my employee takes over meetings with endless monologues and no one can get a word in

A reader writes:

I have an employee who is a great worker. His attention to detail is impeccable. He puts in the hours needed to get the job done. As for work product, I have zero complaints.

The problem comes on conference calls and meetings. For lack of a better description, he has diarrhea of the mouth. He speaks in stream of consciousness, and no one can get a word in edgewise.

All of our “clients” are internal. I need him on the call to listen to problems and concerns so that we can take the data and present a solution. He needs to hear the concerns firsthand. However, he starts talking with potential solutions, brainstorming, and talking himself in and out of solutions, rehashing issues already solved, etc. He can continue for 30+ minutes having a conversation with himself.

I have tried coaching. I’ve tried asking him to listen and take notes so that we (as the engineering team) can work together outside of the larger group and present a solution. That works for a while, then he is back to it. I’ve tried muting him on conference calls. He drops and dials back in. I’ve been direct. I’ve been blunt. But nothing seems to work.

We are at a point where others are questioning his value. He has enormous value and produces great work. But his social skills on conference calls are lacking. HR has suggested I just stop including him in meetings, but then it doubles my workload and things are lost in translation.

He’s a good person and a great employee. I want and need him on my team. I need to figure out a way to showcase his abilities to ensure everyone can see his value and contributions. I also need to figure out how to communicate social cues to an engineer to help him thrive and advance. Any suggestions?

I wrote back and asked, “How candid/direct have you been with him about this when you’ve addressed it with him? And have you tried explicitly telling him he can’t talk on these calls, period?” The answer:

I have been very direct, asking him not to talk unless I specifically ask him by name. Then I end up fielding messages in chat from him while on the call, which is better than the alternative.

But the problem comes when engineering asks for field input and it’s more of an open forum. He will dominate and talk until I kick him off the call. I’ve told him to let others speak, but if there is a lull he keeps filling in the quiet.

Today I even stated in the call “Name, if you are going to talk to yourself, please mute.” Which he did for five minutes. Then he unmuted to speak and kept going.

Oooooh. Okay. Whatever is going on here sounds so extreme that I don’t know that you can fix it through any sort of coaching. You’ve been very direct with him! You’ve explicitly told him not to talk. You’ve muted him and he drops the call and dials back in to talk some more. Something is going on here that’s beyond what you have the ability to fix in him as his manager.

I’m not saying that therefore you need to fire him — because I don’t think that, based on everything else being good — but I do think you need to prevent him from participating in calls, period. He can listen, but he can’t talk. If you open to the door to him talking on calls sometimes, he’s going to barrel right through that door like the Kool-Aid man barreling through a fence and take over the call with 30-minute monologues. You’ve seen that. So he just can’t talk on calls or in these sorts of meetings, period. It’s got to be a blanket rule that’s always in effect because he’s not controlling himself otherwise (and at some point continuing to allow it will reflect not just on him but on you too).

I know that’s a really weird rule to impose on someone! But I don’t see any other way that it’s workable.

You’ll have to explain to him why that rule is in place. You can’t just mute him, since he’s apparently just going to drop off and call back in. You’re going to have to explain to him that, as you’ve discussed in the past, he is taking over meetings and misusing other people’s time. You should also be up-front with him that this is now at the point that other people are questioning his value, because the way he’s operating in meetings is overshadowing all the good work he does. That might be a hard message to deliver, but it’s one he deserves to hear; if things are at that point, it would be a disservice to him to hide that from him.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be the new rule forever. You can try it for six months and then experiment with relaxing it and see what happens, as long as you’re prepared to cut him off and reinstate the restriction if the problem pops back up.

Now, as a general rule, I’m not a fan of creating odd set-ups like this to work around a serious problem someone brings to their role. Often when things are at the point that you need to do something like this, it’s time to question whether the person is suited for the job or not. And if his job required him to contribute regularly in these meetings or if you were seeing the same behavior in other situations too, I’d be skeptical that there was a way to keep him in his job, at least not without some significant restructuring of it.

But if the problem is really confined to conference calls and those calls can be effective without him speaking during them at all … well, here we are.

And yes, this is a strange thing to have to do! But you’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked, and you want to keep him.

This is the only way I can see to save him from himself. If he chafes under it, there’s a very clear path for him to demonstrate that it’s no longer needed, and it can be up to him whether he does that or not.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 527 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    All: Please stop attributing things to neurodivergence when the the behavior in question is no way unique to neurodivergent people, and especially when the effect of speculating on it is to reinforce a negative view of ND people. Thank you.

      1. Former Child*

        Yes. Imagine how much time he’ll SAVE by not being in meetings. Then he can listen to the meeting recording after and write some edited responses.

        1. P Jones*

          I agree. Using Zoom or Zoom + Otter, you can record the meetings, he can play them back or use Otter to get a transcript. I’ve been using Zoom + Otter to get transcripts of very important meetings or when I have to prepare minutes.

      2. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

        Mine, too. I’m a verbal processor (although not nearly to this degree!), and the thought of having the conversation recorded came to my mind. I know with Zoom, we can also set up a webinar instead of a traditional meeting, which means that you could set up this person as a viewer, and if you absolutely need his POV, change him to a “panelist” (and then boot him back to viewer after).

        1. Foxgloves*

          Setting it up as a webinar is a REALLY good idea!!! It’s a bit of extra faff at the beginning to set it up that way, but it would definitely save everyone. This person could even contribute via text using the Q&A function if they’ve got a genuine question that needs answering in the moment, but that’s easy to manage in a large-ish meeting.

    1. Allypopx*

      This seems like the best solution for everyone. And since he’s made such a nuisance of himself and these meetings are all internal, I don’t think there would be pushback from others about a new recording policy. If anything they’d probably be relieved.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        You took it in a saner direction. I read KHB’s suggestion and thought the employee would be forced to listen to themselves soliloquize for hours on end.

        1. KHB*

          No, the “saner direction” is what I meant: Hold the calls without Mr. Verbose, then have him listen to them immediately afterward. If he just needs to hear the client problems firsthand (and if these things aren’t so time-sensitive that a delay of half an hour or so would make a difference), then it shouldn’t matter whether he’s hearing the clients talk in real time or listening to a recording later. And giving him the information in recorded form seems like an easier solution than telling him “You can sit in on the calls, but you may not speak even one word” – from what we know of Mr. Verbose’s history, it sounds like it might be hard to enforce that rule in the moment.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            That makes (more) sense. I don’t know why my mind went the other direction…

              1. Emi*

                So did I — I thought it was like the thing where you listen to a recording of yourself giving a speech to notice how often you say “uh” or whatever.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Or making someone who says “I don’t snore!” listen to their own snoring.

        2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          That’s what I thought too ROTFL – give him a chance to experience his own non-stop talking!

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      This was what popped into my mind as well. Recording the calls would let him think out loud (because that seems like it’s what he’s doing) without slowing the whole meeting down.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is definitely my thought as well – record the calls and let “Mr Stream of Consciousness” listen and process the recordings in his normal way – while not making meetings go on and on for the other people involved.

    4. CanRelate*

      This is was my first thought as well! Record calls, restrict him to email for follow up questions.

      If he has something that he must say to the client, timebox the meeting for 15min, and then start a new meeting to continue the call afterwards. If you are using zoom, use waiting rooms and other tools to make sure he cant drop in.

      If his solutions are something he needs to explain to the client, have him do a screen record himself, and make him timestamp the solutions.

      Its still a lot to keep this guy around though!

    5. M*

      This is a great idea. It will also give him a chance to realize that the questions and comments he thinks of will mostly likely be contributed by someone else in his absence.

    6. Colin*

      I had to do something similar once (coaching a politician to give shorter answers), but instead of giving a recording, I gave a transcript. There is something about SEEING a stream of conscious in writing that helps people realize, “wow, I sound crazy”, especially if they can see the relative length of it. Typing up a 30 minute monologue would be a hassle, but if telling him he speaks too much isn’t working, maybe showing it to him visually will. Use single sided and double-spaced type to add to the effect.

      1. Qwerty*

        Zoom allows you to create a transcript from a recorded meeting. I think it is an account-specific setting, so it might not apply to past meetings.

    7. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

      The Tobias Funke solution! “I think you’re going to be surprised at some of your phrasing.”

      1. MCMonkeybean*

        I think they mean have him not attend the meeting and just listen later, not record them so he can hear how much he talks.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            The problem is that I (and a bunch of others) just don’t think mr stream of consciousness will learn from listening to himself drone on and on. I think having him not there, listening later is probably better.

            But yeah – he has to be talked to about this, because he’s seriously hindering his career growth by doing this.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yeah, he’ll just be nodding in agreement with himself the whole time. It doesn’t seem like he’s the type to feel pressed for time.

    8. Jay*

      My first thought as well! You could even ask him to take notes throughout and then have a summary of ideas/feedback after he listens to it for you to meet about (or for him to send you for silent review).

    9. No Name Today*

      This is great. Things are lost in translation? Well, he can have a transcript. He cannot call you and talk about it until he’s reviewed the entire thing and has summed up his questions/comments into one single page document.

    10. I hate thinking of names*

      Please don’t do this to solve a problem with one person. Most people loathe being recorded even for internal use & will not speak freely when they are. They tried doing this for quite a few types of meetings in my large office & those meetings went from active discussions to each person on the agenda reading prepared bullets & a couple chronic problem people bringing up irrelevant topics. After 6 months or so they gave up on the recording but people are now in the habit of not engaging (or even showing up).

      1. KHB*

        That sounds like it might be more of a people-at-your-employer thing than a most-people thing. But in any case, OP can always ask the other participants at the meetings how they’d feel about being recorded in exchange for having a meeting free of Mr. Verbose. If they’re all happy with the trade-off, then nobody else’s opinion matters.

        1. No Name Today*

          That’s what I was thinking. It won’t hurt to ask. Especially if OP asks individually, and doesn’t share what others vote for.
          I also think that one no vote is enough to stop it, too.
          But it can be brought up.

        2. Jay*

          Agreed. Definitely ask either way before implementing it with the understanding that you’ll quit doing it if it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work for LW’s team, then it’s not going to be a good solution for Mr. Verbose and he’s going to have to handle his problem another way.

          And, tbh, I don’t think this is a good long-term solution even if it DOES work okay for the rest of the team. The point should be helping Mr. Verbose get a handle on his contribution challenge with the end goal that he’ll return to his job of being on the calls as before, and, if he can’t, then LW may want to reevaluate his position on the team either way.

            1. Jay*

              Oh, 100% agree. I just don’t think it’s a long-term solution. More of a temporary patch. What he’s doing is well over the line of insubordination and needs to be addressed as such.

        3. Momma Bear*

          Some of our meetings are always recorded. I assume that I am. Even when they are not, people might take detailed notes/send out minutes.

          For this guy, can the method used for the call be changed so he can’t just log back in and start up again? Are there settings that prevent people from un-muting themselves? In Zoom you can set up a meeting to have a waiting room. If he logged off and logged in again in response to being muted, I’d make him chill in the waiting room.

          It sounds like he doesn’t take hints like, “We’ll take that offline” which would tell any reasonable person to stop talking and take it up later with a smaller group.

          I would probably take him out of the meeting and only bring him specific action items to respond back to via email or a smaller group/one on one meeting.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I find it easier to take minutes when it IS recorded, in case I miss something. I’m not the world’s fastest typer/writer and shorthand isn’t a thing anymore. Plus you can always go back to the archives in case someone needs to refer to a specific topic or suggestion.

        4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – if they record the meeting so everyone else can have their meeting and not have him there they may be willing to record the meeting. You never know unless you ask however.

          1. PollyQ*

            They shouldn’t be asked to make a trade-off, though. Chatty McTalksalot needs to be stopped, but other people shouldn’t have to do something they’re uncomfortable with to achieve that.

    11. AnonInCanada*

      The Dr. Evil in me would lock this guy in a room for 8 straight hours making him listen to his bantering in an endless loop. With his mouth taped shut and his limbs tied like he was a lassoed bull. But I know there’s these pesky laws about holding one against one’s will, not to mention cruel and unusual punishment. But it would be nice to give him a taste of his own medicine.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I’ve known a few people like this where this would not have the effect you’re hoping. They often like listening to themselves and would not find it torture. I mean…the tape and the tie up would be torture, but that’d be true without anything else. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes “taste of their own medicine” gets the point across, but a lot of the time, it does not and will not.

    12. HotSauce*

      This is exactly what I was going to suggest. I have someone on my team who has a very similar quirk. I coached, begged & pleaded with him, but nothing worked. Now we record our meetings and I send them to him and publish them for everyone on our team just in case people are unable to attend. It’s not the most ideal, but we were devolving into two hour+ long calls because of tangents.

    13. Curious Lurker*

      ha! before I read some of the replies, I thought your suggestion was to record the over-talker so he can hear what he sounds like. A bit infantilizing, but could work.

    14. Sparrow*

      I think it depends on the extent to which clarifications are needed in this process. I do a lot of this kind of problem solving work, and getting a recording secondhand without the opportunity to ask necessary follow up questions in the moment would make me much, much less efficient at my job.

      This employee clearly cannot handle participating in the meeting in an appropriate way, but if follow up questions are indeed needed for him to be able to offer useful solutions, I’d find a way to set it up so he could only listen, not speak. If he thinks there’s a pressing question that needs to be addressed, he can send it to OP. That way he still gets the info he needs in real time and everyone else is spared the monologue. I haven’t used Zoom’s webinar function, but I’d check to see if would allow for him to participate as a viewer only.

    15. Filicophyta*

      I realize what you mean, but the first moment I read it, I though ‘have him listen [to himself] so he knows what it’s like. That might work too, though.

    16. Tomalak*

      I meet people like this socially more than I would like – and I don’t have a mute button. I am a member of a social club and we had to essentially ban someone because he was always turning the conversation towards niche topics only he knew anything about and boring people rigid.

      I know the engineer is not the letter writer but if he was I would say something like this: any time you are speaking far, far more than anyone else it’s a sign of a conversation gone wrong. Probably you have picked a topic the other person isn’t interested in or knows very little about, so unless they really explicitly said “I would love to hear about black holes”, and they then keep asking questions, I would assume the topic needs to change fast.

      But this is a work situation and boring people don’t deserve to be unemployed their whole lives – so yeah, just stop him talking on the calls.

  2. Xavier Desmond*

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the OP but I’m not sure she’s been as direct as she could be. From my reading she has asked this guy to be quiet and not speak in specific instances but not had a big picture direct conversation about always doing this in meetings.

    1. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

      I can see this and agree that that would be the next step above bluntness about individual incidents. But to be honest, this guy has barreled through such obvious feedback that I doubt it would help. This is baffling.

      1. Colin*

        Next time it happens, OP needs to immediately call him privately and ask “Why did you speak for 20 minutes when I have instructed you no to do that?” It is bordering on shaming to put someone on the spot like that, even in a one-on-one call, but this type of behaviour is begging for positive punishment.

        1. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

          I agree. I do think it’s fair to interrupt him and move forward, even though that would normally be super rude, but there’s no reason to have a feedback conversation publicly.

        2. Quantum Hall Effect*

          I think pointing out that he just did exactly what OP asked him not to do is the right thing. They can move it from shaming to a dialogue by changing the wording slightly. I would try some thing like,

          Mike, I have asked you not to talk during these meetings because you dominate them. Today during the meeting, you talked for 20 minutes, and nobody else was able to share their thoughts, which is exactly what I asked you not to do. I wanted to talk this through with you to hear what your thoughts are.

          Then stop and actively listen to what they are saying, meaning listen with curiosity, hear them out all the way through, and ask clarifying questions. Don’t do that obnoxious passive aggressive thing of asking in bad faith with no intention of considering their point of view. Ask without a predetermined outcome, meaning you might actually change your mind based on what they say.

          Once OP has heard them out and considered whether they would like to do something different based on Monologuing Mike’s answers, then State the path forward (either Mike continues to stay silent or Mike continues to stay silent most of the time but is allowed to talk for five minutes at a time and no more, Mike is not to call back in after being muted, etc.) And also state that The problem of Mike not following instructions is just as big as the problem of Mike dominating the phone calls.

          At my company, there would be consequences for being Mike. It would start with the formal conversation which would be documented in an email and escalate from there to eventually becoming a bad review if it didn’t stop. It’s not clear whether OP has the ability to establish similar consequences.

          1. No Name Today*

            I think OP has some authority. s/he was able to mute him (and nobody told him not to mute contributors going forward.)
            I support the idea of listening to employee but also, when he begins to question/repeat/argue with himself, stop him there and point out, “This. This is the problem. I asked you to tell me that you can give a clear, concise answer and you have gone in X number of directions. You stopped midsentence and changed your topic. You began speaking well, to yourself instead of me. You need to be able to make a statement and let people respond with their input.”

    2. OhNo*

      The problem with that is, for someone like this, it’s easy to deflect the focus away from the big picture view. Each meeting is a separate case, and in each I’m sure he will have justifications for each one about why he just had to talk right then.

      That’s not to say that the LW shouldn’t point out the big picture view, just that they shouldn’t expect it to lead to a lightbulb moment for him. If he’s ignored everything else up to this point (and woo, boy, he’s sure ignored a lot!) , saying that he does it frequently probably isn’t going to make the difference.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      The piece that could be more direct is, “I will have to fire you if you can’t find a way to manage this.” It sounds like she’s asked and coached very directly, but she hasn’t resolved in herself that this must stop happening. I like the idea of not having him come to meetings any more and shifting his role to be a true individual contributor who can watch recordings and send emails – to the boss – only for a while.

      1. Xavier Desmond*

        Threatening to fire someone should only be done as a last resort and if you are going to follow through. The OP clearly has no desire to fire the employee.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          But other people in the company are questioning his value–if that filters up to upper management OP may not have a choice.
          It’s worth a warning and a PIP.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            Sometimes, it’s important to distinguish between “you’re better at this than anybody else” and “but you’re not better than *everyone* else,” and that time is when nobody wants to work with him.

        2. Rectilinear Propagation*

          Sure, but apparently HR has already gotten involved if they’re suggesting work arounds. It really does sound like his job might be in trouble at this point.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’m not sure I’d go so far as to threaten firing, but I’d definitely have a discussion about the fact that this behavior is damaging his credibility in the eyes of other stakeholders which could result in his not being allowed to work on their projects and that not having adequate project work to meet productivity requirements could lead to termination. (The way our evaluation system is set up, it’s also really easy to mark someone as excellent in something like produced work while also rating them as needing improvement in verbal/written communication. I had someone this year who was rated either excellent or needs improvement in all categories, and their summary was averaged and indicated that their needs improvement areas were holding back their overall assessment.)

        I would also take the guy off meetings until he could demonstrate measurable improvement and also give him a bullet list of the expected behavior as well as some strategies for dealing with the talk-to-think issue (which, as a think-to-talker, drives me totally bananas). This would include explicitly saying that he is not to call back in to unmute himself and excluding him from calls if he can’t rein it in. I also liked he suggestion above of providing a recording and/or transcript. It’s possible he doesn’t see how far afield he’s taking things.

    4. meyer lemon*

      The LW has muted him and he has dropped the call to avoid being muted. It also sounds like some bigger-picture coaching has taken place behind the scenes. I think the LW has been plenty direct but he is totally bulldozing his way through for mysterious reasons of his own.

      1. Ann Non*

        I agree that the calling back in after getting muted is pretty mystifying. One thing LW could try is to announce at the start of the meeting that “anyone whose name is not on the agenda will be muted after they have talked for 5 minutes”, and when Talker Guy keeps talking, mute him and say loudly “OK Talker, that was 5 minutes so I am muting you now” so that he realizes it is not a technical glitch but an actual intentional attempt to keep the meeting on track.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        If he logs back in after being muted, I’d say just mute him again. And again ad nauseam until the meeting ends.

        1. HumbleOnion*

          This is what I don’t understand. Does he understand what’s happening here? Has the OP explained that she is muting him on purpose because he is dominating the conversation? Has she told him not to log back in when she does that?

    5. BRR*

      I was wondering if the direct “you’re doing X and I need you to do Y” was part of the LW’s coaching (the LW sounds pretty direct though which is great). Other than Alison’s answer the only other things I can think of is the LW needs to make sure to say the improvements need to be sustained making sure the employee knows this behavior is making others doubt their value.

    6. Your Local Password Resetter*

      The OP has been pretty direct imo. She’s already kicking him out of meetings and regularly made him to stop talking altogether. And his general response was to circumvent her.
      He’s either wilfully ignorant or has very serious judgement issues on this, and I’m not sure a conversation can fix that.

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        I had an employee who was willfully ignorant of their performance. About 2 years before they got fired, I sat them down and said, “you’re going down a path where at the end, if you don’t change, I will have to fire you.” Over the next 2 years, we had 3 informal meetings about poor performance, a formal meeting setting out performance standards documented by a memorandum they had to sign, a formal meeting with HR going on an official PIP with another document to sign, a written agreement where they agreed to demote, 2 more informal meetings post-demotion, after that another memo to sign on poor performance, another PIP with HR present, and then termination.

