awkwardness from being younger is a fairly common thing that comes up. A good number of people wrestle with this. One place I worked, a younger 20 y/o worker suddenly faced a situation where she had to tell a 35 y/o worker what to do. Oh, boy. It was her first time encountering this. “She’s married, with KIDS! How can I tell HER what to do when she has so much overall life experience?!” It was because of me this sudden change came up. Since I was also older than both of them, I made a master list of tasks for the older worker. I explained that this is what both of them would be working on and I explained how that process would go. I also explained that I may have forgotten a step or a task so the younger worker would either do it herself OR ask the older worker to do it. I also gave the older worker the heads up that the younger employee was new at doing X. Where X was a two hour intense process and X was something the older worker was Very Good at doing. I let the older person know that the younger person may need help with X.

      You could see the relief on the younger person’s face because of this list. The shift went very well, with both people admiring each other’s work ethics. The age difference became a non-issue very quickly as they saw each other as just plain peers. They were two different people at different stages of life, but they shared an enjoyment of working together because the work got done and done correctly. And this landed this way because each person knew what was expected from them.

  51. MechanicalPencil*

    I’ve been on the receiving end as a constituent. There is literally only so much information you can absorb. After a while, you get really good at “yes, I’m here for x. My story is y.” Very succinct details. You can either be helped by the agency or not. Two hours for an appointment is bananacrackers. The only thing I can think I’d want to take that long when I was in that situation was a massage.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      My brain went shorthand and made assumptions I shouldn’t have. I was helping someone with a family violence situation. Since I was very close to the situation, it was rather emotionally charged, and the brain doesn’t fire on all cylinders and remember all the details of what you’re told and so forth. So if I’m sitting in a meeting for two hours having a meandering conversation about things actually pertaining to the situation, then personal anecdotes, the internal filter is going to have an even harder time than normal.

  52. 1234*

    Are there any training materials that you can point Jane to? If not, can you make a list of 3-5 (or however many) key points that Jane needs to get across in her consultations which must only last 45 mins?

    For example, make sure callers know:
    1 – Our company only grooms white llamas. There are no exceptions.
    2 – Grooming cows is not the same as grooming llamas.
    3 – Grooming a llama takes approximately 45 mins.

  53. The Calendar Solution*

    In addition to coaching Jane on how much material to cover and how to move things along, LW should schedule a 5-minute debrief with Jane after each session… at least for a few weeks/months. “Oh, you’ve got a 45-minute meeting at 10 AM? Great, I’ll plan for you to be here in my office at 10:50 for a quick debrief.”
    It sounds like Jane has no consequence to running over. If a strict time limit is imposed and Jane has to be somewhere at a specific time, then it might help her be more motivated to move things along.

  54. Auntie Social*

    Jane blames the clients but she’s totally in charge from the get go. And if things slow down: “we’ll come back to that but we have a lot to cover”, “let’s get through these questions first and then if there’s time. . . .”. She should not feel bad interrupting their narrative with questions that let her loop back to the task at hand. Repeat the last the two words of their sentence with a bright “how interesting!” and get back on purpose. “A lion tamer–how interesting! Now about our questions. . .” Have you had anyone show her how it’s done, then pretend to be a chatty client, just role play for an afternoon?

  55. Atalanta0jess*

    I’d be really careful about “but her job is to talk!” That cannot be the case. No one’s job is to talk. Lots of people’s jobs involve talking in the service of achieving a particular goal. That goal is her job.

    Talking is a SKILL….it’s not something where volume = goodness, as you clearly observe. Getting her to cut back on the word volume is not at allllllllllll related to whether she needs to talk to achieve the goals of her job, you know? I really wouldn’t think of this as different from any other over-talking situation.

    1. Wintermute*

      this is a good point! Compare it to a job packing in a warehouse. The volume of things put into boxes is an important metric, but it’s only part of the picture! “He puts so many things into boxes! usually the right boxes… last week he shipped 5,000 boxes to customers, some empty, some full, a few even had the right contents! He also shipped Bob’s lunch to Taiwan, shipped Wakeen to our Cleveland office, and due to an unfortunate slip with the label gun, shipped his left hand to Pittsburgh… the doctor’s are waiting for it, when it arrives they’ll ship it back to be re-attached.”

      Volume of output pales in comparison to thoughtfulness and accuracy of output in most workplace contexts.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wait. You have described my former job for a decade. Some of the boxes had way to much and some were missing stuff…. omg.
        We received in raw materials from China. One day I opened a box and found someone’s glove. “Some where in China a person is looking all over trying to find their glove.” It’s really easy to do this.

        I targeted recurring problems. A person who could not accurately get x number of pieces into a shipper box would get my attention until the problem was solved. I think because of the faster pace and faster turn around times it was easier for me to deal with this than it is for OP. But the same idea applies, most people are done in an hour, therefore it’s not unreasonable for this employee to be done in an hour also. When she says, “But X problem!” or “But Y problem!” just flatly state, “Others are hitting similar issues and moving through those issues. So can you and it is expected that you WILL do this.”

  56. Lynn Whitehat*

    I fired a lawyer once for rambling on like this. I don’t even really like sitting through anecdotes about people’s grandchildren for free, I’m definitely not paying a lawyer’s hourly rate to do it.

    My brother-in-law is our financial planner. At one point, he was selling us some new investment (we are often his guinea pigs before he sells to “real” clients). He told us the explanation would take about 30 minutes, and then it was 2 hours long! Starting with “Saving for Retirement: Good or Bad?” (spoiler: it is good) and “Inflation, What Is It?” before getting into the meat of what this investment actually was. I told him if we were not closely related, I would have fired him for being so disrespectful of my time.

    Anyway, babbling on and on is not just an adorable little quirk. It can really drive people away. Or, if they do not have the ability to walk away, make their lives miserable. I wish more people would take a firm stand when they have the authority to do it. Otherwise the Janes of the world are allowed to be emotional vampires, feeding their own needs while draining everyone around them.

  57. fhqwhgads*

    If Jane is capable of fixing this, it may be helpful to commoditize her time. What I mean is, she may be thinking “well, I have the time! more is always better!” and thinking she’s being “nice” by being “extra helpful” by running long. She’s not and it’s not, but so far it seems like she doesn’t get that. If the service she’s meant to be providing is a 45-60 minute consultation, providing a 90-120 minute consultation is not good, no more than a 30 minute one would be. The constituents need to get what they came for, not more or less. It’s a non-profit, but there’s still a budget and that time is part of the budget. She may feel like because she doesn’t have as many bookings (which is its own problem) the spillover doesn’t matter, but she needs to understand that it does matter, in the same way that if someone goes to a store to buy a dozen eggs, the cashier can’t simply give them a second dozen for free. Even if it may be true that some constituents would appreciate that, the employer certainly wouldn’t. If she can wrap her head around that concept of the time as a commodity, it might be easier for her to force herself to stick to plan.

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