how to manage an employee who rambles

A reader writes:

I have an employee who has a serious problem going into far too much detail in nearly every work conversation. The other people in the meeting can’t even get a word in to interrupt her.

I’ve tried giving her feedback about listening more, asking questions instead of talking, and writing outlines of key points. I’ve also given her some information about being “socially intelligent” that I got at a leadership retreat. Nothing has changed. At this point, I know she’s lost job opportunities of this. I’ve tried to give her some leadership roles, but it’s really challenging because she will end up steamrolling the meetings she’s in.

I want to give her some final feedback because I know she won’t get promoted into a management role without figuring this out. How direct should I be?

I answer this question — and three others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should you tell an interviewee she has something in her teeth?
  • New hire is constantly disappearing
  • I’m going to be away for my intern’s whole first week

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. What a great problem to have*

    It’s simple; put her in a different set of meetings that are internal facing instead of external.

    Some people LIKE details, and you shouldn’t punish them for that. Just move them around to play to their strengths.
    For example, give them the opportunity to lead internal discussions, or to create process diagrams for how various internal procedures should be handled. Have them draft up “nightmare scenarios”, where they can use their intricate knowledge of the details to show you an example of how something could go wrong and how disastrous it could be.

    You can absolutely be “management”, without having to focus on external facing. Take the thing you think is a character flaw, and put her into situations where that flaw becomes a valuable asset.

    1. KHB*

      Verbosity can still absolutely be a problem in an internal meeting. I don’t understand this suggestion.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yea, this sounds like torturing your coworkers instead of your clients. No one wants to sit in a meeting with a rambler.

    2. MegPie*

      Even in internal meetings, ramblers are awful. It’s incredibly rude not to give other people space to speak without having to wait for a long enough pause or just talk over them.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’m with you. I think it could honestly be worse. If Rambler can’t takes cues that she’s giving too much information to external clients who presumably lack the breadth of understanding she has, putting her in a group of her peers to have her share every single detail about every single thing she knows to people who are there with her, is going to be awful.
        Based on OP’s description, giving Rambler control of a meeting is like leaving a kid in a candy store:
        OP: Rambler has reviewed a process, created some hypothetical scenarios based on real events and will be presenting options.
        Rambler: begins talking about product (that everyone knows); describes real situations (that others experienced); finally gets to business plans she has created. Shares more details.
        As people ask questions, she ignores them, talks over them and continues on with whatever she wants to say but taking no input/feedback from people who are involved.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Ummm … did I miss something in the letter? What are you talking about?

      “She talks so much that she steamrolls a meeting.” That’s not going to fly in an internal meeting either. A meeting is not a presentation where only one person talks and everyone listens. In a meeting there’s supposed to be two-way communication, feedback, and discussion. This 100% sounds like a problems to be addressed and fixed; not something to be ignored.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      I don’t understand this suggestion — my take was that these were already internal meetings, not external. And taking over meetings like this (and not letting others get a word in) is a huge internal issue — ask anyone who has had to work with (or around) someone like this. It is beyond aggravating.

    5. WellRed*

      It sounds like they may be internal mtgs. It still sucks to have a rambler and your suggestion to have them do other possibly irrelevant busywork is … whaaaa?

    6. Recovering Librarian*

      People like this don’t like details so much as they like to hear themselves talk. This is the person who calls a meeting that should really just be an email, and a meeting to plan for next week’s meeting.

      1. Loulou*

        I think you’re running away from what the LW has written. We have no indication of this! I have definitely met people who tend to go into way too much detail and ramble because they’re nervous, don’t have a good sense of what’s important and what’s not, or something else. It doesn’t have to be anything nefarious.

        1. Pennyworth*

          Some people just talk in a stream of consciousness without a mental edit function. I think the rambling employee will need some intensive coaching to change. I am an impulsive interrupter and I have to concentrate so hard all the time to guard against it. An update on this one would be interesting.