        When it came time to the termination meeting, they just looked at me and said, “I never saw this coming.”

        1. Sail On, Sailor*

          Wow, that’s simply incredible. I can’t imagine how someone could be so oblivious to their situation.

        2. MassMatt*

          Ugh, TWO a years of pain and hassle!

          But yes, people often delude themselves to avoid painful truths. I had someone asking for a raise after finishing a PIP, “for everything I’ve DONE”. It was… a strange meeting.

          1. Anonymeece*

            I had a guy who I had to put on a PIP, had a very direct, “You will be fired if X happens again” conversation with… and his first question after I finished was to ask if I could give him a recommendation so he could find another job. Which (a) meant that rather than FACE UP TO THE BEHAVIOR and not do it again, he just resigned himself to the fact that he WAS going to do it again? I guess? and (b) shows a level of obliviousness that he thought I would serve as a reference. Some people are truly oblivious.

    7. MCMonkeybean*

      Maybe but it’s hard to imagine being more direct then “please don’t speak unless I call on you” and flat-out muting the participant. The fact that he is getting around being muted by hanging up and calling back in is pretty egregious to me and goes well beyond a normal “oh I just can’t help it” overtalking.

    8. JayNay*

      This is baffling me. OP says the guy is “great at his job”. But participating in meetings in a productive way is part of the job! And he’s terrible at it. So no, he’s not “great at his job”. His behavior is disruptive and is requiring more and more steroids attempts to solve. I would make one last attempt, document everything and be ready to show him the door. Be prepared for the sign of relief from your colleagues when he’s not at the next meeting.

    9. Ellie*

      I wonder if she’s addressed the fact that he drops and rejoins the calls after being muted. If she has – if she’s told him directly, ‘I muted you because you talked for 20 minutes straight and we have an agenda to get through, why did you go around me?’ and he just keeps doing it anyway, then that’s insubordination. I would probably move to firing at that point, if attending those meeting is part of the job and he just can’t do it.

      Maybe she hasn’t laid it out that bluntly, if so, I’d try that first. And I’d reiterate at the start of the meetings that you’ll be muting people if they try to take over the discussion (and make it clear what you’re talking about – people need to see that its being addressed, and be empowered to cut him off if they need to) But I’m skeptical that he will obey your instructions not to talk, when he’d rather drop and rejoin the call than accept the fact that he can’t talk.

  3. TotesMaGoats*

    I think Alison’s point about him understanding that people are questioning his value to the org is key here. It’s not just that the talking is annoying but “hey, that’s just how I work”. It’s people questioning whether he should be there at all. I agree OP has been blunt on what needs to change and why (in the moment) it’s so disrupting but I think the larger picture might make a difference. Good luck.

    1. No Name Today*

      Agree. This needs to be the headline. Not, “people don’t like it when you take over.” Or even, “people are not following/getting the information when you take over.” Because both of those support his “well, then I need to talk MORE so they get it!”
      You sir, need to speak less, if at all so that people can focus on how to get your solutions implemented instead of how to avoid you at all costs.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          But try not to shoot politicians, no matter how badly you (or anyone else) may want them shot.

        2. Katie*

          You can let them know what you’re against and what you’re for, but only after you’ve done the whole talking-to-yourself, weighing solutions bit quietly, to yourself!

            1. Designdork*

              Definitely sounds like hes throwing away his shot because he doesn’t know how to say no to this

            2. Kat in VA*

              I can’t understand someone who does not catch the nuance of their boss literally muting them, but double down and then unmuting themselves and continuing to talk.

              I have booted disruptive folks out of Zoom meetings for less.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Alison has previously recommended telling the associate something along the lines of, ‘Your job could be/is in jeopardy and you need to change XYZ behavior in order to keep it.’ I wonder if that could get the point across to the team member.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Sorry, meant to also say that using those words about the job being in jeopardy can sometimes jolt people into understanding how disruptive their behavior really is.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        I think this is interesting because it doesn’t sound like OP wants to lose the person from their job as they’re excellent at it except for this one bit. I do wonder what it’ll be like when it’s just no longer tenable to keep the person in the job because of how they’re affecting everything around them and whether OP will get pushback on not having dealt with it sooner.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Also, OP isn’t really helping this person, as if they’re ever managed by someone else, they’re likely to get fired pretty quickly (logging back in after they’ve been muted so they can keep talking??). I’d suggest an EAP referral here.

          1. Unkempt Flatware*

            That’s the point where I would have likely ended the meeting, rescheduled it, and then sat him down to explain himself.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I agree that the OP doesn’t want to lose this person but that one bit could mean that keeping them on board might not be an option. It sounds like the employee is at or even past the point of affecting everything around them, and he isn’t improving his performance either. Telling him, ‘your job is in jeopardy,’ could finally get the point across.

          I’ve had to fire people I like and respect, but whose ongoing performance problems made it hard for their direct and indirect teams to work with them. Using the wording salvaged things with some folks, though. There was lots of coaching involved afterward, and also hurt feelings and wounded pride. But I’d much rather salvage things at the 11th hour than fire someone.

          1. Great Grey Owl*

            According to the OP, she has tried numerous tactics including bluntness. So I have to ask, at one time does this become insubordination?

          2. DrRat*

            There is a saying in behavioral science that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Honestly, at this point, I don’t think the employee is going to change. I feel there is a strong possibility that the employee is like this ALL THE TIME – not just at work. I think the OP will ultimately end up having to fire the employee, no matter how good they are at other aspects of their job.

            I have a good friend who is a CLIP (chronically late insane person). She was always late at every job she ever had, including one where they suspended her for a week for being chronically late. But she is also late to everything in her personal life. She doesn’t mean to be rude or difficult. It’s just that she’s like some alien from an episode of Star Trek who comes from a planet where time has no meaning. She can be a great employee in all other ways, but if you need someone who can be on time, she’s not the employee for you.

            I suspect this employee is never, ever going to be able to do what the OP needs him to do on conference calls. If that’s an important aspect of the job, the answer is to let the employee go and find another person for the job. Sad but true.

          3. LizM*


            There comes a point where, even if someone is outstanding at 90% of their job, if that last 10% is critical to their success, the amount of work it takes to manage the last 10% outweighs all of the success at the 90%.

            If attending the meetings is necessary for him to succeed at the job, and he’s not able to attend the meetings without being disruptive, he’s not succeeding at his job. There comes a point where, as a manager, you realize that a certain behavior is not going to change, and you have to make a decision on whether you can live with it or not.

        3. twocents*

          I think Alison had an excellent jolt for LW: this eventually gets to a point where it reflects badly on LW and makes people think she can’t manage. Is Employee really so good at his job that he can never be fired for this?

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I also think she should check in with everyone he works closely with and see if he’s monologuing at other times when she isn’t around. If he’s approaching coworkers and then just talking to himself at them for 30+ minutes then he needs to hear that isn’t ok either.

      1. No Name Today*

        This is excellent.
        OP, you say he does good work.
        But that is in the framework of what work he gets done for you.
        Is it accounting for the burned out souls left in his wake?
        Is he outproducing people who can’t get what they need from him? Or whose time is wasted by him?

      2. Rectilinear Propagation*

        Oh, I hope the LW sees this; it’s such a good point!
        I’d hate to be subjected to this right when I’ve gotten into the groove of my work.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I honestly think a two pronged approach with this guy is best. Both record the meetings for him to process on his own later and tell “stream of consciousness” guy that decision-makers far up the ladder are questioning whether he needs to be there or not.

    5. hamsterpants*

      Completely this! The letter even starts, “As for work product, I have zero complaints.” But this is a work complaint. It’s not an annoying social-skills niggle. Right now, the employee is failing at an important component of his job. LW needs to approach it as such.

      1. No Name Today*

        Another, I have an excellent employee who makes worklife uncomfortable/unpleasant/ineffective for me and my staff.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah. It sounds like what the manager is really saying is “his deliverables are superb”. Well, that’s not all there is to this job. So the options are fire him or change the job so it no longer includes this stuff he sucks at (being in a meeting with others). Theoretically the third option is “get him to change” but he doesn’t seem willing or capable of doing so.

  4. Quickbeam*

    This is excellent advice. One way of thinking about it is that this approach will save him from himself. If he knows his job is in jeopardy, it may help ease the sting of the restriction.

  5. L*

    Removed. Please do not armchair diagnose here.

    All: Please stop attributing things to neurodivergence when the the behavior in question is no way unique to ND people, and especially when the effect of speculating on it is to reinforce a negative view of ND people. Thank you.

    commenting rules

    1. Person from the Resume*

      And sometimes neurotypical people just like to talk and talk and talk and “can’t help themselves.” “It’s just the way they are.” “That’s just the way he works through problems.”

      It’s not always neurodivergence!!!

      (some reference to the letter of the person who just can’t be on time to anything and it’s just the way they are and it cannot be fixed.)

      1. DataGirl*

        “It’s just the way they are” is not an acceptable final answer. Growth is a decision- people can choose to change. It’s hard, sometimes really, really hard, but people do not have to put up with inappropriate behavior because someone is ‘”just that way”.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Oh, I agree. Some people* excuse a bad habit/trait with the excuse that it is just they way they are and they can’t change. I don’t agree with that. Being unable to stop unwanted monologuing and being unable to be on time are both bad habits that can be fixed. For certain people it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I find it very hard to be on time. I do manage it for trains and important stuff, mostly by trying very hard to be at least half an hour early. But for other stuff I just can’t. I find it very hard to organise, think of all the things I need to do to get ready and start getting ready in time. It takes up so much energy, it’s barely worth it. So that’s how I am, but most of my friends are the same so it’s not a problem.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          “It’s just the way they are” is not an acceptable final answer.

          Actually, it kind of is. If that’s just the way employee is, employee will end up just being that way somewhere else. Have any competitors hiring?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I used to talk too much in meetings. That’s the way I was. But it is not the way I am now.
            I had a good manager who told me how I was coming across, who sent me to an outside training program for interpersonal communication skills, and helped me work on it. She went so far as to sit me next to her in meetings so she could tap my foot with hers when I needed to stop. It was and is not easy–but it’s been worth it.

            1. Name Required*

              I don’t doubt that you put in hard work to get where you are and that it has benefitted you professionally, but the amount of effort and resources you needed to get there (outside training program, a boss who would physically tap your foot) doesn’t sound remotely accessible.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My mother is NT as anybody but she’s a verbal processor, and also somewhat self-centered, and she can talk endlessly about functionally nothing. I get that that’s how she works through things but she is unwilling to try to rein it in because “it’s just how I am”. I have begged off road trips and other events with her because I cannot handle the idea of being trapped in a car with her and her inability/unwillingness to not-vocalize an idea.

        Ironically, she complains when other people “fill the air with meaningless drivel”. People who do this never seem to think they’re guilty of the same offense.

    2. Temperance*

      He’s destroying his own work quality by doing this. Someone with slightly lower quality who can keep his trap shut in meetings is more valuable, arguably.

      If he’s ND, he still needs to get with the program. Because acting this way isn’t okay, even if he has a reason.

      1. Aquawoman*

        The whole point of accommodating disabilities is to adjust the environment so that environments don’t unreasonably interfere with the disabled person’s ability to do their job. Saying a ND person “needs to get with the program” is ableist and violates the ADA. An ND person needs to be able to do their job, and if there’s a way to do their job that solves the problem, they’re entitled to it. Moreover, this employee is overall a good employee, the LW does not want to lose him. If someone is great at 90% of their job and pretty inadequate at 10% of their job, automatically dumping him immediately is not good management. Good management considers a good employee as HAVING a problem, not BEING a problem.

        1. Temperance*

          It’s absolutely NOT an ADA violation to suggest that the employee talk less. It’s not interfering with his work performance to ask him to zip it.

        2. Temperance*

          It’s also not “ableist” to suggest that he needs to follow directions from his employer, assuming that he’s ND. He’s harming his own future and prospects by this.

          The interactive process to determine an accommodation wouldn’t arrive at the “let Fergus talk” solution.

          1. Allypopx*

            Thank you. I’m ND and found Aquawoman’s comment incredibly infantilizing.

            We might need things explained to us or need more coaching but we absolutely do not need entire work environments to bend around our “shortcomings” or bars for behavior lowered because we can’t manage to function in a “normal” workplace.

            There’s also nothing to confirm there’s any kind of ND going on here, sometimes people are just like this.

            1. Temperance*

              And I’m 10000000% on board with those things being provided! I firmly believe that people should have the tools that they need to do the best job that they can; if someone needs extremely clear instructions sent via email, for example, that’s absolutely workable. If someone struggles with social cues, tell them explicitly and don’t be a dong about it.

              I take on a lot of interns, and through trial and error, I’ve learned to be very up-front about expectations for behavior, how to interact with people (things like, stand up when an elderly client comes in the room, they love it), and that I’m open to answering ANY question and won’t get offended or judge.

            2. Kat in VA*

              The response was in the vein of a (much older) AAM where they had an employee that couldn’t tolerate mixed patterns or asymmetry in jewelry or male/female queueing.

          2. Sylvan*

            Thank you.

            Tbh I would probably find being held to low standards, as if I were an uncontrollably barking dog instead of a person who can choose their words, ableist. :/ The guy’s clearly a capable adult.

            1. Kat in VA*

              I mentioned elsewhere that I’ve booted people from Zooms for less; an uncontrollably barking dog is something I’ll mute you for (with understanding, I have dogs that must protect me from The World At Large, At Volume, At Length). If you unmute yourself (not to speak, just to mess with me and yes I’ve had people do this) and your dog is still barking uncontrollably, not only will I mute you again but I will then kick your butt out of my meeting and prevent you from dialing back in.

              There’s a point where disruption isn’t tolerable, and if you’re tolerating it, the other (non-disruptive) folks in the meeting are going to take a very dim view of your management capabilities.

              I say this as an admin, not a manager, but even I have the latitude to remove folks who are being intentionally disruptive (and hiding behind a phone number or a changed name/black screen in a Zoom call).

          3. Tau*

            Thank you (also ND).

            The thing that drives me bananas about this whenever it comes up is that the majority of the time the original advice was actually perfectly fine for the situation where the person is ND? Like here! Stating clearly and directly that something the employee is doing is unacceptable and why is the sort of direct, actionable feedback I would have killed for as a teenager. (And if there is some disability in play it is on him to bring that up and enter into a dialogue about accommodations. Which, as you point out, are unlikely to end at “just let him talk”.)

            I mean, what’s the alternative? Let him silently continue to sabotage his own career because “oh, poor dear might be ND, probably he can’t help it?” Not give him the feedback he needs to advance because you think he’s ND? That is ableist as all hell.

            1. Aquawoman*

              Yes, the words you put in my ND mouth that I came nowhere near saying are ableist, I agree.

          4. Aquawoman*

            I’m not saying that he’s ND–Alison’s comment up top is actually based on something I said the other day about NOT assuming people are ND (because I am also ND). I’m saying IF someone is disabled and IF that disability interferes with their ability to do their job, “get with the program” is not a reasonable response. Assuming that someone is doing something because of a disability but they can just stop whenever they want is not ok. I never said “let Fergus talk” was the answer — Alison gave a perfectly reasonable way to deal with this. Ignoring that in favor of “make a person do a thing he has shown himself incapable of doing” is bad management regardless of a disability and IF it’s caused by a disability, illegal.

            1. IANYL*

              Not necessarily true. If his job requires him to be an active but not overwhelming participant in that meeting, and he is simply incapable of doing so, they can certainly fire him, regardless of whether an ND status is the reason.

              The ADA requires reasonable accommodations. What’s reasonable for a 1,000 person company might be entirely different than what’s reasonable for a 100 person company or a 10 person company.

            2. Starbuck*

              Fergus hasn’t disclosed or requested any accommodation, we don’t know that he’s ND or disabled, so “this is the rule, you really need to follow it” is a totally reasonable response still. If it really does matter that he follows the rule, the OP can say that and take further corrective action if he still chooses not to follow it.

        3. IANYL*

          “ An ND person needs to be able to do their job, and if there’s a way to do their job that solves the problem, they’re entitled to it.”

          That statement simply isn’t true. Companies aren’t required to make whatever accommodations are necessary- they’re required by the ADA to make reasonable accommodations, and reasonable is a sliding scale that incorporates a lot of different factors.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          I’m ND and it’s not unreasonable to expect us to at least meet somewhere in between. We’re not incapable of modifying our behavior, thanks (on the contrary, most of us spend our lives strenuously modifying our behavior). Being ND is not a free pass to make everyone else miserable.

          Frankly, it’s patronizing to suggest we’re helpless to change. We may not be able to change all the way, but dollars to doughnuts he could do better than this if he were interested in doing so. He’s functional enough to be, apparently, otherwise very good at his job.

    3. Allypopx*

      I never learned to ride a bike either lol

      I also suffer from this. And know I overtalk in meetings (not THIS much to be fair) and frequently check in with others afterward to make sure I didn’t come off abrasive or overbearing. But it takes a certain amount of self awareness to take steps to curb the behavior and it doesn’t sound like this guy has that, even after having it explained to him, and he’s overriding the tools that could help…I dunno it sounds like more than just neurodivergence to me.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I tend to overtalk, too, and I’ve gotten pretty good at stopping myself. Even if I’m not that great at reading listeners’ cues I figure if they want to hear more, they’ll ask. It’s worth the effort to not annoy people and to keep myself in their good graces.

    4. Allie*

      I just want to thank Alison for this. I have a sibling on the spectrum and this kind of stereotyping is incredibly harmful to her.

      1. Blue*

        Yes, thank you, Alison! The inevitable thread in every comment section of Maybe A Hypothetical Autistic Though was…really starting to wear me down. And I generally really like the comments here, so I’m so pleased to see it addressed.

  6. Charlotte Lucas*

    I’ve worked with someone like this! She literally couldn’t get any of the verbal or non-verbal cues people gave her & would just go on & on. It was a pure wall of words, too, with no breaks. No one doubted that she knew her stuff, but you had to physically move away from her to get out of a conversation. (Work or non-work related.)

    Unfortunately, our management did not handle things directly, & I don’t think anyone ever addressed it with her.

    1. Ana Gram*

      I had a coworker just like this as well. I ended up just walking away from her desk when I was done talking to her. She was an admin so needed to stay in place but I could move around more. Oddly, she was never offended. No one ever addressed it with her but I suspect they would have if we had conference calls and people couldn’t physically get away from her. She was a pleasant lady and very good at her job but just chattered all the time.

      1. Aquawoman*

        +1. There’s someone at work like this and I basically interrupt him (as politely as possible) and leave or redirect. I’ve never seen any sign of offense. IME, the thing that makes people not pick up on clues also makes them not offended by directness.

        1. Sciencer*

          Agreed, I’ve also developed this tactic with certain people. Once you realize someone isn’t offended by being interrupted – and some people genuinely aren’t! – it becomes less awkward to politely cut them off to redirect, particularly from a place of authority, which OP is in.

        2. Ana Gram*

          I think that’s exactly it. I would be so put off if someone told me they were done talking to me and walked away *but* I would also never talk for 15 minutes straight. It took me awhile to try this tactic because it seems so rude but it works perfectly.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I think this kind of person is one who hates silence and simply goes on until interrupted.
          Like in the old joke:
          Judge: so why do you want a divorce?
          Wife: he hasn’t spoken to me for 20 years
          Judge: Mr D is that true?
          Husband: Yes, well you see, I was taught never to interrupt, your Honour.

    2. she wants to be anonymous*

      I currently have a coworker like this. It is honestly so aggravating. He just goes on and on and on and on, about stuff that is really not relevant at all to the job. It gets so awkward especially when other people are in the meeting and I can just feel everyone tuning out. It is surprisingly difficult to handle.

      1. Grace Poole*

        We have one of these, too. We’re peers, but if you talk to him after the meeting and say that we really need him to listen more than talk, because yadda yadda, he’s extremely apologetic and promises that it won’t happen again. Then it happens again, like we never had the discussion. It’s like Groundhog Day, except no one learns anything.

        1. Pennyworth*

          Have you tried talking to him just before the meeting? Could you agree on a visual signal you could give him when he starts to rabbit on?

    3. Cactus*

      I have a coworker like this currently. In larger group meetings, she is usually tolerable enough–there’s enough of an agenda and enough other people who need to talk that she picks up on SOME cues and doesn’t blather quite as much. But in smaller meetings, it’s impossible. I’ve been avoiding 1:1s with her for months because the couple of times that we’ve had them, they lasted twice as long as they were scheduled and I could barely get a word in.

  7. BlueberryFields*

    I wonder if this employee is new to the workforce. It doesn’t make it acceptable behavior, but I’ve seen this sort of bulldozer conversation (well, not this dramatic) in fresh college grads. But who knows.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I don’t want to get into armchair diagnosis territory, but it feels like there has to be something else going on – he’s had all of this spelled out for him very explicitly and yet can’t seem to help himself. I mean, to the point of dropping a call and re-dialing in!? I would be really tempted to try to get into the psychology of it (why do you do this, my dude?!), but that’s definitely not his manager’s job.