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      The issue is not liking or disliking details. It is the speaker knowing how much detail to include. Yes, this will vary depending on the audience. But nothing in the OP suggests this person is simply misjudging the audience.

      1. Darsynia*

        Yeah, I’m one of these people if I’m not careful. ALL of these details sound fun and interesting and potentially important in my own head! This person probably does the same at grocery stores, doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings.

        It’s not stifling or disrespectful for us to be told we’re hampering everyone’s workload! I’d rather know that than be given busywork leeway special treatment in case I’m offended, as a rambler.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I agree. I have a tendency to ramble, especially if I’m nervous or excited. My wonderful former manager had to coach me on this a bit so I wouldn’t hog our team meetings with side issues. I also told her that I won’t take offence if she interrupts to say I’m rambling again. I’m from a very strongly wait-to-speak culture, interrupting someone else is practically never seen as anything other than rude. People do indicate that they’re listening with mumbles, and in person with body language, but not with the sort of collaborative interruptions that are common in, say, France, Spain, Italy, and Latin America.

    8. Colette*

      As others have pointed out, it would still be a problem in internal meetings.

      But even if the OP had seen this behaviour in external meetings, revamping the job entirely is rarely an option.

    9. Artemesia*

      blowhards who never shut up and let anyone get something in edgewise are no more delightful and helpful in internally facing meetings than externally facing ones. I have worked with people like this and they make every meeting a nightmare.

    10. Dust Bunny*

      Naw, I like details. I’ve yet to meet anyone who likes details more than I do. But context matters, and work almost never the time or the place for exhaustive levels of detail. It’s not “external facing”–this person is wasting time and other people’s energy.

    11. Hills to Die On*

      Context, meeting agenda, reading the room, and being socially appropriate are all factors that seem to be lacking. And I attend a LOT of meetings where the not details are important. These are 2 different things.

    12. Zennish*

      “Rambling” also implies, to me anyway, someone who stays only tangentially on topic, if at all. I once worked with someone where the usual Monday morning “Hi, how was your weekend?” would get an excruciating 30 minute rundown of everything they did, everything the kids did, everything the dog did, etc. etc. In a meeting, asking something like “Did you see the email from client X about Y?” Would devolve into “Oh yeah, client X… he used to work with Z who used to be our accountant. You remember Z… he was the one who drank too much when we went to that local winery for the holiday lunch that one time ten years ago. He was supposed to drive everyone back but then…” and on, and on, forever. I can’t imagine that in a management role, where much of your function is to digest information, and relay it to a team in a direct, actionable way.

      1. Sparrow*

        That’s not always the case! I have a colleague I would definitely classify as a rambler, and the rambling is always relevant, even if not something I really needed to know immediately. I hesitate to interrupt or redirect her because I always end up getting really useful information that I wouldn’t have thought to ask about. Her rambling is worth listening to, and since it only happens once every 4-6 weeks, I just make sure my schedule is clear afterwards!

      2. WellRed*

        Oh we have this rambler! It’s not only never relevant or wirk related, he usually repeats things several times.

    13. Paulina*

      No, it’s a terrible problem. There will be no “leading of internal discussions”, there will only be lecturing. This isn’t about whether the employee is detail-oriented, it’s about them not having the judgement to communicate appropriately.

      I have been in meetings run by people who are massively verbose. It’s a waste of time because no matter how much we know, that we could contribute, or that they are wrong about things that they are elaborating on at length, it’s going to be at least 15 minutes before any of us get to say anything.

      I’ve reported to people like that. It’s awful, especially if they get annoyed when it looks like you’re trying to say something.

      People need to say what needs saying, and then stop. People also need to be able to enable the input of others and listen to them. If they can’t, then putting them in charge is a disaster waiting to happen; either they won’t find out something that they need to know, or their best reports will all leave.