      1. KHB*

        On that specific incident, I wonder if he didn’t realize he’d been muted on purpose (as opposed to a bad connection or other technical difficulties)?

        1. NYC Redhead*

          I thought this too, but the LW says when he is muted, he drops himself off and dials back in to circumvent being muted.

          1. KHB*

            But isn’t dropping the call and dialing back in exactly what you do when you’re having technical difficulties, too?

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Ish. In most programs I’ve worked in, it specifically says “you’ve been muted by the meeting organizer” when that’s the case, as opposed to when you’ve muted yourself (intentionally or not). So if he thought no one could hear him, he really should’ve checked if he were muted before assuming technical difficulties/bad connection. And upon seeing he WAS muted should’ve realized it ain’t cool to go around it. I guess my ultimate point is it’s possible the dropping off/coming back was him being an idiot rather than intentional circumvention, but that’s only marginally less bad? Plus if OP’s being direct about the rest of this “I will mute you. Do not drop off and come back so you are unmuted.” could not be more direct. So that’d rule that out.

              1. Pennyworth*

                Can’t you message people on-on-one during a meeting? “I’ve muted you because you are derailing the meeting by talking excessively and need to stop. Please do not dial back in to override the muting. I would like you to just listen without interrupting.” Then there is a direct, written instruction which can be the starting point for further action.

            2. Red 5*

              Yeah, pretty much. By muting him without noting that it was on purpose, he may have assumed his audio had disconnected and the first thing you do when that happens is drop the call and dial back in.

              That makes perfect sense in a vacuum, which means it makes sense from his point of view. I see that less as a reason that he’s unhinged and desperate to talk and more as a reason that the OP’s current methods are working for her and she needs something else. Because muting him doesn’t work since he knows to reconnect to fix the “problem.”

              I don’t know how long it’s been doing it, but recently I was in a zoom call where I didn’t realize I _wasn’t_ muted and was having a whispered conversation with someone in the room, I then saw a message that “the host has muted your microphone.” It could be their software doesn’t do that, or he missed that message. But that does mean there’s a chance he knew he was intentionally muted I guess. It feels unlikely, but hard to say.

          2. quill*

            That sounds like troubleshooting for me – if LW had specifically said “I am going to have you muted so you can process aloud,” and he’d gone around on purpose, it’s very different from “huh, I think I got accidentally muted / I guess no one can hear me over this connection?”

            1. green beans*

              Or he thought, I’m done processing and now have something worthwhile to add to the conversation. The OP should direct some of her time and effort into teaching him what is and isn’t a worthwhile thought to share.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That might be the case.

          I remember when I was working as a cashier and we had to push a button to get a manager to remotely approve some transactions. I pushed the button several times because I thought it wasn’t working. And then he came over and said, “If I’ve said ‘no’, don’t keep pushing the button” Well, I didn’t know that the technical glitch I was experiencing was actually him saying ‘no’.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            That’s a poorly designed system if there’s no difference between “rejected” and “not responded”.

      2. OhNo*

        The dropping out and re-dialing in originally made me wonder if the LW maybe hasn’t been as straightforward about the situation as they could be. For a reasonable person, I could only see that happening if the employee thought something was up with their connection and re-entered the call to fix it.

        If he knows he’s been muted, though, and is specifically doing that to get around it? That’s moving straight into “fire this dude immediately” territory, IMO.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          That’s my take too, there’s a missing piece in that anecdote. Either OP wasn’t clear enough or this person should be written up.

        2. Allypopx*

          I would agree with you, but then I look at “Name, if you are going to talk to yourself, please mute.” Which he did for five minutes. Then he unmuted to speak and kept going.” and I’m not so sure.

          1. boop the first*

            The problem with that particular instruction is the condition that he is “talking to himself”, which is such an odd thing to say to somebody. Who decides whether or not he’s talking to himself instead of to others? It also suggests that when he’s ready to talk directly to the group, he’s permitted to unmute and blast away. Sounds like he followed instructions exactly as they were given to him.

            1. Allypopx*

              That’s fair, and lends to the argument that OP might not have been as direct as they think they’ve been overall.

              1. green beans*

                I don’t think the OP has been direct! The employee is clearly having a hard time differentiating between “things I should say in a meeting” and “things I shouldn’t say in a meeting” and the OP needs to provide real time feedback on that issue specifically, ideally during the meeting itself.

                “you talk too much” isn’t helpful if someone is incapable of discerning what part of what they’re saying is the “too much”

                1. green beans*

                  I do want to say that I don’t fault the OP for not being direct enough; I think it can be extremely difficult to isolate exactly what someone isn’t getting when they’re not picking up on common social cues to this extent. But I do think there’s a training approach that can help the employee become a more productive meeting member, and if he really is a good employee otherwise, it’s worth the OP’s time.

            2. Red 5*

              I agree. I talk to myself a lot, I process information better out loud a lot of the time. I am frequently mumbling something to myself (or more accurately at to the software) when I’m working on a project alone at my desk.

              I do also think out loud during brainstorming sessions and troubleshooting, when I think the situation calls for it. I might sound kind of stream of consciousness, etc. While I make an effort to always be looking around and listening for the signs that other people want to jump in or have input, I honestly don’t know how I come across in those situations.

              I consider them distinct and different behaviors. They’re both related to how I process information and work through problems, but “talking to myself” at my computer and “thinking out loud to brainstorm” in a group setting are not the same thing to me. So if I was told to mute when I’m “talking to myself” then I’d never mute during a meeting because that’s not what I’m doing in my opinion.

              I agree with Alison that he needs to be cut off entirely. He’s not getting nuance or rules, so he needs a blanket structure of “you don’t talk, you are always muted going forward.” You can start to step back from that eventually, but he’s not going to understand or comply if there’s any vagueness or individual judgement at all.

            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              yeah, Mr Verbose doesn’t realise that people are tuning out because they don’t want to listen to his flow of thought. He has no idea that everybody isn’t totally fascinated by what he’s saying.

              Just imagining what he must be like at dinner parties…

        3. Green great dragon*

          Yeh, this jumped out at me. Has LW said clearly that if they mute him they are doing it on purpose and he is not to change it? If not, I’d be explicit and try it again.

          If they have told him not to redial and he’s ignoring it then he’s ignoring a direct instruction and that’s a whole other issue.

        4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

          Yes. If the employee is doing this even though he knows his manager is muting him, that is insubordination. One thing OP can do is, if this guy dials back in after she has muted him, she should just mute him again, and keep doing it, even if it is ten times on one call. It would take up some of her attention, but it might get the point across. OP could also mute the guy when he dials back in and then private message him saying that she muted him and that he is not to unmute himself for the remainder of the call. And if he is defiant, then OP has grounds to terminate him, or at least give him an official warning, for insubordination.

      3. Yorick*

        There’s no need for a diagnosis. This could easily be either “My manager doesn’t know what they’re talking about” or “To succeed in my career I need GUMPTION!” or combination of both.

        1. Cooper*

          Never attribute to neurodivergency what could be attributed to gumption or pretentiousness.

            1. Cooper*

              I’ll admit that there’ve been situations where I, a card-carrying ADHDer, have thought “Dang, this sounds like me”, but I just use that to inform my advice, which is frequently outside-the-box and involves strategies that neurotypical folks wouldn’t think of. But man, does it grind my gears when people say “BUT WHAT ABOUT ADHD/AUTISM” as if that makes any difference as far as the impacts that the behavior is having!
              I always see it as a little like being drunk– if you’re ND and you’re not an asshole, your brainweirds are not going to *make* you an asshole. But if there’s assholery cooped up waiting to escape…yeah, the brainweirds might let it out, same as alcohol would! But only because it was in there to begin with.
              All this to say, I would love it if this became a permanent part of AAM comment rules, because it’s exhausting.

              (Although I do understand the eagerness to share– so many of us were only diagnosed because, as adults, someone online looked at our posts and said “hey, bro, you should get that looked at”. Doesn’t make it okay, but I think it does come from a helpy place. Not helpful, helpy.)

              1. ecnaseener*

                Yes yes yes – if something sounds like neurodivergence, use that to suggest specific, actionable strategies (which are often effective for NTs too!) – it’s almost never helpful to pull the “if they’re ND you have to give them a pass” crap.

  8. MissDisplaced*

    I hope this works out because it sounds like they are a good employee otherwise. I think being much mor blunt about forbidding them to talk on the calls is a start. Perhaps they can submit any feedback in writing and see how that goes. What is off here is that this person seems very unaware/unable to stop this, or doesn’t care they do it. I hope it’s the former.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is extremely hard to imagine this guy is great otherwise. It surprises me that he doesn’t do this in personal interactions as well. The co-workers I had that did this (and to nowhere this degree) also was a crashing bore who blathered until you walked away in personal interactions. If it really is just on conference calls then the manager of the call needs to mute him; possible on zoom — not sure on conference calls.

      1. Allypopx*

        I’m there too. I can’t imagine this kind of behavior – or whatever is causing it – doesn’t spill over into his other work.

      2. OhNo*

        It is possible, albeit not likely, that he works solo most of the time so it rarely affects others. It’s also possible, albeit not likely, that he usually gets his required daily talking time elsewhere normally, and this is a new development that hasn’t come into play in the office yet.

        Regardless, I think the LW needs to point it out ASAP to prevent exactly the kind of interactions you describe… and keep this guy’s colleagues from wanting to strangle him with a phone cord every time he opens his mouth.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s entirely possible – as OhNo mentions, he may work solo a lot of the time or may feel that these meetings are different than other places where he communicates more effetively.

        I currently have three people on my team who are exceptional at the subject matter of their jobs and do incredible, detail-oriented work in niche-y, pedantic domains. I can’t run their teams without any of them; however, all have sub-par communication skills in one way or another. One can be a monologuer and has received considerable feedback and coaching on it – they have generally improved over the years, but, when they’re tired or frustrated, I sometimes get long emails or speeches that are hard to get a word in edgewise on. (The other two are a less extreme version of the monloguer and someone who struggles with professional communications with people who are not as expert as they are. It hinders all of their upward mobility, but their teams understand the value they bring and that they’re getting feedback and coaching.)

        In addition to in-the-moment feedback throughout the year, we also separate annual performance reviews into categories so that we can grade more granularly. These folks always get high marks for the things they do well but also get low grades on communication and specific goals/feedback for improvement.

      4. Mental Lentil*

        LW literally begins with

        I have an employee who is a great worker. His attention to detail is impeccable. He puts in the hours needed to get the job done. As for work product, I have zero complaints.

        Your own experience ≠ LW’s experience.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          I do wonder how he impacts the team around him though. Even the highest performers can still be a major drag on their team if they undermine people around them, be it intentionally or not.
          And as a manager, OP is less likely to notice those effects than his direct work performance.

          1. KHB*

            I can see it going either way.

            On the one hand, maybe the situation is really as simple as OP describes: Mr. Verbose is a valuable worker and a great person, all apart from this one thing in this one context. People have all kinds of quirks and foibles, and maybe the solution is just to find a way to tweak your procedures a bit to keep Mr. Verbose’s verbosity from doing quite so much damage.

            On the other hand, maybe the very reason he’s been able to make himself so valuable to the team is that he’s driven all his coworkers crazy by taking up all the air. Because that’s a thing that happens too: Everyone gets caught up in bending over backwards to appease the lone-genius Golden Man (it’s usually a man) that they don’t even think about how much more the rest of the team would flourish if he weren’t there.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              ah yes I’ve seen that happen. Young Guy taken on to second the Guy that Wrote the Original Software, it was his Life’s Work. Never allowed to touch a thing. Until someone was appointed Tech Manager over them both and insisted on young guy being given something to do.
              I was browsing a tech forum looking for some info and came across a thread where people were asking about the thing Young Guy had done, asking which software did it best. The geeks answering were unanimous that Young Guy’s version was the best ever. I sent a link to the thread to Young Guy, who obviously was overjoyed. He then asked me to send it to the Tech Manager. I also copied Life Work Guy and Big Boss, because hey! this kid deserved a break. He’d only done two Masters at the same time (his dad would only pay for him to do electrical engineering, he wanted to code, so he did both at the same time), and he was a total genius just waiting to happen.

          2. Red 5*

            Depends on the team and the work product and how they actually work together to create the product.

            Basically everyone I know who has ever worked with subject matter experts in engineering has a story or twelve about the really brilliant SME who could wire an entire supercomputer with their eyes closed and their hands tied but couldn’t have a decent conversation to save their life. Lack of soft skills among high performing engineering employees is a known issue that almost everyone in the field has had to work with/around.

            There are plenty of teams where this wouldn’t come into play as much. In my field, it would be difficult but manageable. It would just mean that people would say stuff like “well, I need to get something from Fergus today, so go ahead and count me out for the rest of the afternoon. I’ll let you know when I can escape.” We’d plan around it, if he got the necessary results for whatever his job actually was. Nobody would love it, but we’ve put up with worse.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yes – speaking from the experience of being surrounded in my family by engineers – well, Sheldon from Big Bang Theory wasn’t that unusual.

              I will also say that my dad was specifically tasked in his last five working years with attempting to teach “baby” chemical engineers how to communicate and relate (verbally and in writing) with the rest of the world. He said some took it better than others, but almost all of them struggled mightily with the learning.

            2. Scandinavian Vacationer*

              Yes! Married to an engineer for 25 years. It is most definitely a “thing” with social skills and engineers–they self select into engineering so that their lack of soft skills is not a weakness.

  9. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

    This really is an unusual situation. It’s a serious problem, but it’s not anti-social, it doesn’t create work for other people or hurt their work, and it doesn’t make anyone personally uncomfortable–it just wastes time. And it IS work-related! So yeah, I agree with Alison–such a particular, non-harmful (to anyone else) circumstance warrants a unique solution.

    I would put him on a participation restriction, as Alison says, and maybe even don’t have him IN the meetings. As in, if there’s no input required from him at the time of the meetings, see if they can be recorded and give them to him later. Maybe then, even on the ones where LW moderates questions from him, those could be sorted and sent on to the participants afterward, perhaps in a nice email, or handled on a phone call where the employee can actually have a discussion with a relevant person, instead of talking to himself in front of a whole meeting’s worth of people.

    1. Snailing*

      I’d argue it does create work for other people and hurt their work though – maybe not at first glance, but he’s preventing anyone else from helping brainstorm, which hurts the end product, and his behavior is likely causing people to react negatively to him (maybe they avoid talking with him, which stunts everyone’s work, or they start not trusting his opinion with the same affect, etc.), which also ends up having a negative force o the work product.

      1. Momma Bear*

        When people are in back to back meetings or have time sensitive work of their own, going over is a huge problem.

        One of my favorite PMs sticks very closely to schedule, chimes in when people start to digress, makes those sidebars action items for only the relevant people, and finishes up meetings with a quick check in with every team member so everyone gets a say IF they need to. But I think one of the best things the PM does is the whole “I’ll make that an action for Tim and Tom” and then moves everyone along. It may be harder to do remotely, but I think it could still be done. If this kind of thing is new to the team, I’d announce it before I started doing it.

    2. RandomLawyer*

      I have to take issue with your statement that “it doesn;t create work for other people” statement and that its non-harmful. It does and is. Wasting time is disrespectful of other people and creates work because it pushes things off, makes people late, makes people have to cut corners to get something done etc. etc.. I’m going to speak as one of the people on the other end of that call. I am frequently on with people who “just need to talk things out” and cannot shut up. I HATE it. Instead of a 30 minute meeting we are there for 2 hours when I have LOTS of other things to do than listen to you babble. I will admit, this is a trigger for me. But I can understand where the people on the other side of those calls are coming from, and I can understand completely why they question the value of the person.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        I also take issue with this characterization — particularly that it is “not” anti-social. It is the epitome of anti-social. As a person who has often been on the receiving end of these monologues it is rude, aggravating, time wasting, etc etc etc. Heck, I am STILL frustrated about a colleague who used to do this, and I stopped working with them twelve years ago!

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Being constantly talked over/denied any opportunity to speak because someone is just talking on and on and on is, yeah, I agree with you – it’s darn harmful to some of us,

        (Am disabled, not white, a woman and LGBTQ – I get more than enough of being talked over)

        1. Hi there*

          Yup. I’m ND, a woman, and LGBTQ — all I could think while I was reading this letter was, “this is a cis white guy, for sure.”

          1. Cooper*

            Same. This would destroy any focus I might’ve had in the meeting! (And then I look like a jerk later when it becomes clear that I was busy checking my war table missions in World of Warcraft on my phone while Sir Talksalot was talking, because I’ve only got so much focus in a day and I’m not gonna spend it on this dude, no way.)

      3. pamela voorhees*

        I know who the people who talk incessantly in my organization are and I will go to virtually any length to avoid speaking to them, including dropping a problem entirely if there’s no alternative. Is this a bad idea? Yes, of course. But am I going to listen to how much someone’s gluten free diet improved their health for upwards of an hour when I didn’t ask and I just want to know when they’d be free to speak to someone else? Nope. They just don’t get the information/included on the call/invited to the project. Which makes them worse at their job, and other people have to do more, etc etc.

          1. pamela voorhees*

            Please take my word when I say no, there are not. Our organization strongly dislikes email and there are no consequences for not answering one. If I have to get information out of someone, actually speaking to someone is our only recourse. Which means if you can’t figure out how to self-censor and not monologue at colleagues, you don’t get included.

            1. Aquawoman*

              Well, most people can interrupt an hour-long monologue about two minutes in and say, “hey, I’ve only got a minute, can you [address the things I said originally].”

              1. pamela voorhees*

                Jennifer Strange is correct. I’ve tried this multiple, multiple times, and every time have been talked over. When someone wants to talk, and decides you’re an audience, your only option is to walk away.

      4. mcl*

        Yeah if I were in a meeting and I saw this guy’s name on the invitation list I think I’d probably be disengaged from the get-go because This Effing Guy would just be taking over the meeting, foregone conclusion. I’m sure this is damaging the department’s reputation with its clients, even if they’re internal clients.

        1. MassMatt*

          Good point; just knowing This Effing Guy is in the meeting is probably getting eyes rolling and people with better things to do than listen to someone talk to himself try to duck out. And presumably these are people that the meeting is for?

          I’ve lost too many hours of time over the years to various kinds of offenders of this type–there are many of them. I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I am rarely ever required to be in a meeting, and if I find it’s not having value I drop off. This became much easier to do when everything was going remote during the pandemic and I plan to continue along the same parameters. I am declining/not responding to meetings with nebulous agendas or with people that tend to talk a lot while adding little value.

          It’s an advantage to being your own boss; people who want to take some of my time need to show me they will make it worthwhile. I’d never take a meeting with this guy; if he reported to someone else in the organization I’d tell them why only if asked. Otherwise–nope, It’s not my responsibility to manage your people.

      5. mmmmmarty*

        Have to disagree with the “not creating or hurting work” statement. I’ve worked with a version of this person before. When they monopolize a meeting for their own monologues, they are wasting the group’s time (hurting work). Decisions to be made are put off and have to be handled outside the meeting. Meetings have to be repeated to reach the first meeting’s goals (creating work). Because this person requires social coaching, his manager has extra work outside their business goals to reign him in.

        Workers like this hurt the work done at every meeting and create more work for everyone they’re meeting with.

    3. Ace in the Hole*

      I would argue that it may well make other people uncomfortable. I would be uncomfortable if a coworker had a rambling 30-minute long conversation with themself during a conference call. I would also be pretty uncomfortable with a coworker who routinely talked over me, drowned me out, or didn’t let me get a word in edgewise… particularly if it was a man talking over me (a woman).

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        I was trying to specify that it doesn’t make people PERSONALLY uncomfortable, like it would if he were talking ad nauseum about his personal life or inappropriate topics. The act of speaking too much may very well make people uncomfortable while it is happening–as someone who finds regular conversation stressful, I sympathize with people subjected to walls of speech, especially in the awkward circumstances where everyone in a meeting knows that the speaker needs to stop talking.

        What I was trying to say was that it doesn’t sound like this problem spills over into his other work, and that LW seems to think it is limited to these circumstances. It’s an isolated problem. If it weren’t, there are several other posts on this site where Alison has advised the LW to address the other parts of the problem when it’s difficult to address one aspect. But in this case, it seems like it’s limited to the behavior in these meetings (and the consequences of disrupting them).

        1. RandomLawyer*

          Again, I have to disagree. It is very personally discomforting to be talked over, disregarded and have my time wasted. He sends the impression that you are unnecessary, and the meetings being allowed to unfold the way they have puts an institutional stamp on how little your time is valued. I’m not trying to pile on. But I’m hoping OP will see these comments and maybe get an idea of how much of liability this person is seen as by others in the organization. A person like this is infuriating.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Yes, I understood what you meant and was explaining that someone who does this does make me uncomfortable i a way that spills over into other work. It shows that they (at BEST) have a poor grasp of boundaries, little consideration for others, and/or poor self control. That makes me uncomfortable. It also indicates that they don’t respect my time, input, or goals. This person is not treating his coworkers as equals – at least not during these calls. That would make me uncomfortable working with someone even outside the specific circumstance where it happens.

          I don’t find regular conversation stressful. I don’t even find rambling, long-winded people inherently uncomfortable. But this guy is seriously crossing the line.

    4. Retired Prof*

      There’s research in organizational psychology that shows the intelligence of a group depends far less on the intelligence of the group members, than on their behavior in the group. The smartest groups have strong turntaking and the members are good at emotional cues from the other members. This guy is terrible at both, and he is taking the group down with him. There will be an impact on work product.

      1. MassMatt*

        …And a lot of this comes from whomever is responsible for running the meeting! Too often a meeting drifts from the agenda (or lacks one to begin with) or lets people drone on. Running meetings well is a skill. Find people who are good at it in your org and have them run the meetings. Unproductive meetings is a huge time sink everywhere, it doesn’t have to be this way.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Agreed – whoever is running the meeting (LW?) needs to interrupt and say “Hey, Fergus, I know you like to talk through a problem, but that’s not what we’re here for, so please put it in an email.” And they need to stand firm on that.

          I get the feeling these meetings aren’t well defined. Short informal meetings can also benefit from an agreed agenda, even if it just reads, “LW updates on status of Cookie Crumbliness Project phase 2.6.” Similarly, give clear instructions when his live input is (rarely) required: “Fergus, please give us the 30-second explanation of why we’ve swapped from raisins to currants … Ok, that’s enough, now we need to move on to raising agents.”

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I got the impression that it could a trouble-shooting meeting, or discussion of how technical issues can affect a roll-out of some kind. Fergus is there because he knows the systems inside and out–but has to talk through the options, the pros and cons, the likelihood of any problem being due to X, Y, or Z input, etc.
            So it is a defined meeting with an agenda, but Fergus completely runs roughshod over the agenda with his verbalizing every thought.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is TOTALLY anti-social and it DOES make people uncomfortable. I don’t see how this could be interpreted otherwise. People are asking not to include him in meetings– HR got involved! This is a super big deal at this point.

      I’ll clarify: someone doing this once or twice, someone being a bit of a monologist on occasion, roll your eyes and move on. This? This is serious, and it’s affecting the work of the team.

      1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

        What I meant was it doesn’t read to me as maliciously anti-social. It doesn’t sound like mansplaining or leaning in. It very well could be, but from LW’s representation that’s not what I’m getting. It sounds to me like a neurodivergence situation.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Stuff like this doesn’t have to be malicious to create uncomfortable situations, nor does it have to fall under sexism or sexual harassment. The content of his monologues aren’t the problem, it’s that he monologues at all. I’m not willing to give him a “but he doesn’t mean it” pass. This would 100% make me uncomfortable.

        2. Yorick*

          If this is a white guy never letting other people get a word in, it’s gonna feel pretty similar to mansplaining or something else very negative. And if it looks like he’s allowed or encouraged to do it, it’s gonna feel like a pretty negative environment to women and minorities.

        3. Amaranth*

          I don’t like to assume ND for…well, for anybody. Loving the sound of your own voice and crappy meeting skills are fairly common. It sounds like Verbose feels like sharing his thought process is all Very Valuable Insight. LW needs to make it very clear that the meeting isn’t for brainstorming and train-of-thought needs to be in his own head.

    6. Nanani*

      Wasting time (and probably disrupting their own productivity at whatever problem solving is supposed to be happening) does hurt their work.
      Wasting time is not only annoying but expensive, especially if he’s wasting the time of internal clients who bill by the hour.

    7. Djuna*

      I had a manager like this guy and it was exhausting. He somehow reined it in among superiors who considered him an “ideas guy” and let him brainstorm and verbally process things all over the place. But when you’re in your third meeting that week where he’s trying to decide something for the team and you know (a) the meeting will run over time and (b) none of you need to be in the room except for the last 10 minutes when he talks himself around to a decision, then it truly wears on you. I guarantee it’s doing more than just wasting time.
      I think the OP should also consider how this one dude is affecting other stakeholders’ perception of the entire team. If she can’t trust him to represent the team in meetings, then maybe he shouldn’t be allowed to go to them, and can watch/listen to recordings instead. I really don’t think people will object to recording and sharing meetings if it saves them from Soliloquy Guy.

  10. Hypnotist Collector*

    Maybe a “We want to make sure all voices are heard, so we’re going to ask everyone to comment but limit each person to x minutes of input” would help. (Or a talking stick… I live in a very woo-woo town where that would not seem unusual)

    1. fposte*

      She’s already muting the guy and he just drops and calls back. I don’t think he’s going to be slowed down by a talking stick.

      1. Tbubui*

        Exactly this. Someone who drops out of a call and comes back to get around being muted will talk even if they don’t have the talking stick. This is the type of person who will run roughshod over any sort of time limitation.

        I think Alison’s advice is sound in this case; you have to go to the extreme of just not having this person in meetings. It’s the only way to mitigate the problem since OP has been very, very blunt about it. And, frankly, it’s the only way to be fair to the other people in these meetings since they’re having their time wasted on a regular basis.

      2. PJH*

        I don’t think he’s going to be slowed down by a talking stick.

        Given the apparent obliviousness he’s shown previously, he’d probably bring his own along…

        (Ignoring the fact that these seem to be teleconferences, not in-person ones.)

        1. NerdyKris*

          Now there’s an idea. The old Token Ring network configuration, but applied to conference calls. But I feel like he would just cause the same issue that happened with that network configuration when torrents and more data intensive apps came out. Grab that token and never let go.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Giving you some major geek high fives for remembering the joys of token ring networks! Oh those were fun :)

      3. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, I think we’re way past talking stick territory here. People who really love to talk (or are oblivious to how non-stop talking affects others) aren’t going to let anyone say that it’s someone else’s turn.

        What they really need to do is find meeting software that has the equivalent of a breakout room for this one person, where they can hear others in the call but others can’t hear them, and also can’t escape by logging off and then back on again. If not, they’re just going to have to record the calls, as others have suggested.

      4. LilyP*

        I gotta be honest I was confused by this bit — is she explicitly telling him that he’s being disruptive and she’s going to mute him so others can get on with the conversation before doing it? Or just muting him without warning? I know if I was speaking in a meeting and then realized that others couldn’t hear me I’d assume it was a tech glitch and call back in.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yeah – I don’t think this is an in-person meeting at the moment (he’s dropping out and calling back when muted), but I suspect that any “talking stick” may get broken (possibly over his head by a frustrated coworker) making it pointless.

            (Or at least there would be lots of fantasies of breaking it over his head from coworkers with lots and lots of self control.)

        1. BookishMiss*

          Indeed. I can think of ways to make it an effective deterrent to overtalking.

    2. anonymouse*

      I do not think giving a stick to people who are his captive audience bodes well…I think the figurative woo woo of the item will turn to real woo-woo, of an ambulance.
      SHUT. UP. FRED.

      1. Cooper*

        This stick is made for talking, and talking’s what I’ll do– unless you go talk over me, then I’ll start bonking you!

        1. UKDancer*

          Hee hee that made me laugh. Bonking the UK is a word for shagging so Cooper’s comment was very amusing this side of the pond. Is the meaning the same in the US? Thanks for giving me a really good laugh on a rather stressful day!

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            No, it’s not. Bonk in America basically means to hit or to tap. This usage bought me endless hilarity when I was living over there.

          2. MelonHelen*

            In the US, ‘bonking’ means ‘to hit’. The alternative word to shagging would be ‘boinking’.

            1. Pennyworth*

              In Australia rooting = shagging, bonking, and randy = horny. Lots of scope for hilarity.

              1. The Prettiest Curse*

                Interesting – so do people in Australia say they are rooting for their sports team, or is that word not used in that context?

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Reading this comment to the tune of “These Boots are made for Walking.”

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, I got a talking stick broken over my head in third grade.

        And I still kept talking, which I worry that this guy might also do!

        1. quill*

          When it comes to children, pass-the-thing to take turns just gives them a physical object to fight over.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Oh, someone was wrong about dinosaurs and I interrupted them.

            And then I kept going, because I was in third grade and only my mom, a god, or a concussion was going to stop me from talking about dinosaurs.

            1. UKDancer*

              I used to do that a lot as well only in my case it was repeating the stories from the book I’d just read. Apparently I got in trouble for reciting the whole plot of Lion Witch and Wardrobe on one memorable occasion when I was at junior school. Fortunately I did learn to hold my tongue as I got older.

            2. Red 5*

              Let’s be real, I would have absolutely done the same thing in the same situation so really my only comment is that I hope that other kid learned his lesson and stopped being wrong about dinosaurs ; )

      3. Allie*

        “He just kept talking in one long incredibly unbroken sentence moving from topic to topic so that no one had a chance to interrupt. It was really quite hypnotic”.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Beware of the talking stick, as it can be used as a weapon when people are annoyed with you.

    4. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t think making a rule for everyone when only one person is the problem is the answer.

  11. Guacamole Bob*

    OP, are you sure the issue is confined to these conference calls and meetings? I wouldn’t be surprised if people were avoiding him because he’s so exhausting – or does he not need to interact with anyone else except in these meetings? How do you do checkin meetings and other management with him – does it take forever, are you always cutting him off, do you avoid talking with him when possible?

    We have a talker in our office – not this bad in terms of pure talk but difficult in other ways – and I’ve started noticing how we avoid handing off small tasks that should be in his area because it’s just too much hassle to deal with him. And we do things by email that should be a conversation, and otherwise modify workflow to work around him. It’s not great.

    I admire your commitment to making things work with this employee. You’re right that it may be worth it, but be honest with yourself about the impact this behavior has.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      This right here. I’m sure it’s not just formal meetings.

      I’m also questioning, as others are, whether the instructions are truly that clear. I suspect the reason he’s calling back in etc. is because he assumes he’s having technical issues, and not that he’s being told clearly to not talk at all other than saying hi in the calls.

      And if you have been that clear… why is it that your workload doubles if he can’t participate but isn’t already worse by having to smack his hand (figuratively) constantly in every call?

      1. Beany*

        Yeah, I wondered about his being muted. Did LW send him a message saying “I’m muting you now, because you’re talking too much”?

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yeah, I got a coworker who I simply don’t even say ‘how you doing?’ to because she absolutely will tell you. For ages. She likes to talk, she’s really nice but doesn’t get that there’s a cutoff where people need to get back to work.

      (I have told her several times that it’s a social pleasantry, and that when the other person says ‘cool, I gotta get back to work’ that’s the end of the conversation…but nah. Hasn’t worked)

    3. Guacamole Bob*

      I have wished many times for a little widget for Zoom/Teams/whatever that will run a counter showing how long each person in the meeting has spoken, cumulatively and in each specific turn speaking. Useful for demonstrating bias in a more general sense, but also for corralling people like this.

      Alas, I’ve never found one.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh, think I’ll ask our dev team if they could knock together something because that is a seriously good idea.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          My pupils are dilating at the thought.

          Not least because of the possibilities for aggregating and analysing data based on protected status.

        2. Red 5*

          I would be extraordinarily interested in such a widget, were one to exist. I would like to see if a hypothesis of mine about who speaks in our meetings is actually correct or just my own bias coloring my perception.

      2. Mallory Janis Ian*

        He’d probably see his amount of air time compared to everyone else’s and think that he is the MVP for contributing more to the meeting than everyone else combined.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Ha, true. Maybe more useful for the less dramatic cases, where people see the problem and need some tools to help them improve.

      3. Green great dragon*

        There’re certainly meeting options that do this (Whereby? Jitsi?) but they make me super conscious of how much I’m talking. You could give Talky McTalkface 2 minutes total time and mute him as soon as he hits that mark :)

      4. CurrentlyBill*

        Hmm. Teams will create transcripts with speaker attribution so it shouldn’t be that hard to create an add on to do that. (I say that as a marketing guy and not a developer).

        Or it could be done manually with transcripts and spreadsheets after the fact.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I don’t think it’s even that complicated. You could just have it note when someone’s audio is live. That would also provide data about non-contributory audio (which might finally get Crunchy Crackers McGee to mute herself).

      5. Storm in a teacup*

        You almost need a Netflix style ‘are you still watching?’ Zoom warning of ‘are you still talking?’ for this chap

    4. Blisskrieg*

      Good point, Guacamole BoB! It also may not be an issue right now outside of conference calls, but if there is any post-pandemic transition back to the office, it might become a bigger issue very quickly.

  12. OhNo*

    As a chronic chatter who constantly feels the need to fill the quiet, even I’m truly astounded at how far this guy will go to hear the sound of his own voice. I think clear, simple direction is the way to go here, and Alison’s solution sounds like the best possible option. When you talk to him about the new plan, definitely lay out the consequences for him when you tell him what the new plan will be, so he knows exactly how serious this is. Can you/will you kick him out of the call entirely if he starts talking against your instructions? What will you do if you mute him and he leaves/rejoins to keep talking?

    The good news is that it sounds like the folks you interface with the most are already familiar with the problem, so hopefully you won’t get too many weird looks about it. But it might be worth addressing it at the top of the meeting if you’re not sure, too. Just a quick “Wakeen won’t be on mic today, so you can address all your questions to me during the meeting,” should be enough to direct people. It might give them peace of mind if they’re sick of dealing with him, too, to know that he’s not supposed to be talking.

    1. Safely Retired*

      I sympathize with the OP, but I sympathize with the poor guy she is dealing with even more.
      This isn’t a matter of loving his own voice. He sees things in his own way, often more clearly than others see them, or at least more clearly than others express them. When he hears something being stated unclearly, or incorrectly, or a request for something impossible, he has to correct them. It isn’t really under his control, it is a compulsion. That stream-of-consciousness speech is a reflection of how his brain is processing things. It is tying everything together that he hears in the meeting, and any of a variety of things can trigger it all to come out. Perhaps he has an insight into a solution. Or hears something misstated. Or simply wrong. Remaining silent when he sees things so clearly (in his own mind, at least) and the other person is missing it… he can’t let the meeting go off in the wrong direction.
      Think of it as a disability, because that is exactly what it is.
      If you guessed I have a touch of this myself, you would be correct. I did not have the overwhelming compulsion this poor guy has, but some of the I-see-it-clearly side, I sure did. I was blessed with some excellent bosses who could harness my strengths, and my weaknesses were not of the magnitude of this poor fellow.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I would push back on him seeing things more clearly than other people do – he sees his own perspective more clearly than other people do, but he is incapable of communicating his perspective to them clearly. He is not keeping the meetings or decisions from going the wrong direction, he is actively *taking* the meeting in the wrong direction because he is incapable of clearly making his point.

        Regardless of why this is happening, the OP has to put the business first and hopefully find ways of harnessing the good parts of this employee as your past bosses did.

      2. Wants Green Things*

        If he’s talking the entire GD meeting, then how is he hearing someone misspeak, since no one can get a word in edgewise?

      3. Nanani*

        Please stop projecting your experiences onto him.
        It’s -hugely- egotistical to assume that you (or he) sees things more clearly than others.
        First of all you have no way of knowing that. Second, you are still wasting everyone’s time regardless of how right you might be. The meeting is not for establishing the absolute truth of minutia. It’s for a business purpose.
        One that you/he are not in charge of – or why have a meeting at all?
        You are not that special and neither is LWs blabber. Get over yourself, shut up, and realize that other people have as much of an inner insight as you -but they also know how to be professional and not pretend every meeting is the YOU show.

        1. MassMatt*

          This right here. The comment that This Effing Guy sees things more clearly than everyone else–well, that’s not indicated in the letter, at all. It sounds as though TEG has no (silent) internal monologue; he’s not being insightful or “seeing things clearly” when he does this. I wouldn’t put this in terms of a disability at all; as Alison mentioned at the top of the thread, plenty of non-disabled and neurotypical people do this.

        2. Hazel*

          I don’t disagree with much of what you’ve said, but there’s no need to tell someone to get over themselves and to shut up. You can make your point and still be civil and kind.

          1. Red Wheelbarrow*

            Yes, this. This comment did seem like a stretch to me, but there’s no call for being unkind.

        3. anonon*

          I agree really strongly with this comment. When I’ve seen this ‘woe is me, I’m so intelligent it’s a detriment’ trait it’s usually associated with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      4. onco fonco*

        This is something of a leap. You experienced this, and LW’s employee is exhibiting some similar behaviours, but we cannot say that he is experiencing what you did. We don’t know him.

        I have compulsions. I can’t just head off into a loop on office time and expect everyone to sit around while I do it.

        1. OhNo*

          Seconded. I have ADHD, which can sometimes present in verbal explosions that are neither relevant nor required for the situation at hand. But even I don’t do this, and neither do most people with ADHD, autism, or other disabilities.

          Having a disability doesn’t give you a pass to be rude to your colleagues, insubordinate to your boss, or generally behave in a self-absorbed manner.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah. That bit about it ‘being an actual disability’ was absolutely incredibly offence to me – and I got disabilities some of which can affect how I deal with people.

          I work really hard to not have bad stuff happen like this.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        I think this whole comment is still kind of operating on the assumption that people who do this are correct and simply unable to hold their correct-ness back. I have met a lot of people who do this to some extent, albeit not to the same extent as the OP’s colleague, but the thing is that they are often not correct. Sometimes they are just straight-up wrong, or the information they’re compelled to convey is irrelevant or they’re pointlessly nitpicking or repeating themselves or thinking out loud – or on some infuriating occasions that I’ve witnessed, they’re convinced that other people simply don’t understand their genius because those people are young or female or foreign and therefore need everything explained to them in minute detail. There’s this assumption that even if they’re know they’re going on a bit (“haha sorry guys I’m such a talker anyway back to my forty-minute monologue”) everything they have to say is inherently valuable and other people need/want to hear it. And that’s not true! Even if this guy is great at his job, not everything that crosses his mind needs airtime.

        It wouldn’t really be acceptable even if everything the guy said was a deep insight into the state of the nation or whatever, because it’s still rude and thoughtless. But I think it’s important to get away from the presumption that this kind of behaviour stems from just being unable to correct other people’s wrong-ness, because that’s quite insulting to everyone else he’s doing this to.

        1. quill*

          Precisely. If I needed a lecture on the nature of teapot design, instead of a single question answered about the current teapot design spec, I’d go back to college. Forcing Rambles McTalkerson to write things down instead of air them during a meeting would have the side effect of capturing his insights much, much better for posterity as well.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          This. I remember a former coworker who was absolutely convinced that only he really knew the way things really worked, the way we really should be doing things, the most valuable way to spend our time and energy, etc. He…was not correct. And while some of his complaints about the way other people saw things and did things were valid, it didn’t mean he was right about everything. Not by a long shot. When he departed our workplace, it was quite the breath of fresh air.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          The most intelligent and skilled people I have on staff can give a) concise answers, b) not talk over everybody and c) actually will admit when they are wrong.

          I doubt I’d have as good an opinion of someone who just talks over others and goes on and on and on….

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            And truly intelligent people are also willing to admit when they don’t know something, and then go attempt to find the answer.

        4. AcademiaNut*

          Yeah, in my experience with some seriously bright people and lots of technical/problem solving meetings is that talking non stop over other people is in no way correlated with brilliance and insight. The most brilliant and accomplished person I’ve personally worked with will sit quietly through most of a meeting and then, in a succinct and clear manner, provide an incredibly insightful comment or question, in a tactful manner no less.

          I find it’s really common for people to assume that the person making the most noise is the smartest person (or the one who has the most difficult circumstances, or needs the most understanding), and it’s just not true.

      6. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes…I agree with this. This is probably why the employee is so good at the job. I am usually pretty far ahead of everyone because I think in a complex way about plans and contingencies all the time. All. The. Time. So, it’s kind of hard to sit in a meeting where I know we are not going to do what everyone wants to do because it won’t work. Fortunately, I realized with the help of my first boss that people will not like to hear The History of Why I Think You Are Wrong or The Saga of That’s Not How That Works Let Me Explain Why. I learned to stay quiet and listen and give things back to people in small doses when asked, and that when some plan fails, everyone understands better when they see it start to happen. (…and then we’d get to do what I thought of in the first place so…win-win)

        That said, I seriously don’t get why the employee won’t shut up. I suspect this is a problem in other areas of the workplace so please go check that out. OP, you need to be blunt as you can be and tell the employee that nothing can be accomplished if he alienates everyone else in the meeting and that people are questioning his value as they would rather deal with someone with a lesser skill set and more self-control. Tell him he is being disrespectful of his coworkers and their time. Tell him you will be recording the meetings for him if he cannot control himself, and that you will openly call him out during a meeting with “OK, that’s enough. Let’s move on.” Then do it.

        1. Sparkles McFadden*

          …and I just want to point out that my reply went on far too long. I’m working on that too.

        2. Nanani*

          With all respect, why do you assume you’re the -only one- thinking in complex ways like that?
          Odds are high a component of why people were annoyed is that they knew that. It was obvious to them because they are also professionals on this topic.

          Working on the blab is great but also consider reframing this narrative where you’re the only one with special insight and deep thoughts. Other people aren’t cardboard cutouts reciting lines. They have thoughts too.

          1. Cooper*

            Nah, sometimes you genuinely *are* thinking way ahead. If you’ve realized that X is going to be a problem, but are struggling to convey why it’s going to be a problem, or can’t make a good case other than that you’ve seen X enough times to know the warning signs…yeah, that’s frustrating! It’s not about thinking that other people are cardboard cutouts. It’s about using your experience to identify potential problems, not being listened to, and then being proven right in the end.

        3. Cooper*

          Yep. This.
          The best thing to do in these cases, ime, is to ask some leading questions to see if you can steer people away from the Cliffs Of The Thing I Know Damn Well Is Going To Happen Because I Have Experienced It Before, and if you can’t gently redirect… batten down the hatches, vent to people outside of work, and practice your feigned surprise for when you inevitably fall off the cliff and everyone acts like it’s a surprise.

        4. OhNo*

          He’s not good at the job, though. If he’s alienating his coworkers/internal clients, when his work clearly requires that he sit in on meetings with them, he is by definition bad at his job, no matter how excellent his work is otherwise.

          I’m like you – I have a brain that immediately jumps to edge cases, contingencies, plans, etc. the moment any new idea is mentioned. And it can be really useful! But I learned early on that most of that doesn’t need to be said out loud. Did I need a hint the first few years I was working? Absolutely. Do I still need hints sometimes? Absolutely. But I proactively set up systems to keep my verbal diarrhea to a minimum, including creating a culture with my boss where I can just ask “do you want my brain dump right now, or will that derail us?”

          The difference is that this employee is ignoring the hints. He’s ignoring being muted. He is ignoring his boss telling him to mute himself. He is ignoring his boss telling him to talk less, or even not to talk at all. That is not the behavior of someone who is too smart for their own good and can’t let a mistake go uncorrected – that’s the behavior of a jerk.

      7. mf*

        “When he hears something being stated unclearly, or incorrectly, or a request for something impossible, he has to correct them. It isn’t really under his control, it is a compulsion.”

        No, actually he doesn’t *have* to correct them. If he feels he’s unable to control himself in meetings, he needs to seek help from a therapist. It is on *him* to learn self control or coping mechanisms to deal with his impulse control issues–it’s not his manager’s or employer’s responsibility to entertain his inappropriate impulses.

        Also, if he thinks he obviously sees things more clearly than others and therefore simply must speak up, that’s a hugely arrogant and entitled attitude.

      8. HQB*

        You seem very certain of your interpretation, despite it being only one of many plausible ones. And in fact there is evidence against it in the OP’s letter: “talking himself in and out of solutions, rehashing issues already solved, etc” is not consistent with seeing things more clearly than others see them, or of “tying everything together.” Asserting, without evidence, that he has a disability that means he literally is incapable of deciding whether to speak or not is really irresponsible and not supported by the letter.

      9. pieces_of_flair*

        This all just reads to me as self-centeredness, arrogance, and grandiosity. Being a jerk is not a disability, and framing it as one does a disserve to actual people with disabilities, who are no more likely to be jerks than the general population.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          “Being a jerk is not a disability, and framing it as one does a disserve to actual people with disabilities, who are no more likely to be jerks than the general population.” THIS. Exactly, this.

      10. Safely Retired*

        Clearly I failed to express my self clearly. I apologize for that.
        What I failed completely to get across was that the clarity I attributed to him was IN HIS OWN MIND. I put that qualifier in only once. It should have been repeated at each reference. Sorry for my failed communication.
        My diagnosis could be totally wrong, of course. The self-centered personality may well be attributable to simply being a jerk and a**hole. I happen to think that is a simplistic assumption, and that such extreme behavior has a more complex cause.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          This is exactly why AAM has a rule against armchair diagnosis. The idea of ‘but he/she/they can’t help it because condition X that wasn’t even mentioned in the letter’ basically doesn’t give a solution to anything aside from ‘you just have to live with incredibly disruptive behaviour’.

          It derails, stops conversation dead and offers no advice.

          1. Phoenix Wright*

            Yep, and even if it was true, it doesn’t mean people have to tolerate it. OP isn’t asking for the reason why this happens, they’re asking for advice about how to stop it from happening.

      11. ecnaseener*

        Gotta say, my first reaction to the letter was that this guy either gets super nervous and loses his filter, or is woefully un-self-aware. I didn’t think it likely that he actually believes he’s so much smarter than everyone in the room and should get to speak 10x as much as them.

        But now, seeing a couple commenters here saying they identify with him…because they’re smarter than everyone in the room and their contributions are more valuable…well. Maybe that’s what’s going on with the LW’s employee after all.

        (To be fair, there’s an obvious statistical bias here – non-self-aware people won’t be describing themselves in the comments by definition.)

    2. College Career Counselor*

      He also sounds too unaware of himself to take to heart the three sentence mantra I sometimes employ:

      1. Does this need to be said?
      2. Does this need to be said RIGHT NOW?
      3. Does this need to be said by ME?

      I’m pretty sure Verbose Vincent’s answer is going to be a resounding “YES, and at length!” I would love to see a follow-up to this letter. I suspect it will be “Verbose Vincent never changed his ways and either got fired or became the rock in the stream that we all work around.”

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Good advice.

        I’ve been considering whether it might help to give him a copy of the agenda, and direct him to write a memo detailing his questions and suggestions on the issues to be considered. I’m sure it would be excessively long, but the other participants wouldn’t be subjected to his stream of consciousness.

        After “glancing” at the memo, LW could return it to Motor Mouth with the instruction to prioritize 3-5 “high priority” questions and 3-5 “high priority” comments he would like to make.

        When he brings this list back, LW can decide whether any items on the list would help further the goals of the meeting. If so, LW can explain why she (rather than Motor Mouth) will share them with the meeting, and if not, she can explain that none of the items will help move the meeting to a decision. In either event, he isn’t allowed to talk in the meetings until and unless he can demonstrate the ability to distill his thoughts into a useful form.

        One point that attracts me to this pan is that it puts the burden on the verbose employee, rather than on LW, to analyze the content of his proposed remarks and to document his effort (or lack thereof) to address the problem. LW should put most of the burden of recognizing and correcting the problem on the employee, but give actionable feedback on his efforts to distill his proffered contributions, rather than trying to select individual raindrops out of his verbal hurricane to discuss with him.

        Any plan with even a remote chance of success will entail some work. The manager should expect the employee to do the heavy lifting, if there is to be any effort to save his job.

  13. Nyeogmi*

    Is it possible this person could communicate via text chat or email? (They could even do this in meetings where the other people are using voice.) I used to have this problem and it was a lot easier for me to monitor myself when I was using those media — it also meant I wasn’t competing for space with the people who were speaking.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Oh I really like this idea, although if using a live messaging thing I’d put a bit of a delay between messages so they can’t just flood the channel.

    2. Pyjamas*

      “ Then I end up fielding messages in chat from him while on the call, which is better than the alternative.”

      Sounds like he’d go overboard with the texts. Better than the alternative still ain’t great

  14. IDBEME*

    Maybe record the conference calls and have him review them afterwards? That way he can review the call and send an email with his input afterwards.

  15. Jean*

    This is an extreme solution, but it might work – Call him out in the middle of one of his episodes. Just stop the meeting and say “What are you doing? We’ve talked about this. It’s not adding value and it’s wasting time.” And just let everyone sit there in silence looking at him. He might actually get it that what he’s doing is horribly disruptive and potentially harmful to his career.

    1. Snailing*

      Or even just a regular interruption if OP hasn’t tried yet: “Fergus, I’m going to ask you to stop on this subject so we can hear input from X. X, what do you think?” or “Fergus, thank you for sharing, but we’re going over time here. Let’s have you pause and if you have more thoughts, please hold them until the end of the meeting.”

      I think as the manager, OP really needs to give a good faith effort to do this in a way that she’s not obviously throwing him under the table and purposefully trying to humiliate him on the call. A really direct convo is needed, try out Allison’s speaking ban, and then also pair it with a direct but gracious interruption when needed.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I seriously thought about just sounding an air horn at him in a meeting to get him to shut up. Probably considered rude and might not even work ANYWAY, though.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        ^^^This. I don’t see any way for a work relationship to recover from this level of public shaming.

      2. BatManDan*

        I can think of a number of situations where it’s appropriate to humiliate someone in front of others; racist or sexist comments being just two of the ones that come to mind, and this guy is a third. As for the “I don’t see a work relationship recovering….,” I’d like to point out that the work relationship is ALREADY at its lowest ebb, and it’s to the point where some people see his removal as a win. The work relationship with everyone ELSE will never recover, if this isn’t handled, so it has to be handled in whatever way works.

    3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Yes- OP can mute him mid-monologue. In this case, it’s okay to interrupt.

    4. NotThatLucinda*

      I think it’s totally ok to have the conversation after the fact, privately, but if he is as good an employee in other ways as the OP says, this is really cruel. Telling him (privately) about a talking ban is also harsh, but avoids publicly humiliating someone. Definitely, interrupting and moving on in this situation is ok, but I wouldn’t say those phrases, I’d just do it and talk about it privately, and directly, later.

      1. NotThatLucinda*

        He sounds obnoxious! But being publicly rude to someone you manage will reflect really badly on you.

  16. CatCat*

    HR has suggested I just stop including him in meetings, but then it doubles my workload and things are lost in translation.

    At the end of the day, is this employee bringing in enough value for it to be worth it for you to double your workload?

    I think that’s the calculus.

    1. Lana Kane*

      Agreed, it really does come down to this in the end. It’s one thing to do excellent work that not many people can do vs doing excellent work that others can also do, if you are able to hire for it. This is a lot of disruption that this person is bringing to the workplace.

    2. JRR*

      I don’t get the sense that this worker is enough of a superstar genius to actually justify doubling the workload of his manager. At that point it would almost certainly be preferable to replace him with 2 engineers of average abilities.

      In my experience, good engineers are good communicators, because that’s an essential part of the job. It’s rarely worth working with an engineer who isn’t.

  17. fposte*

    I’m curious–have you asked him, outside of the pressure of the moment, why this is happening? Does he understand that what he’s doing is against what you’ve asked him to do or does he feel like these were important exceptions? I’m wondering if there’s room here to make him part of creating a solution (or at least a mitigation) and that you might have more buy-in if so.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I was wondering this too. This isn’t someone who is forgetting themselves — they are signing off and signing back in to get around the block you have specifically imposed on them! That is really intentional insubordination. I think you need to ask them why they are doing that.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I don’t even care why he does it: he’s clearly compulsive and CANNOT EFFING STOP.

      I wouldn’t invite him to meetings any more either. Record them and let him monologue to himself on his own.

      1. fposte*

        I think it could make a difference as to whether he’s retainable or not. But mostly, I’m just curious.

      2. Rebecca1*

        It doesn’t matter in terms of a solution, but I’d sure like to know in case of an update!

      3. cubone*

        I absolutely care why he’s doing it! I get that he’s annoying and obnoxious and the LW doesn’t need to keep tiptoeing around it, but understanding why could actually be really useful to get him to understand. Like if it’s that he thinks all his coworkers are stupid and only he has good ideas, well, then he needs to be told thats absolutely untrue and ridiculous. But maybe it’s because someone told him talking the most in meetings is a good way to impress your boss! Maybe he really likes free-wheeling brainstorm discussions and giving him an every-other-month “ideas” chat would be enough to curb this. Who knows (we certainly don’t). “Why does this keep happening?” would be a great question to ask. Why is this so important to him that he’s fine risking his reputation / why doesn’t he care (or realize) that that’s what’s happening? Whether subconsciously or not, he’s weighed doing this vs not doing this and has decided it’s worth it.

        1. Nanani*

          Good point – if it is a misguided attempt to impress people, he needs to be told clearly that it is having the opposite effect.
          If it’s outsized ego like that one projector in the thread, maybe no words can convince him that he’s not uniquely wise and letting him go is the only solution.

        2. Red 5*

          Same! If he is consciously aware that he’s doing it, and knows why he does it, that 100% informs the next step and how to handle it and get over the problem with him, and even if the problem can be gotten over.

          And if you ask him why he talks constantly and doesn’t let anyone else speak and he says “no I don’t, I don’t talk any more than I have to…” well, that’s an answer too.

          It doesn’t change the immediate action needed (a full ban on talking in meetings) but it can inform the next steps so that they’re more effective, if he’s able to articulate a reason then you can tailor the training to the reason which is more effective.

          It’s not fool proof, but it’s worth investigating at least a little.

    3. Koala dreams*

      I also think that’s worth a try. Asking him why he keeps doing it, and asking for his suggestions on how to solve the issue.

    4. GraceRN*

      I agree! I think there is room for curiosity, as far as I can tell from the letter. Unless he’s a US senator deliberately filibustering, I think learning his take on this issue will likely be an important part of the solution, whatever his take might be.
      LW: Maybe think of it this way – ask him this question, and his response will provide key data that can inform you on what your next move should be. Although I would caution you not to be tied to making him part of the solution. But it’s clear that you need to do something different and do it soon. You might be underestimating how much his behavior is reflecting negatively on you as a manager.

  18. Temperance*

    He needs to know that this is a career-limiting, or career-ending, habit. No one likes a know-it-all, or a mansplainer, or a person who just talks to hear their own voice.

    External processing during a meeting is excessively rude.

    1. BatManDan*

      And the LW needs to acknowledge that failure it handle this guy is a career limiting move for the LW.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve worked in tech for long enough to encounter one or two of these. They simply don’t have the switch for ‘talk/listen’ or if they do it’s permanently switched to ‘talk’. And welded in place.

    When a simple discussion of the setup for a new SQL box suddenly ends up listening to Mike (not real name) talk for nearly an hour about absolutely everything going through his head – and raising his voice to be heard when others talk – it’s a real problem.

    (Mike would especially talk over the women in the meeting. Repeating things I’d already said as though they were his ideas was his favourite)

    We tried basically telling him that he had o more than 10 minutes to give his opinion. Nope, just kept banging on.

    We tried telling him that it would be far better for him to put his thoughts in an email because nobody was gonna remember his hour long monologue. We ended up getting the monologue AND a write up of it after!

    So, in the end we just stopped inviting him to meetings – he’d be given what was discussed and asked for his opinion (he did know his stuff, just couldn’t listen to anyone ever) and we’d go back to the client with the decision. He absolutely hated this, we hated it, he began complaining that nobody cared if he existed, things like that. This was a long time ago, I think he left the firm when he got sick of never being invited to anything – but we’d all tried to tell him to let others talk.

    (He was also the kinda bloke who’d trap you at your desk if you so much as say good morning and give you a long long rambling monologue about everything ranging from his job to the weather to his kids to his theories on astronomy photography to…)

      1. quill*

        Seconded, the internet always needs a reminder that Neurodivergent and Rude are not synonyms. (And that bad behavior is not the sole province of the neurodivergent or mentally ill.)

        1. HelenofWhat*

          Yeah, when it’s at the level of “no one wants him in meetings anymore” I’d want the manager to just say that, “I’m being asked to exclude you from meetings because of this issue”. Let the employee know that they need to show improvement so they can keep the job (unless there’s an option to change the job so he’s just never needed in meetings, but I can see him being miserable and quitting anyway.)

    1. Nanani*

      “(Mike would especially talk over the women in the meeting. Repeating things I’d already said as though they were his ideas was his favourite)”

      This right here is all the proof you need that he could help it if he wanted to. Whether it’s ego or malice or what doesn’t matter but the fact that he talks over some people more than others shows there IS some level of control.

      Does LW’s blabro have a similar pattern? Seriously watch for it – LW herself may be exempt due to having seniority over him.

    2. Teatime is Goodtime*

      I worked with a guy like this–and he did get forbidden from attending meetings with our external and most of our internal clients. We solved (or went around) the problem by having an appointed go-between (me sometimes because of my job, often other people depending on the client). Essentially, someone who knew the clients well would sit with the clients and dig in to their problem, then go spend the hour or two or three having a talk-hash-out with this guy. And sometimes there’d have to be two or three rounds of that and then the right things would happen.

      In some ways this was kind of inefficient–I mean, I’d spend literally hours with him having talk throughs which was not really what I was hired for–but he was extremely valuable to the organization in so many ways that it was worth it for them. I think he was bothered by it because it was indirect, but it worked out in the end, or at least while I worked there.

      Honestly, I actually really liked the guy. He was fantastic at explaining how things worked, he just couldn’t have a short conversation. Every conversation, even “casual chats”, was at least an hour and if you had to be some place to be you had to literally move away from him because telling him that or any other social cues didn’t land. But the more I did the back-and-forths, the more I understood our clients’ systems and what he wanted to know, so I could anticipate his questions to a certain degree. I also learned a lot about what he was doing, which was a huge plus for me in so many ways.

    3. cleo*

      I went to college with a guy like this. One of my friends was in a seminar class with him and finally made “Shut up Name” signs for every one else in the seminar to hold up as needed. And it kind of worked.

  20. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I feel like also some training on how to respond briefly could be warranted. Like “okay, I’m going to ask you a question, but I need your answer in no more than 3 sentences, and then when they hit that mark, stop them like, “okay, that’s good. I’m going to stop you there so we can continue with the meeting”. And then turn to another topic. It may also be something you want him to practice in your one-on-ones and when he gets better at it is when you can remove the talking restriction in meetings.

    1. introverted af*

      Yeah, I think initially they will probably really dislike this but you’d be doing yourself and them a favor to offer this coaching on what kind of behavior you do want to see.

    2. Cooper*

      This is a great suggestion! I had to be taught how to explain things in a coherent, sensible manner– thankfully, it happened when I was a kid with a tendency to tell rambling stories without any of the context attached. Taking a second to think, get my ducks in a row, and get the setup handled before diving into whatever I’m talking about helps a ton! (It does mean I wind up with a couple of false starts, sometimes, but that’s mostly on me having a memory like a steel sieve.)

    3. Run mad; don't faint*

      The framework I’ve used for myself and others is, “What do they need to know right now to move on this issue, and what is the most concise way to impart it”?

  21. Retired Prof*

    I have had students like this, one extreme enough that I suspected he was on the spectrum (not speculating about the person in the letter). Nothing works but severe bluntness. He may not understand how completely he is dominating the conversation, or he may think it’s a good thing he does so because in his view he’s the only one who can solve the problem. Or he may be an extreme verbal processor. But he needs to be told in very plain language what the problem is, what the proposed solution is, and the consequences for not complying. I agree with Alison – no talking at all until he can earn his way back to talking by strict guidelines (e.g, 5 questions per meeting with no comments).

    1. darcy*

      saying “not speculating about the person in the letter” is pretty pointless when you’re speculating about someone else in response to the letter. you could just not speculate about anyone, and say that you had a student like this where nothing worked but extreme bluntness.

  22. Heidi*

    I’m actually curious as to how the employee responded to the feedback. Did he recognize that there’s a problem at all? Does there seem to be any willingness to change or work on the problem? I think that would be an important point if OP is expecting this employee to change his behavior.

    1. Nanani*

      That’s a great point. If the feedback is “your contributions are great BUT” he might not be hearing what comes after the but.

      1. BatManDan*

        Yup. The whole phenomenon of low-aptitude employees uttering “I never saw it coming” has been found to be 50% the fault of their managers, who say ridiculous things like “your contributions are great, BUT….” The manager simply needs to say “You have to stop X. People want to see you fired over it, and I don’t want that.” (There is some insight to be had about the inept employees, too. Of COURSE they couldn’t see it coming – if they could have, they would have made the changes already.)

    2. Threeve*

      He hasn’t processed “don’t talk endlessly in meetings” or “you’re only here to listen” but that could be (kinda) subjective in his skewed view of his own behavior.

      But “do not unmute at all during this meeting” is a very black-and-white instruction. He stays muted or he doesn’t; if he doesn’t, he is knowingly refusing a direct instruction from his manager and is just full-stop a bad employee.

  23. Not A Manager*

    I think this is a great time for the compliment sandwich. Let him know that in anyone else, this continued behavior (AND his refusal or inability to follow direct instructions) would lead you to consider letting him go. But because he does such amazing work, and because you know he has good will, you are going to make this special accommodation in order to preserve his employment while allowing meetings to proceed.

    1. Allypopx*

      Normally I’d say the compliment sandwich is not a good tool with someone who has shown this much obtuse resistance to feedback, but I think this wording is actually a good spin on it.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It almost sounds like a reverse compliment sandwich approach. It may work – because the uncomfortable parts are the bread – this is bad, eventual output is good, this bad has to stop.

    2. OhNo*

      Eh, I feel like laying out what a Special Boy he is in this conversation would be doing a disservice to him, by masking how egregious this behavior truly is. Maybe he’s good at the technical aspects of his job, but interfacing well with colleagues is ALSO part of his job, and he clearly sucks at that part.

      Given how much subtle feedback he’s ignored at this point, this reads as a time for bluntness to me. Sometimes hard feedback just needs to be hard feedback, with no sugar coating, so the recipient can fully understand what you’re saying.

      1. Not A Manager*

        I think I wanted the OP to be able to convey how serious this behavior is, while not actually threatening his employment if she doesn’t mean it. It sounds like he IS valuable enough that she’s not considering terminating him, so saying “your job is on the line” really isn’t true. But it is true that this behavior is generally enough to get someone fired, so I’d like her to be able to say that.

    3. BatManDan*

      Compliment sandwiches have been shown not to work, for the simple fact of classical conditioning. You’re training people to hear negative feedback after every compliment, and it makes them gun shy. And, the sort of employee that can take constructive criticism and respond appropriately (emotionally, and with changed behavior) doesn’t need the fakery of a compliment sandwich, and those that can’t, can’t no matter how it’d delivered. The compliment sandwich is a theoretical solution proposed by manager types that want to feel better about themselves, not an actual solution that has been found to work.

  24. Allypopx*

    I’m not as optimistic that this is salvageable, OP. You should certainly try some of the tactics suggested here if you haven’t already, but if him not being at a meeting is so disruptive it *doubles* your workload, then these meetings are a pretty fundamental part of his job. In that case if he can’t do a meeting, I’m not convinced his other attributes are enough to keep him on long term.

    I’d default to the classic “this is something that will jeopardize your future at the company if we can’t get it under control” script. Because it will. Other people don’t see his value, or want to work with him (from what it sounds like). HR is even involved. Do you see him getting promotions or taking on any kind of increasing responsibility? Can he even survive at this level if he’s curated this negative reputation for himself? While he may have good technical skills, these things matter – and clearly matter in this role. I think you need to treat it like any other major performance issue and be ready to let him go if it doesn’t get sustainably better.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. You may want to talk with HR about how to word a PIP for him. (Speaks only when called upon by the meeting organizer? Does not talk for more than 10 minutes at a time? Stops talking when asked? I admit, wording this could be tricky.) You may want to do some discreet investigation, because it’s highly likely that others in your organization are avoiding him or working around him, and that’s not going to be good going forward. His work product may be excellent, but if he can’t correct his other behavior, he’s going to become a liability for you as a manager.

      Do not get bogged down in why he does this. Focus on the behavior you need to see from him and, if he can’t change it in a reasonable time frame, let him go.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – if he really is the best at this stuff and spends most of his time on solo work, maybe you can create a work around for meetings to salvage this, but if that unicorn situation isn’t the case this situation may not be as salvageable.

        But I think a really blunt this needs to change conversation needs to happen, and looping in HR may help get this situation under control faster.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup– this needs higher stakes. “If you do not get this under control in ___ weeks, we have to seriously consider your future here.” Set the date, prepare the PIP, follow through.

    3. Cookie D'oh*

      I agree. This seems like it will require an enormous amount of coaching and hand-holding and it might not even result in him changing his behavior. I’ve worked with teams where it seems like there’s one really amazing software engineer and it seems like things would fall apart without them there. But then that person leaves and there may be a little bump in the road as other people learn about the systems, but then things move along just fine.

    1. Allypopx*

      Does that change the advice though? Even the harsher advice in the comments…if he can’t control it, and reasonable accommodations aren’t working (LW doubling their workload certainly isn’t reasonable, though some things like recording may be), and the role requires these meetings, then this role may just be a bad fit.

  25. (Kindly) Get to the point*

    Any suggestions for when you have someone who does this but having them not speak at all also isn’t a solution? I’m talking about someone I supervise.

    I need (and want!) their input but don’t need 30 minutes of it. I don’t struggle as much to push back or course correct in the moment when it’s about things that are not emotionally-charged (though it’s still a problem), but our work comes with some territory that can be difficult emotionally. For example, we are working to make the organization more equitable (specifically around race). We need these conversations to be more productive than 20 minute incoherent speeches/rants (often with tears). I may agree with this staff member entirely, but we don’t need to spend a half hour with them saying the same thing over and over and over. By the time they finish, their words have been so mangled that they’ve lost everyone in the group, despite having a good point to make.

    I’ve been so direct that “brevity” is a specific goal in their annual goals. I’ve tried giving them 1-1 time with me to process before and after the group conversation (which is where I’d really like to curb this behavior). I’ve tried DM’ing during the rants to ask to wrap it up. I’ve tried asking them to time themself and stick to a limit (I suggested 5 minutes). I’ve tried positive reinforcement (“I really liked how you made that last point” or “thank you for making sure everyone else also got to talk in the meeting, too.”)

    There’s a history of this person not feeling valuable (from before I started) and so any feedback about “share less” is taken as a specific attack and isn’t meant to convey that they aren’t valuable, but that’s how it’s heard. I’ve had some success tying it to professional goals (“You don’t want to lose people on your good points by talking to long”) which has gone well, but still hasn’t completely solved it.

    Am I missing something?

    1. Temperance*

      The thing is, this person’s need to be “valuable” and their desire to never stop talking are incompatible.

    2. Not A Manager*

      This sounds like a workplace with a lot of fraught history, and it can be hard to adhere to professional norms given that background. You say “any feedback about ‘share less’ is taken as a specific attack and isn’t meant to convey that they aren’t valuable, but that’s how it’s heard,” but in fact, they way that they are sharing *is* making them less valuable (because it eats up meeting time), and it’s making them *appear* less valuable (because they are behaving unprofessionally by regularly crying and becoming incoherent in meetings).

      If you are able to “normalize professional norms,” as it were, you can kindly but straightforwardly tell this person that crying in meetings is unprofessional, period. Offer (or tell them) that whenever they are getting upset during a meeting, you will call a brief halt so that they can recoup, and then you’ll just continue with the meeting so that they can participate effectively. Similarly, if they are going off on a tangent or taking up too much time, kindly but firmly say “this is getting us off our point. Fergus, if you want to talk about this later, let’s schedule some time, but for now I want to hear from Betsy in accounting.”

      I feel that this might be hard to do in your office, and with this particular employee, but I’m not sure that additional hand-holding is going to help.

      1. quill*

        I wonder about the context on this one, because – sometimes people do not have a handle on their experiences enough that they can talk about them at work. I’m not saying that you should exclude this person from your initiative, but I wonder if your process is relying too much overall on having marginalized people process and explain their marginalization during work hours. Is the equality initiative taking a lot of emotional labor out of everyone who is involved, or just this person?

    3. fposte*

      I’m not seeing the part where you cut them off after 5 minutes. I understand that they’re not going to like it, but they’re squashing everybody else in that meeting, and those people don’t like that. It can help to announce at the beginning that you’re going to be traffic cop and make sure people stick to time, and that it’s okay for people to take a moment offline to compose themselves when emotions get high.

    4. Pikachu*

      I think you are in the same boat as OP and it is time to ask whether this person is really right for their role/your team. Work needs done, your employee’s behavior is getting in the way, and you’ve addressed it with them multiple times both formally and informally. Nothing is sticking. Maybe the next step would be to level up “brevity” from an annual goal to a PIP, making it clear that lack of improvement has real consequences.

    5. Rebecca1*

      My thoughts on this depend partly on whether the person in question is a member of the in-power racial group(s) or not, in the context of your company and/ or your area. If they are getting emotional and repetitive over finally addressing bad things that have been happening to them for a long time, that’s different from getting emotional and repetitive over having to give up long-held privilege and power.

      1. (Kindly) Get to the point*

        Thanks, Rebecca – I was typing my response as you posted this. Up to now at least, I’ve gone with the mantra “enormous patience and great care.” We’re to the point where we need to start implementing this stuff and it feels like we’re stuck in these circular discussions that might be valid, but are not necessarily relevant for the moment or in moving forward.

        1. fposte*

          Ah, yes, that is an important dimension. But it also raises the question as to whether this is the right venue/structure for this discussion in the first place–even if other people manage to keep to 5 minutes, that seems like a considerable amount of constraint for something so big.

          1. quill*

            Especially when equitability initiatives sometimes add more work / emotional labor to the marginalized. OP, are the meetings focused on “we already know the problem, how do we address it?” or have they become centers for processing or continually re-explaining the problem?

        2. Amtelope*

          I would be inclined to ask her, next time this happens, “I hear you saying [super-brief summary of the problem.] What would make you feel ready to move forward to discussing how we’re going to solve this problem?”

          Possible honest answers:

          “Nothing, we haven’t talked enough about the problem and its history to be ready to do that.” That may be how she feels. Sometimes “we need to implement a solution at this point” feels like cutting off investigating the actual problem. If that’s the case, maybe have a really frank conversation about how delaying implementing anything also has costs. There’s limited time at these meetings, so how are you (all) going to use it?

          “I need to feel sure that other people understand the problem.” If you don’t have one, maybe work on a statement of the problem that can be put on a poster/whiteboard/meeting sidebar. Make this specific enough that you’re not saying “the problem is how to increase equity” if what’s true is “the problem is past racist behavior by staff,” or whatever’s coming up in these discussions.

          “I am talking about how we’re going to solve the problem.” Do you have measurable outcomes for what “solving the problem” would look like? If so, I would be inclined to jump in after the first thing she says that seems remotely related to a solution and say “Okay, great point, so what’s our first step to achieving [related measurable outcome]?” Prompt her to keep talking rather than cutting her off, but redirect her to concrete actions “What’s our first step?”

    6. (Kindly) Get to the point*

      Appreciate the advice so far – like I said, the cutting off or being firm is easier when it’s not an emotionally-charged topic. There’s also privilege at play that I’m very sensitive to (me, the white manager telling a POC staff member to stop talking when we’re discussing racism or anti-racism doesn’t make anybody feel good).

      It’s tough – they’re on topic, but just too wordy. Very much an external processor, so they like to say what they’re thinking as they’re sorting out the actual point of what they’re saying. We’ve made a ton of progress in other areas, specifically by addressing the value part. We’ve worked quite hard this past year to build a relationship and I (and my team) are in a good spot with pointing out value in each other. This just seems to be one of the leftover “bad habits” from their previous experiences, even though the “threat” of not being seen as valuable has long passed.

      1. Rebecca1*

        Ok, so there’s a few things that I would do (and I’ve been in this situation before). In no particular order:

        First, if they are talking about things that have happened to them in the organization, I would make sure that you have done everything in your power to address those occurrences. Report people up the chain, whatever.

        Second, when you see that they are about to go into a rant like this, since you probably know and understand them better than the other attendees do, I would take notes on everything they say that is actionable. Then when they finish and there’s a pause, read the notes back with the tone of “This is how I understand what you said. Am I correct or did I miss anything?” That has several beneficial effects: (1) it reassures them in a concrete way that someone was actually listening to and valuing their input, (2) if anyone in the group tends to ignore POC, maybe they’ll listen to you say the same thing, and (3) it ensures that you didn’t, in fact, miss anything.

        Third, I would increase the 1-on-1 preprocessing time still more. Maybe not just with you, but maybe ahead of time with another group member if you think it would be useful? That depends on the specifics of the organization; you can extrapolate.

        Fourth, in the next group meeting you can keep a time tally of how exactly long each participant speaks, plus how many times each participant is interrupted. It is well-established that women are unconsciously perceived to talk more than men when they speak in a mixed-gender group for equal amounts of time; it wouldn’t surprise me if the same turns out to be true for POC with white people, though I don’t know of a study. Plus if this person is truly taking over and dominating the conversation, you’ll have the numbers to show it.

        Lastly, I would let the tears go. Crying can be an involuntary reflex, so I would prioritize the things that you know for sure they can definitely control. That way it’s not so many different things at once.

        1. Rebecca1*

          My second suggestion is based on the idea that if the person really feels heard three or four times, they will be less likely to repeat themselves subsequently. It could be they got in the habit of repeating themselves because people didn’t listen the first time.

    7. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yeah I think here you’ll have to cut out the hand holding and sugar coating. “No one heard anything you said” is much better here than “You don’t want to lose people on your good points by talking so long”. “We can’t wade through the emotions to get to your message. Please stop.” When she says something that takes 5 minutes just to get to “we need to finish X task”, be very pointed with her when you reiterate that you heard “we need to finish X task” and nothing else. Then tell her that’s all she should say next time and then cut her off at the pass when she does it again.

    8. JB*

      Brevity is a skill, like all public speaking skills. Have you made sure to frame it that way with this person? It sounds kind of like they just open their mouth and words come out, and they perhaps haven’t thought of that as something that they can or should change or exercise control over.

      You say brevity is on their list of goals, but have you discussed with them what they’re doing to meet that goal? Especially practicing, ideally while recording themselves and then playing it back to get an idea of just how long and round-about they’re being when makint their points. Maybe looking into books, courses, and other resources on communication and public speaking as well. They should already be doing all this, but if they see the way they talk as ‘just how I am’ (or maybe don’t even ‘hear’ themselves and don’t fully understand the problem) they may be writing off that goal as impossible and just paying lip-service to it when checking in with you.

    9. WantonSeedStitch*

      I think you need to verbally interrupt and say, “Mildred, I’m going to need to cut you off here so we have time to get to all the points on the agenda/have everyone weigh in. To summarize, it sounds like you’re saying X. I think that’s a good point to keep in mind. Thanks for bringing it up. Let’s move on to the next subject/next contributor.” Afterwards, talk to her privately and say, “I understand this is an emotional subject, but during meetings I need you to stick to the guidelines we’ve discussed about time/letting other people talk. I know you’re trying to convince people of your point of view because you feel passionately about it, but what you’re doing is having the opposite effect. Being more succinct and calm when you talk in meetings will make it much more likely that you’ll accomplish what you’re trying to do.” I would also make sure you’re sharing a reasonably detailed agenda before meetings, and ask her to give some thought to the topics and get in touch with you 1:1 before the meeting to discuss anything that she feels particularly strongly about. That way she can react to it in private, compose her thoughts to share with you, and you can coach her on the best way to share those thoughts in the meeting. If she doesn’t feel she’ll be able to share them in the meeting without reverting to her old ways, you can share for her: “Mildred brought up some concerns about policy X that I think we all need to consider.” Then you can model the best way of discussing this stuff for her.

  26. Almost Empty Nester*

    OP must decide if he really is worth the extra work. Had a colleague who had a similar issue with being unable to edit his contributions not only in meetings, but also in writing. His emails would ramble on for 5 or 6 really long paragraphs when 3 or 4 sentences would have sufficed. No amount of coaching and mentoring sunk in, and our manager eventually decided his contributions didn’t outweigh the additional work and exhaustion spent dealing with him. The reality is, people’s eyes glaze over after just a short while (or a short paragraph or two) and most of what is said after that doesn’t even matter anymore!

  27. Phony Genius*

    If you have in-person meetings, does he behave the same way? If so, it may be easier in that setting for the whole group to object to his behavior at the same time.

  28. Mayflower*

    It could be helpful to send the problem employee to communication training. Search terms: corporate communication training, intentional communication, conscious communication.

  29. ENFP in Texas*

    We have had someone like this on our team, and it is exhausting.

    I think OP needs to be blunt and crystal clear about expectations and consequences.

    “Fred, I need you to LISTEN and NOT SPEAK on our calls with our customers. I need you to HEAR what our clients are saying, and then you and I will meet later to discuss possible solutions. I will mute your line if you are not able to refrain from interrupting during the call, and if you drop off and dial back in, I will continue to mute you. If you repeat that behavior in order to interrupt calls that you are there to LISTEN to, I will have to treat that as a performance issue that will impact your employment. Do you have any questions about what is and is not acceptable behavior on our calls with our internal clients?”

  30. Nanani*

    Can you have him be a text-only participant?
    Or perhaps asynchronous-only?

    Have him pare his thoughts down to a single page that other people involved will receive , discuss, and return.
    If he can’t learn to respect people’s time in meetings, he doesn’t get to go to meetings.

    Hopefully the requirement to think about what he wants to say and say it within a set amount of space will be good training.

    And hold fast on that NO. NO he can’t slide in real quick, NO he can’t send a stream of conciousness book-length email.

  31. desdemona*

    If he must be present in virtual meetings, and these are video calls – can you do a webinar? In zoom, at least, doing a webinar would mean everyone in the meeting is a “presenter”, and you could make the Talker an “attendee”. He will not be able to unmute at all, and you can even limit his chat box access ahead of time. If he leaves and reenters, he’d still be an attendee and unable to mute. If you need him to talk for a moment, you can allow him to speak, and then revoke his speaking access.
    Is this extreme? Yes. But it sounds like it’s needed at the very least to break his habits, to force him to not justify or circumvent why he HAD to talk just then.

    1. Allypopx*

      This would work well! If your company doesn’t have the webinar feature it is a paid upgrade, so I guess you’d have to decide if that cost is worth taking on just to accommodate this one employee. And it is a little extreme – not too extreme for the situation, but definitely something that an employee could find even more demoralizing than something like being sent recordings since there is an active conversation going on that they’re shut out of. These aren’t reasons not to do it, but are things to consider in the mental calculus.

  32. Pumpkin215*

    Ugh. This was my old boss. He communicated with the exact same form of verbal diarrhea. I could never get a word in, he wasted my time with endless white noise, and contributed very little to any conversation. I eventually quit over it because I could no longer listen to him drone on and on and on. Being an employee is a worse position because I didn’t have the ability to tell him what to do or how to manage things. At least the LW is in a position of power and has some control.

    My guess is that this is personality issue, just like the one I was dealing with. That guy could not be roped in by his manager either. My advice is also to record the meetings and email them to him. It may be time consuming for him to have to listen in but since he can’t conduct himself properly on these calls, this is what he gets instead.

    I really sympathize. People refused to work with my manager because of his communication style. They would decline meetings set up by him and not answer their phones when he called. I imagine your employee is on this path. I suggest doing your best to shield others from him and have him focus on the tasks he is good at.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I had this Big Boss. He totally took over a meeting that I had scheduled and was chairing once.

      Do not miss him one bit. Was thrilled for my former colleagues the day I heard he was retiring.

  33. Jay*

    “Control yourself or you will be controlled.” -My mother, explaining rules to us very stubborn children on several occasions

    Of course, a grown adult in the workplace should be beyond the point where he has to be controlled to such an extent!

    This seems like a situation where, if the problem can’t be remedied by something like recording the calls for this worker to listen to later (or if that isn’t feasible in the long-term), you may need to consider if this guy is worth keeping on. Because this problem is almost certainly coming up in other situations at the office as well, and you need to look at if/how it’s affecting other employees and weigh the pros/cons of keeping this guy on. We all know people who are “talkers,” but sometimes it’s just a slightly frustrating quirk and other times it brings down an entire group. And at work, you have to consider the productivity of your whole team.

  34. S teacher*

    One thing to try (either now or perhaps in the future) is a ticket system. He gets five (or however many you decide) tickets per meeting. Each ticket is worth X minutes. That’s it. That’s how much (and when) he gets to contribute. The rest of the meeting he should be listening and taking notes.
    Yes, it sounds childish, but maybe you can describe it better.
    signed- a teacher

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This may work for less extreme examples of this issue, but this particular guy will go into ticket-debt very quickly!

  35. Boof*

    OP1 I agree with Allison if you’re convinced this is not worth firing him, and you’ve already been completely blunt, the only alternative is he cannot talk at all at meetings for the time being. Maybe he watches on mute and sends an email after, maybe he watches recorded meetings after. Maybe after a few months of this he can practice talking up to 5 min AT THE END of meetings.
    This is NOT a diagnosis but the only other things I can think of are probably beyond LWs perview; some kind of basic remediation training or EAP for cognitive behavioral therapy or something. I’m not a psychologist just “cognitive behavioral therapy” is the only thing I can think of that involves fairly intense and frequent coaching to break a bad habit (irrespective of any underlying diagnosis, in which case maybe it is paired with meds specific to that thing). Again LW I don’t think it’s your domain to fix this just to let them know this is a major problem and they cannot talk at meetings until they do something to address it, and from there I guess point at any company resources you may have to help with it if they exist.

  36. Alice*

    OP, you said you’ve been blunt, but have you tried cutting him off every time he starts rambling? Literally every time, as in: “Fergus, we have talked about your tendency to ramble”, “Fergus, I muted you because you were rambling, why have you unmuted”, etc.

    It worked somewhat with a verbose colleague of mine at OldJob, even though it was exhausting to do it every single time. Guy was totally oblivious and loved the sound of his voice. But if even that does not work, then you have to drop him from the calls, regardless of the inconvenience. (And I question the assessment of “he’s great at his job aside from this” — this is not some minor issue, it’s a huge flaw!)

    1. mf*

      Agree–it might be embarrassing for him but you need to call him out on the spot, in front of his coworkers, every time he starts to monologue. You are setting a boundary. It will only work if you hold him accountable every. single. time.

  37. Thursday Next*

    I don’t believe problematic employees should be kept on just because they have expertise in some area. I would bet you that the other employees are angry and frustrated with him, regardless of what he knows. There are other people out there who could do his job and not alienate everyone. Nobody is irreplaceable.

  38. Zeeblet*

    I have a friend who will happily talk non-stop with no input from anyone else, and when working with her for a voluntary committee, I had to learn to be ok with forcefully cutting her off whenever she went on for too long or deviated too far from the point. It felt horrible at first as interrupting and loudly talking over someone else is obviously rude, but it’s the only thing that works to make sure she doesn’t dominate the conversation – in my role it was really required to make sure everyone else could have their say and that we got through everything we needed to.

    Luckily she’s never one to take offence at this sort of thing which helps massively, but it was an incredibly helpful thing to get used to and helped massively in future meetings. I’m not sure if it really changed her behaviour particularly but at least it reduced how much it impacted others and our productivity.

    1. Cooper*

      I have a tendency to wind up sort of like your friend. I don’t want to leave the room in silence, and I don’t want to stop talking if I haven’t explained myself fully, so unless I see someone giving the active listener signals that indicate that they have something to say, I will just sort of keep rambling and spiraling until someone cuts me off. And I’m not offended when someone does it!
      Some people talk like printers– they have a set amount of stuff to print out, and if you stop them early, they’re going to be annoyed. I’m like a garden hose– I will keep going until you make me stop, but it won’t hurt my feelings if you do! (And if you hook me up to a sprinkler system that says exactly when to speak and how much to say, I’m happy as a clam at high tide. But otherwise, I may just flood your basement if you don’t stop me.)
      (I have also been trying to work on this, especially in interviews, where I frequently struggle to find an exit point.)
      Just wanted to chime in from the other side of this to say that you probably shouldn’t feel bad!

      1. ecnaseener*

        Hah, nice metaphor! And then the LW’s employee is more like a fire hose. Or a geyser.

  39. Sunny*

    Have you considered restructuring your meetings entirely? I’m trying to remember where I read it, but there was a wonderful article about how if you tell people not to interrupt but then reward interruptive behavior, quiet people will simply never get to talk. The solution was to use rules and a moderator, and they said that while people initially chafed, good results were near immediate.

  40. Rebecca1*

    If you do decide to do further coaching, some role-playing exercises might possibly help.

    For conference calls, are you the host or is someone else? If it’s you, and if you aren’t using webinar mode as mentioned above, IMO you should enable the waiting room and also have a separate chat going where you text him “I’m muting you on purpose,” and then if he dials back in, text him “I’m going to mute you again when you rejoin” before you admit him from the waiting room.

    If it isn’t you, I might communicate this advice to the host ahead of time if you think it’s appropriate.

  41. Salad Daisy*

    There is someone on my team just like that, but unfortunately they are the boss’s pet so nothing is done. The rest of us play buzzword bingo when they start to talk.

  42. El l*

    Yeah, it’s strange, but Alison is right – you’ve tried everything else.

    (What’s unclear to me is how much he’s just compulsive, and how much he’s defiant – because if it’s the latter, you might have to fire him)

    I’d be even blunter with him: “It’s either this, or you get fired. Not only can you not advance when you behave this way, you may not be able to keep your job long-run without us making this change. I am only willing to do this weird arrangement because you’re good. I don’t think you realize how much your call behavior has compromised everything else you do.”

    1. PIP also?*

      Defiance/ insubordination came to mind for the dropping & calling back in. In addition to Allison’s great ideas, what about a PIP? He’s totally muted and must do the extra work of listening to a recorded meeting. He slowly, over time, earns listening (muted) in real time Demerits & eventual firing for breaking the rules. Because really, maybe he needs the kick in the pants of firing to learn this lesson.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Seconded. At some point it won’t matter how good he is at everything else if he literally annoys the hell out of every single human that has to be around him.

      2. El l*

        I’ve worked with some weird engineers before – but this guy’s mind-blowing persistence makes me wonder if he doesn’t have some attitude thing going on.

        I bet there’ll be an update in a year where the manager had to fire the guy…

        …Because, yes, being on calls is absolutely an important part of his job.

    1. Laika the Rescue Dog*

      …Sorry, I meant: the meeting could be conducted without Mr. TalkyTalk employee, and then the recording shared with him after the meeting ends. He could then get the essential information from the meeting (which the OP said he wanted) but also wouldn’t be present within the meeting to dominate the call.

      But, again, needs coaching. Or possibly therapy.

  43. Lora*

    Is his name Mark? Had a Mark on one of my projects who was notorious for this. Super bright, good engineer, but one day my colleague timed his monologue at a business meal: 2 hours, uninterrupted until the director said “well getting late gotta go” and everyone started getting up to leave. Mark had not even touched his food in all that time, he was too busy pontificating.

    Unfortunately also had a similar colleague Tom, who was in sales – Tom had been made Persona Non Grata at two customer sites because he talked too damn much, talked over the SMEs, let his mouth make promises the company couldn’t keep, and didn’t ever shut his mouth long enough to listen to the customers’ technical requirements. Field engineers had to be sent in to salvage the situation. The only time I’d ever seen Tom be quiet was in a particularly fraught client relations meeting when Tom jumped into a pause with “Can I just say–” and his boss shouted, “NO. ZIP IT!”

    I mean, I get it that you’ve been blunt, have you gotten to the point of yelling “ZIP IT!” at top volume? Because with some of these dudes, that is the only thing that is going to work. Probably when he dialed back in after being muted, would have been a good time to tell him, “I muted you on purpose because you wouldn’t shut up and listen. I’m muting you again, and I will do it ten more times if I have to. You need to keep your mouth shut.”

    Seriously, the idea that he is stuck with listening to recordings is pretty good. I have seen companies with such employees they cannot bring themselves to fire, stick the person in a back room and isolate them from other humans.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Ah, the Office Space approach….

      I daydream of hiding in the basement with a stapler myself these days.

  44. Cooper*

    Would it help to ask him to write notes? I tend to be dominant in group discussions because when I have a thought, I need to say it RIGHT NOW or I am going to forget it forever. For a long time, I tried (very unsuccessfully) to just hold it in, and then realized that I’m just as happy to write it down.
    Even if it’s just a bit of wordplay or a funny quip that came to mind, if it really feels like I’m going to burst from the effort of trying to not talk, writing it down helps IMMENSELY. Same with processing ideas and brainstorming– scribble down a bunch of notes and annotate for my own understanding, and then deliver just the refined version verbally or over email.
    It sounds like this guy needs to be told exactly when he can talk in meetings and for how long, and maybe to get his hands on a rubber duck for brainstorming.

    1. ecnaseener*

      LW wrote: I’ve tried asking him to listen and take notes so that we (as the engineering team) can work together outside of the larger group and present a solution. That works for a while, then he is back to it.

  45. Jake*

    My experience with folks like that (I’m an engineer by degree, so I have quite a bit) is that the more you can keep them solving problems, and describing the issues to you, the better. Sure it is more work for all communication to run through you, but the reality is that it is the only way they can be effective. My goal with people like this is for them to spend 100% of their time doing technical problem solving, and let their team/manager be the conduit of information to others. In the best case, other teams forget that they even exist.

    It slows down on the spot troubleshooting, so that can be a major issue, but there really is no other way around this because if you give an inch, they take a mile.

    I do question whether or not a person like this can possibly be so good that they aren’t better replaced by somebody that is actually capable of communicating like a reasonable person, but the LW would know the details better than me.

  46. ElleKay*

    OP I would also look into the system(s) you’re using for these calls. Zoom has a function that allows the meeting host to be the *only* one to control the mute/unmute function and means everyone is automatically muted upon log-in and that they *CANNOT* unmute themselves directly.
    I don’t know if that’s a product of the type of membership you have or if other systems have an option like this
    but it could be an option.
    A LOT of people seem uncomfortable implementing these systems but, in my experience, if you address it as a business norm, at the start of the meeting people don’t have an issue with it.

    1. CreepyPaper*

      It does? Where is that function and how do I use it? We have a serial eater who is ALWAYS munching and it’s audible on calls and no matter how many times I say ‘Fergus, you need to mute yourself because we can hear you chewing and other people are trying to present’ it’s relentless. Munch munch munch. Crisp packet crinkle. We have full paid up access all areas Zoom and I was unaware of this. You may have just saved my life!

      1. BadWolf*

        The host or cohosts can definitely mute others. And if you look at the participants list, you can see who is muted/unmuted quickly.

        I believe you can also set up a meeting to be mute-on-entry. You can in WebEx for sure.

  47. Donna Martin Graduates*

    I’ve worked with this person. They are exhausting. They made everyone dread things as simple as staff meetings. People avoided them and did everything to keep from working with them. While good technically, no one wanted to deal with them. As a coworker, I would have been so happy if this person had left.

    I know there was a comment about what value they bring. I think it’s worth evaluating what effect this person is having on the rest of the staff. You may be sacrificing morale and job satisfaction of a larger number of people to accommodate this person. I would much rather work with a less talented person who is not a pain in the rear to everyone around them.

    1. DonnaMartinGraduates!*

      yikes! I didn’t realize someone else here was using a similar handle…

      1. Donna Martin Graduates*

        I’m so sorry! I hadn’t seen it in the comments before when I chose it. Must have overlooked. Apologies for stepping on your toes. I can certainly choose another one.

  48. Jaybeetee*

    If they’re popping off for 30+ minutes more than once in any given meeting, does it really double your workload to not have him there in relation to how much he extends these meetings?

    If he’s turning a 45-minute meeting into a 2-hour meeting, the saved time from not having him there might balance the extra work.

  49. Morticia*

    Maybe he should be managed by the woman who duct tapes employees’ mouths. /jk (maybe)

    Snark aside, I agree with the idea of recording the meetings so he can play them back and process them in the way he is used to.

  50. I should really pick a name*

    I’d love to know what happens after he logs back in after being muted. Is he told that he was muted for a reason?

  51. Pomegranate*

    In the big picture conversation others are suggesting (“your job is in jeopardy”), there might be room to hand some responsibility back to the employee. Like “This cannot continue, your input in these meetings is overwhelming. What is going on and what do you think would work for you to not to do that anymore? Would you like to listen to a recording, remain on mute the entire meeting, truly limit yourself to short questions, or something else? I am open to suggestions but am also committed to ensuring that this issue is addressed swiftly and effectively”

  52. IfLucid*

    Oof I have a remarkably similar problem with an employee. It was always present but became really problematic when we went fully remote in 2020.

    I was lucky that he understands that it’s a problem due to the way his nonstop talking shut down effective collaboration and drowned out everything else in a meeting. We worked out that he was open to a signal from me or one of the senior engineers on the team when he needed to STFU. Now one of us will message him privately “pump the brakes” which is his sign to stop talking and say he’ll follow up offline with questions or more info.

    This has been really effective, but not perfect. It means we aren’t comfortable with him on meetings unless one of us will be there to check him, which really limits the projects he is given the opportunity to work on. My hope is that if we’re consistent in this he can eventually start to regulate himself and open those doors for himself. Otherwise this will continue to be career limiting behavior.

    1. allathian*

      I admit that I’m prone to rambling when I’m emotionally engaged, whether that’s because I’m excited, angry, or simply nervous. But I won’t take offence if someone tells me to pipe down so others can contribute in meetings. I’m working on getting better at catching myself before I’m called out on it, though. The vast majority of my meetings are with my immediate coworkers, I’m much better at keeping things short and succinct when I’m in meetings with people I know less well, though.

  53. Allie*

    I’m going to be a mean meany who means here but if you don’t get this guy under control, you need to fire him or your reputation is going to suffer too. If this guy is derailing meetings regularly he’s aggravating and causing extra work for a lot of people. No matter how good his work is in other contexts.

    Maybe a PIP? That would let him know how very serious this is.

  54. Cake, yes please*

    This reminds me of a non-work encounter I had, dropping in with a friend on his mom for what was supposed to be a few minutes to collect something he’d loaned her. She monologued at us for 45 minutes about her (extremely boring) recent trip to visit family. She interrupted herself several times to acknowledge that she knew she was talking a lot and she’d only talk for five more minutes, and then just barreled on again. It’s like she understood, because she’d been told before, that her son didn’t like it when she did this, but at the end of the day she just didn’t gaf. It didn’t even seem like she couldn’t control it, it seemed like she found herself utterly fascinating and assumed we did as well. She clearly thought that her recent trip was *the most interesting thing* that had ever happened to anyone, and that we must be riveted and want to know more and more and more.

    Which is to say – is it possible this guy knows the rules, understands or at least is aware of social cues, and just…doesn’t care?

    If yes, he needs consequences to make him care.

    1. Nanani*

      My mom does this too. Oddly enough she can zip it around people she doesn’t have power over in some way.
      It’s ego. Daughters and their friends have to listen to her, peers and bosses don’t.

      In a social situation you can just -leave-. At work, though, people with actual power need to fix it.

  55. Workfromhome*

    I’ll give another vote to the record the meeting and let him listen afterwards and email for clarification.
    If not I think the conversation needs to be even more direct to find out what the cause is. Is it possible this is a medical issue of some type? Im asking because I really dont know. Im not trying to diagnose them but if it is something truly beyond their control and their work is truly valuable then accommodating their condition, without inconveniencing others too much to retain their skills seems reasonable. if its not medical and they just have a personality where they wont listent to your very direct instructions not to talk and circumvent your efforts (calling back in) on purpose then you probably need to have the “I hate to lose you but if you cant keep quiet on calls you need to find another job” conversation.

  56. Manchmal*

    There’s a lot of great advice about recording meetings and having Mr. Talky listen to them later. I wonder if Mr. Talky has ever had to listen to one of his own monologues after the fact? Things sound a lot different to ourselves when we’re in the act of saying them than they do later. To the question “does he really not know what he sounds like?” the answer may be no, but making him listen to himself could get the point across how frustrating it is for everyone else.

    Also, to the OP, if people are starting to question his value, it might not be such a big jump to them questioning your value as his manager. It sounds like he is so annoying and so frustrating that your not reining him in is going to start reflecting badly on your management abilities. This person would be a challenge for any manger obviously, but if you can’t get through to him soon, it may come down to a serious revision of his work duties, your workflow, or his employment status–or your own. That would be my worry if I were in your shoes.

    1. BookishMiss*

      As a call center trainer, there is SO MUCH value in making someone listen to their own calls. Often, it needs simultaneous coaching of the call they’re listening to, so you give feedback on their performance as they hear themselves, but it can be hugely useful. I don’t envy OP the work of coaching these calls, though.

  57. bananab*

    He needs to understand that he’s not over-participating, he is being disruptive. And that what he’s saying is lost because people tune ramblers out.

    I often see written correspondence from peers that are incredibly knowledgeable, but it’s just…wall of text, lots of little asides, examples no one asked for. My theory is this behavior gets reinforced over years of being thanked for being “so helpful” (because what else would most people say! Clearly a ton of work went into it), so they don’t get much incentive to filter a little better.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      wall of text

      Yes, exactly. This is why engineers need technical writers and vice versa. Stuff has to get translated into a non-technical (or at least less technical) form for people to understand.

      1. Cooper*

        Ugh, as software developer…this! I’ve worked SO hard to develop a writing style that doesn’t overwhelm people with meaningless details, and am always reading and re-reading what I’m sending to people to make sure it’s coherent and concise. Nothing grinds my gears more than when I’ve carefully crafted an email or documentation to strike the delicate balance between being explicitly clear about important details while also leaving out as much as possible to avoid detail overload, and someone comments that I didn’t explain XYZ in enough depth.
        I know I didn’t explain XYZ in depth! It’s not relevant to this topic, and I’m trying to avoid confusing people! AAAAH.

        1. bananab*

          My favorite flavor of this is being reminded about some particular term, when I was deliberately avoiding it in order to limit jargon.

          1. Cooper*

            My eye started twitching just reading this.
            “Yes, Bob, I know what I’m talking about. In fact, I know it well enough to *know which parts are important* and which aren’t.”

  58. LionessHutz*

    Sounds like employee does not realize how poorly he’s being perceived. That’s where I’d start as a manager. “You sound like a clown and your demeanor has a negative impact on your professional reputation, and by consequence, that of our team. There is nothing that can come out of your mouth that can offset the reputation you’ve developed and will have to work hard at changing. We’re recording calls and giving you transcripts going forward. Seriously want to vouch for you but you’ve created a situation where we both have egg on our face.”

  59. H.Regalis*

    I cannot imagine being on a call with this guy, having his boss be like, “Stop talking or I’m kicking you out,” and then he dials back in and keeps going. What a mess.

    1. user1835*

      Yeah, right? I’ve never heard about anything similar and would laugh so hard if sth like that happened.

      But, on a serious note, in my company kicking sb out wouldn’t be accepted and the boss could get into trouble for that (“bullying”).

  60. blink14*

    I’m assuming this has probably gotten worse due to Covid, with meetings shifting to be all phone/video calls or more often than usual?

    If that’s the case, I think a lot of it is due to the lack of visual cues you see during an in person meeting or talking to someone one on one. There can be an almost compulsive need to fill silence, and having phone or video meetings makes it SO much worse. People who have never rambled before in meetings go on and on, I find myself doing it occasionally. The skills to participate in a phone call or video meeting are very different from the skills to participate in an in person meeting or conference setting.

    I host a workshop every year with a presenter who would talk an hour straight if allowed. Even with strict time limits they aren’t able to totally reign in it. This year, they prerecorded their presentation, and were available in real time to answer questions. It worked perfectly.

  61. Delta Delta*

    If I was this man’s colleague I’d be totally checked out in these meetings. Volume down, doing a crossword puzzle (or grocery list or whatever). And I’d tell my boss, too. “I have no idea what happened in the meeting because it was awful.” But I realize that’s not helpful to this question-asker, so I’d suggest she be incredibly direct and tell him he talks way too much and it’s detrimental to the meetings.

  62. BadWolf*

    I had a coworker who was similar. He was brilliant, but talked over everyone. My manager tried and tried to work with him to be a better coworker. Finally, he was given a low review and improvement plan to try and jolt him into changing his ways. That was the year we somewhat unexpectedly had layoffs. Coworker was laid off because of the low review. Manager felt bad. We were all vaguely worried about losing his brilliant side, but relieved not to have to work with him anymore. He was hired at another place in town and I bet he’s doing brilliant things for them and probably happily working mostly alone. And we got along fine without his brilliant work.

    1. BadWolf*

      Talking over everyone wasn’t his only bad point — he was similar to the OPs description of dominating the conversation, not listening to input, etc. People went out of their way to email or message him instead of talking in person.

  63. Koala dreams*

    I don’t know how to solve this, but I’ve enjoyed reading all the creative solutions in the comments.

    I suspect you would do everybody a favour if the next time he starts his monologue in a meeting you are holding, you would simply say “Sorry, we’ll have to cut the meeting short, bye!” and end the meeting.

  64. ampersand*

    The more comments I read—some really good points about how this is likely affecting his colleagues have been made—the more I think this guy does need to be fired. His behavior is alienating, annoying, and a waste of other people’s time. I would tell him outright that his job is in jeopardy (which means that he’s going to be fired if the behavior doesn’t stop) and give him one last chance to improve after that conversation. Whether that means he doesn’t attend meetings or doesn’t talk during them or stays muted once he’s muted—whatever it is, he needs to comply. And if that doesn’t work? He’s gone.

  65. Hannahnannah*

    OP – If you’re looking for ideas on coaching through this…
    I wonder if it would make a difference if you worked with the person in question on problem-solving techniques. This person seems to verbally process during problem solving, and also wants to jump right in to a solution (where maybe some additional off-line thought or consultation may be warranted).

    Would they agree to be facilitated by you (ahead of time)? As in: You tell them that you’ll call on them when you need input, and you will let them know when it’s time to move the meeting on / their turn to speak is over. Maybe even time-box their speaking: “Hey Name. What are your thoughts? We have about 5 minutes available, so I’ll let you know when time’s up / we need to move on.”

    Maybe they could do some exercises to try approaching it differently. The verbal processors I’ve worked with (and am married to) do their best thinking in the moment that they’re speaking, and have a hard time getting thoughts down in writing.

    – If they’re on a call, have them stay on mute, but record their own audio/speaking so they can come back to it later (maybe even the meeting audio plus their own speaking). Most smart phones have a dictation feature, so that might be a way to start. That way they’re getting their inspiration and processing, but aren’t interrupting the meeting flow.
    – In a lower stakes meeting, have them just listen. Then, you and the employee meet afterward to talk through what the employee got out of it, ideas they have, and solutions they want to propose. This would probably have to be an immediate meeting after the lower stakes meeting occurs.
    – Slowly introduce note-taking. It’s an art, and not everyone takes to it naturally. They may need to be coached in how to take good notes, and how to incorporate their thoughts and solutions into the notes.

    But I think a biggest component of helping to getting your meetings back on track is firm faciliatation. Make sure you have a “parking lot” for ideas that may derail the meeting. Commit to revisiting topics that are there. Give the speaker a short window, and cut them off (politely at first) when their time is up. Move on to the next topic. If you’re the meeting facilitator, most systems allow you to mute participants. You can let the person know: OK, Name. It’s time to move on. Please set yourself to mute.” or mute them if they don’t do that.

  66. once a nerd...*

    I was kind of that guy. Not long rambling, but rather I would get so in love with MY idea that no one else’s mattered. Then one day during white board brainstorming one of the other engineers got so frustrated with me that he threw his dry erase marker at me. Shocked the hell out of me, and from that point on I learned to listen better.
    Perhaps what dude needs is an appropriate shock like that.

    1. Cooper*

      I know that things like this are likely to be frowned on around here, since it’s wildly unprofessional, but…yeah, sometimes a shock like that is what it takes! Hopefully the talk about how he’s losing respect from his peers will do the trick without needing any projectiles, though!

  67. I'm just here for the cats*

    I have a few thoughts.

    1. Does he think that these are collaborative brainstorming type meetings where its really just listening. Maybe he just doesn’t understand the difference?
    2. This may have been mentioned before, but when the LW mutes him on the calls does he know he has been muted or does he think there is a technical issue? If she hasn’t yet, the LW should interrupt him and say “Harold we need to let the others on the team talk. I’m going to mute you now.”

    3. I also wonder if a little embarrassment wouldn’t work here. So have a very blunt conversation (using what Alison said). Then in the moment interrupt him and say “Harold we talked about this yesterday, we need to keep our thoughts to ourselves to allow X to communicate what their needs are. Since you keep interrupting I’m putting you on mute.” Or “Harold these are great points, please write notes and we will talk together about your thoughts after the call. I’m going to mute you to keep us all on task and here more from X about problems.
    If he calls back in and starts again just say “Harold why did you call back in to unmute yourself. I muted you because we need to focus and let X talk. We can’t get the full picture with you talking constantly”

    My last thought isn’t anything that would directly address the employee but it might work. It sounds like they are using old school conferencing. maybe they should start using some type of web conferencing like zoom or teams. They wouldn’t have to have video and people could dial in from their phones if they needed to. I would require Harold to use his computer to attend these conferences. Then he could see when he is being muted. and the LW would be able to control him muting/unmuting himself. (I think you can set some type of setting to make certain people muted.

    I hope everything works out for everyone and that we get an update

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Also, does he do this in face to face meetings or only on the phone?

  68. green beans*

    OP, you need to mute and verbally redirect every time it happens, and quickly. Give him a few minutes, then interrupt – mute if necessary. Try that for a few meetings before taking on all work of booting him off meetings. Here are phrases for pretty much any occasion!

    “Thank you, Mike. We’re going to move on now. Sarah, I’m interested in hearing more about…”
    “Thanks, Mike. This seems stream of conscious, so let’s table it for later when you’ve had a chance to get your thoughts together off-line.”
    “Mike, we don’t have enough information to extrapolate on this. Let’s hear them out before we brainstorm suggestions.”
    “Mike, I appreciate the enthusiasm, but we need to get a detailed case history before we start looking at solutions.”
    “Mike, I know you’re eager to get started on this, but I believe X Solution has already been looked at. Let’s wait to open the floor for solutions until we have all the information.”
    “Mike, why don’t you take some time to get a succinct, concrete suggestion together off-line and I’ll circle back to you later.”
    “I’m going to cut you off, Mike – this is going off on a bit of a derailment and we want to be respectful of the timetable. Let’s focus back on Topic. Sarah?”
    “Mike, we really want to keep this meeting tightly focused, so I’m going to move us back to Agenda Item. You can follow up with me off-line.”
    “Thanks, Mike, but this is getting outside the scope of the meeting. Let’s return to X; I need Y question answered.”
    “Mike, you’re wandering again, and we do need to keep this meeting pretty focused.”
    “Thanks, Mike, but like I said, let’s cover that outside of the meeting.”
    “Thanks for your input, Mike – let’s let other people have a chance to jump on it. Sarah?”

    And for heaven’s sake, don’t respond to messages during the meeting! That’s just validating his attention-seeking. Send him one message afterwards, “Hi Mike – I’m not going to be responding to messages during meetings; my attention (and yours) needs to be focused on the meeting itself. Feel free to summarize your thoughts briefly in an email and send to me afterwards.” and then enforce that.

    Signed, a person in academia…

    1. green beans*

      oh, and when you connect with him after the meeting, POINT OUT that a lot of his solutions were not relevant or were things that have already been tried and tell him it seems like he’s not paying enough attention at the meeting because he doesn’t have a good grasp of what the meeting is about. Connect the dots for him explicitly (kindly, but firmly.)

  69. Meep*

    I have a coworker who loves to hear herself talk AND doesn’t like silence in a meeting. It doesn’t jive well with bossman who will often spend 15, even 30, minutes in silence contemplating what was said. Last Friday, one of my coworkers was trying to set up an example to show the class but was having some technical difficulties. For 7 whole minutes, we heard “any minute now. Share when you’re ready.” without a breath in between. It didn’t matter my coworker kept telling this woman she was working on it.

    I assure you people are checking their email and/or getting their work done during these rants. But an agenda really helps pair things down and gets us moving without letting for these distractions.

  70. Frustrated*

    LW here. Appreciate the comments and suggestions. To answer a couple of questions that appear to be common.

    1. At this point, many of the higher ups know that we are working on coaching, some slight improvements have been made. I now get the feedback from people “goodness he is annoying, but he always gets it done.” At this point, they still see the value. My boss and I have a direct communication relationship. He knows we are working on it and it will not reflect negatively or if it starts to, I’ll get a heads up.

    2. As a remote worker with a day commute to the office, in person meetings are rare and most is done via conference call. No avoidance, unfortunately.

    3. Recently, I initiated a form for him to fill out. Prior to any meetings, he has to think through all the thoughts and possibilities. Then present them in a concise form without the impromptu dialogues. People can ask questions, but try to keep on subject.

    4. I don’t let him record meetings. He has to take notes. The more he is taking notes, the less he can talk. Which works decently.

    5. I’ve just been more abrupt on the calls with him. When I sense a divergence from the topic at hand, I interrupt and bring everyone back on topic. I can tell some discomfort on his side, but we all move on.

    6. On the really important meetings, I generally spend a lot of time preparing with him. We go over clear expectations, scope, who’s going to be on a call, if I want him to be an active participant or just a listener, and if he can questions other than to clarify the notes he is taking. While not 100% effective, it has helped.

    7. Not a new grad. An experienced person probably 15+ years my senior set in his ways.

    All these things combined have helped. But it’s going to take effort on his part if he wants to change.

    1. bananab*

      Man. This sounds like a LOT of work for you. I hate when someone’s job’s in jeopardy, but I’d think if that degree of handholding were necessary for any of his other duties, his definitely would be.

    2. JustKnope*

      This is a WILD amount of emotional labor and actual labor for you as his manager! I cannot imagine keeping my job if my boss had to prep me to this level before every meeting and micromanage every aspect of my participation in those meetings. I hope you can take a step back and read your comment through an outsider’s point of view. You can 100% find someone else who can “get it done” without this level of hand holding. He needs to be on a PIP and managed out ASAP.

      1. ampersand*

        Yes! This is like dealing with a child. It’s above and beyond for a workplace.

      2. GraceRN*

        Yes – all of this. Thanks for providing more information but honestly, knowing these doesn’t make me feel any better for you, or about the situation. It only confirms my impression that he takes up a lot of extra time and energy but in spite of that, the rest of the team is still suffering.
        At some point you have to ask yourself why you want to hold onto this disruptive employee so much. After 14 years in management, I can guarantee if he were managed out, you’ll find that overall team performance and morale would actually improve after he leaves.

      3. TIRED*

        JustKnope – YES! totally agree!! PIP, fast tracked to letting him go.

        OP – do you realize how much extra work you are already doing, even with him attending meetings? (You mentioned at first that there would be extra work for you if he did not attend.) This is what a focused teacher or coach does for a 3rd grader who can’t self-regulate. Not for an experienced person in the workplace.

        Re #6. This is appropriate if someone is new (1-2 years) to their field or role or the workplace in general. MAYBE. Like if it’s more than a quick 5 minute conversation or short email, that is WAY too much time spent. This person has experience (? 15+ years??) and you have to do this. Full stop, this is NOT OK.

        Re #1. So the OP, OP’s boss, and the higher ups see the value in this person. I guarantee he is making work a more negative experience for his co-workers. Brilliant exceptional people that do not talk over others exist. Engineers who do critical problem solving that can actually communicate well exist. You can absolutely find a replacement for this person that has all of the positives but not this terrible negative. The longer you wait, the worse impact on your workload, your reputation, and your group.

        1. identifying remarks removed*

          Yes – I have a coworker who monologues on calls and cannot be reigned in – he’s higher than me so I can’t do anything to stop him. When I see his name on a call invite I am already demotivated before the call even starts. When he starts monologuing I mentally switch off, mute myself on the call and work on something else.

      4. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yeah, this goes far beyond the level that anyone should be expected to do for another employee.

        (My first thought was ‘this is like my boss physically carrying me round the office because my legs don’t work right’. Instead, I use a cane)

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Thanks for more info.

      Do you get the sense that he’s thinking out loud, designing or diagnosing on the fly? Have you pointblank told him that the point of the meeting is to get info, not to solve the problems?

    4. e271828*

      This sounds exhausting, more like childrearing than managing an actual adult. His contributions better be billable at $100,000 an hour.

      I do think that directly controlling his access to the floor, during the meeting, using the tools Zoom provides to gatekeep and mute him, will have a big effect on how much effort he puts into changing.

    5. Foila*

      Good lord, Frustrated, you are doing so much work that he should be doing. Self-regulation is a really, really standard part of most jobs! You are doing both your own and his!

    6. allathian*

      Oh my. You’re taking on far too much here. Nobody is this irreplaceable in any job. Have you talked more with your boss and raised the subject of managing the talker out? He needs to understand that his job is in jeopardy and that he needs to be able to self-regulate in meetings in the future without all this elaborate handholding or extra work by anyone.

    7. Nanani*

      I think he needs consequences of the “your job is not your job anymore” variety. He’s going to continue being “set in his ways” until the end of time since he has someone (you) cleaning up his verbal diahrrea.

  71. Tau*

    Some thoughts for things that are less extreme than just forbidding him to talk completely:

    * topic restriction: on calls with clients he is not allowed to propose or brainstorm solutions, only to ask questions to gather requirements. (Disclaimer: I’m maybe biased because we have a similar set-up in my job and the meeting where you define the problem and what the solution needs to satisfy would be 100% the wrong point in time to start actually proposing a solution, even though the temptation to do so is very real)
    * participation restriction: he is only allowed to speak for max 1 minute at a time. (He should set himself a timer to keep track of this. If not, you will interrupt him.) He must allow at least 3 (4, 5) other contributions to the conversation before he speaks again, provided he is not asked a direct question. Etc.
    * absolutely brutal moderation: get really comfortable interrupting him and saying “Fergus, it’s time to let someone else talk.”

    But note that I really don’t think these will work if he doesn’t see the problem or isn’t invested in improving. :/

  72. learnedthehardway*

    It sounds like the OP has tried a lot of developmental feedback, but have they tried addressing this as an overall Communication problem?

    By which I mean, this is the sort of thing that stymies peoples’ careers, and that needs to be spelled out to the employee – very clearly. How to discuss topics, when to discuss topics, and with whom and to what depth – these are all elements of communication. Also, some very clear rules need to be put in place about HOW the employee can talk in meetings.

    eg. Rule #1 – if the question requires a lot of thought or a complex answer, you must tell the other person that you will come back to them with an answer after the meeting. Write down the question, put it aside, and think about it later.

    Rule #2 – only provide information that is factual and that you have ready to hand. ie. if Fergus asks what the sales figures were for last quarter, provide that info. Do not explain, speculate, or provide any further analysis unless directly asked to do so.

    Rule #3 – Lead with the headline, and provide only as many details as needed. You do not increase your credibility by providing excessive detail. Recognize that your audience knows you are competent, will trust your analysis, and will only ask for details if they need them for their own analysis.

    (I had to work on Rule #3 as a junior employee – my default was to provide ALL the details so that people would understand that I had done my homework and really understood the issue, and had a well-thought-out response. I had a manager who sat me down and told me that I didn’t have to convince other people that I was competent, and that I needed to have more self-confidence about my recommendations. His advice was to give the headlines, and keep the details to myself unless I was asked. To my surprise (at the time), I got MORE credibility with senior execs by following this advice.)

    1. learnedthehardway*

      ETA – another idea – I’m a talker, descended from a line of talkers (my father says my grandfather went deaf in self-defense, as my grandmother never stopped talking, as far as any of us could tell). Anyway, I have expertise in self-limiting the talking:

      It’s very tempting to fill a silence or gap in conversation, but it is not necessary. One way to stop this and to stop yourself from taking over conversations is to be doing more than one thing at the same time. During meetings, I take notes, work on emails, and keep myself semi-occupied to the extent that I can follow the conversation, but restrict myself from speaking unless my input is NEEDED. You can communicate a whole lot with a nod and an “Um hm” at intervals to show you are paying attention.

      Another skill is to recognize when you are talking too much and to dial it back. The second I get into “solutioning”, I realize that I need to shut up. Something that requires a lot of thinking things through generally needs to be taken to a 1:1 conversation. A group meeting is not the place for that.

      Etc. etc. Practical rules and guidelines help a lot to recognize and then self-limit one’s impulse to talk.

      1. Raida*

        This, so much.
        Doodling during meetings can be really handy in getting the info into my head, and then I focus on information gathering and checking if at a broad level a few solutions would be covering the desired outcomes or not.
        And then focus on for [type of solution] what do we have, need, etc.

        Makes it a more effective meeting, has clearer expectations, and still has some solutioning without rambling

  73. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    It’s interesting that the LW does NOT report that Fergus’s logorrhea (yes, that’s the term for “diarrhea of the mouth”!) manifests itself anywhere except in the meetings; there’s no complaint about his endless monologues during routine business chats, at lunch or break, etc. So no, it does NOT sound to me (a retired special education teacher) as if he’s ND – but it does sound as if he has a self-defeating habit that makes Alison’s solution the best one all around.

  74. mmmmarty*

    Why is his being muted then immediately calling back in to diatribe more not being seen as insubordination? His manger is directing him to stop talking and he subverts the technology to continue. This is the definition of insubordination and it’s hurting morale. MAKE IT STOP.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I might have thought he didn’t realize he was muted on purpose and thought it was a bug (we’ve had that happen on rare occasion that someone would have to drop off and call back in to fix an audio issue) but she told him, with clear, unambiguous words, to mute himself! And then he unmuted!! In the same meeting!!!

      I imagine in his head he’s thinking, “Oh, but they need to hear this part!”, to justify ignoring what LW is telling him.

      1. Quickbeam*

        Yes, my experience with extreme meeting hogs is that they truly think they have the answers if only everyone will let them get it out. “You need to hear this!” Is almost an internal drive mandate. I’ve noticed that it’s a rare manager who will take that situation on, most just barely contain their frustration and carry on.

  75. user1835*

    I work with somebody like this, although admitedly he’s not so extreme.

    He’s a very good specialist in one of our key areas and has been recognized for that frequently (too frequently?).

    The problem is:

    1) he believes he’s an expert in all the other fields too, which simply isn’t true; actually his statements on other topics frequently sound very naive,

    2) his comments frequently come across as very arrogant and fishing for compliments for insignificant things,

    3) he doesn’t talk – he doesn’t participate in an exchange; instead he gives long monologues; he excludes people from discussions and interrupts a lot; he doesn’t listen; (I started playing a “don’t let Sam interrupt you” game at some point; it’s as easy as it sounds – I keep talking although he interrupts me, I don’t raise my voice but keep talking no matter how long he’s trying);

    4) he’s difficult to follow. He adds comments to highlight his achievements to completely unrelated discussions.

    I experience physical pain when I see him in a call and I have to resist rolling my eyes. He’s competent but I would prefer having calls with less experienced people than with him.

  76. Nora*

    FIRE HIM BEFORE THE REST OF YOUR TEAM QUITS. They absolutely will. How much, exactly, do you value him? Enough to lose everyone else and never retain good staff again?

    1. TIRED*

      Yep yep yep. I mean sure, put him on a PIP first and a quick track to letting him go, but yeeeeep! This person is going to continue disrupting your office workflow, give you extra work (which you are already doing apparently), and irritate all his co-workers. Honestly I hope they do quit, they deserve a workplace that doesn’t allow this type of behavior to continue.

  77. Sarah*

    I’m not sure if this has been suggested already, but one way to put the burden on him instead of you, while also saving everyone from his monologuing, is to record these meetings and provide him with the recordings to parse through and figure out the information he needs for his work. That way he doesn’t attend and run the risk of talking through it despite your attempts at keeping him at bay, while not placing the burden on you to fill him in on what he missed. I dunno – it’s what popped into my head.

  78. Healthcare worker*

    The issue here is containment, OP doesn’t know how to contain a rambler, and the rambler doesn’t have the insight to what they’re doing to regulate themselves.

    I’m really surprised that OP hasn’t sat him down and asked him what he thinks the solution is. The OP is struggling at coming up with a strategy to fix this because they are taking a ‘I know best’ approach rather than asking.

    A collaborative approach would be to outline the issue, and ask what he thinks needs to be done to achieve the desired result. They’re clearly not on the same page as to what the problem is.

    Manager has the authority to decide what’s a problem, but not necessarily the solution.

  79. Bookworm*

    Yikes. No advice, OP. I knew someone who had a lesser version of this (not to the extent we had to mute him but he did have a tendency to dominate meetings and it was apparent this was a problem when there weren’t any senior staffers to help rein him in). Just sending you sympathy. Good luck!!!

  80. Raida*

    I would look into training options – public speaking, improv for picking up on cues and learning to be supportive in conversation, maybe look into how-to-run-a-meeting or facilitation.

    He needs to control himself : maybe he’s anxious and fills in silence, maybe once he starts talking he feels pressure to continue, worries that others don’t understand.
    So also look at training options for meditation, ways to manage anxiety, bullet-journaling, visual journaling, logically scoping the question before putting together a response and then giving a shorter and more effective answer. Being able to say “here’s what you’ve told us, we’ll get back to you at [date/time] with what we advise.” is a big deal for someone who maybe feels they need to have a solution *now*.

    Those are all entirely around reasons he might be struggling with the self-control, tools to communicate more effectively. As a problem-solving-engineer he might simply benefit from having clear tools and processes to utilise.

  81. J.B.*

    Doubles your work to loop him in separately? I would suggest that if you are an engineering manager or project manager, making the decisions and looping him in separately is your job. Getting developers/engineers and business users in the room together is a recipe for disaster. You need to own the decisions, and go through possible solutions with him outside these meetings or in smaller design focused meetings.

    1. user1835*

      “Getting developers/engineers and business users in the room together is a recipe for disaster” – As an engineer I don’t agree with that at all. In the global companies I’ve been working for communication skills are considered important to engineers. We do have people who are expected to help to translate between Business and IT but normally sit in the same meetings and engineers do explain things to Business (both internal stakeholders and external clients).

      Adding an obligatory element in between would make the process much less efficient and as the OP mentioned is the case in her situation, lead to things being lost in translation.

      1. J.B.*

        I’m glad your experience was better than mine. Mine has always been more like that “expert” video where the client is describing how to draw a cat. If companies can actually impose some discipline on the discussion then discipline is part of the job and a part this guy is failing miserably at.

  82. Tomalak*

    I meet people like this socially more than I would like – and I don’t have a mute button. I am a member of a social club and we had to essentially ban someone because he was always turning the conversation towards niche topics only he knew anything about and boring people rigid.

    I know the engineer is not the letter writer but if he was I would say something like this: any time you are speaking far, far more than anyone else it’s a sign of a conversation gone wrong. Probably you have picked a topic the other person isn’t interested in or knows very little about, so unless they really explicitly said “I would love to hear about black holes”, and they then keep asking questions, I would assume the topic needs to change fast.

    But this is a work situation and boring people don’t deserve to be unemployed their whole lives – so yeah, just stop him talking on the calls.

  83. Some Lady*

    I suggest also looking into structured conversations – protocols for brainstorming, giving feedback, etc., where there are tight rules. I don’t know what would be best for this situation, but an example would be for a general updates type of meeting for each person to share a thing going well, a thing that’s more challenging, and a thing that is surprising (or whatever makes sense) – and each can be only a sentence. These kinds of things can make some people roll their eyes, but they can also be training wheels for good meeting skills – making sure all voices get heard, condensing your thoughts, choosing what’s most important vs what can be tabled, etc. I’d try it out in internal, lower-stakes meetings first. You’d have to find the right types of structures/protocols for the situations you have and for the vibe of your team, of course.

  84. Anonymous Today*

    Someone else used the word “insubordinate” and I agree.

    His manager tells him not to speak, but he speaks anyway. His manager mutes him and he calls back.

    He’s a great employee except for the small matter of the insubordination.

    I found all of the suggestions for what to do to work around this exhausting. Why should everyone else, especially his manager, have to work around his inability to follow direct orders? (I would hate to think that it has to do with the employee being male and the manager being female.

    My suggestion is to have one more conversation with him at which time it is made clear that if this happens again, he will be put on a PIP.

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