      1. Lisa*

        Her manager needs to step in and be perfectly clear that she has a problem ( in private) Then set time limits to how long she can talk. If this proves unsuccessful, then she needs to be told that she may not speak in meetings unless asked to speak. Ramblers have to be have things explained to them in clear and concise language, because they are under the illusion that they are fascinating . It is actually a self esteem problem they are desperately trying to cover.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I agree that it can be a self-esteem problem, but that’s not always the case. Some people just love listening to their own voice and they also love having a captive audience. Letting such people lead meetings will make the best employees look for other jobs.

    14. Clisby*

      I’ve read the original question 3 times now, and I don’t see any indication that the LW has said anything about whether this is external v. internal facing. I also don’t see why it matters. Rambling is rambling, and it’s not good. This employee needs to learn to talk less.

    15. Lower Back Exercises?*

      I am a person who loves knowing details, and while it may be a strength in performing analysis or coming to a deep understanding of a subject, it is almost never a strength in communication. Knowing how much your audience, be they readers or listeners, needs to know is an absolutely essential skill in every job role. It is no better to lose the attention or waste the time of an internal audience vs. an external.

    16. ceiswyn*

      There is NO situation in which rambling about details while not letting anyone else get a word in edgeways becomes an asset.

      The last such rambler I knew who led an internal discussion, rambled on about details that were WRONG and didn’t allow anyone to jump in to correct him. He wasted everyone’s time and made himself look like a fool. Does that sound ‘valuable’ to you?

    17. Short’n’stout*

      In addition to the other points, you’re also assuming that it makes sense for someone in Rambler’s role to only be in internal meetings and never in external meetings.

    18. The OTHER Other*

      The letter doesn’t mention an external vs: internal issue, the problem is that she talks nonstop and no one else in the meeting can get a word in—pretty much an exact quote. Most of us have been in meetings with people like this and they are immense time wasters. NO ONE likes meeting with Verbose Veronica.

      I question why the LW a is so invested in promoting this employee, esp. into management. Veronica has already shown that she does not take feedback, ignores social cues, and wastes coworkers’ time.

      Though as Alison points out, maybe the feedback was too indirect, how direct are her colleagues and especially her reports going to be to tell her to stop when she is a manager? She would be the kind of manager that schedules weekly meetings everyone dreads because they sit and listen to her prattle for 45 minutes while work doesn’t get done because she has a captive audience. Everyone will wonder who on earth thought Verbose Veronica would make a good manager; OP, I think you should strongly rethink whether she is cut out for a management role. It sounds as though she is a better fit as an individual contributor, where her manager (no offense, but maybe not you?) can keep her endless droning in check.

      IME the best managers I have had spend more time LISTENING, not talking. Maybe consider someone who listens well for promotion to management?

    19. Unaccountably*

      This would absolutely not fly at my job. We’re all busy and meetings need to be productive. I’ve had to actually say, on internal calls, “I’m going to end this call now, let’s set up a time to talk about this issue one-on-one” when someone on the call wouldn’t stop talking over everyone else.

      I can’t think of a single context in which someone refusing to stop talking during meetings would be a valuable asset to my company, internally or externally.

  2. MegPie*

    I’m just about to quit a job because the rambler in my group was just promoted to manage me. Trying to get a word in in meetings has been a nightmare and working for someone like this is unbearable. Ugh.

    1. Retried Prof*

      You bring up an important point – when you indulge a rambler, you are devaluing all the employees that have to sit in these meetings. Look at it this way – would you pay someone to just sit and listen to the chatty employee? Because that’s essentially what you are doing. The rambler not only wastes time; they damage the work by inhibiting input from other people and demotivating other employees. The rambler needs to be managed for everyone else’s good, as well as for their own.

      That means talking directly to the rambler about the problem but it also means actively managing the rambler in meetings. Have an agenda you can use to justify limiting how much the rambler can talk about any one thing. Give them a time limit – “Can you explain that in 30 seconds?” Use nonverbals – put an open hand palm up in the middle of the group to provoke a pause so you can redirect the conversation, and give them a STOP hand if they talk over other people. Interrupt them to redirect “Jane, thanks for that but we really need to hear from Fergus now”. If she doesn’t stop talking just keep repeating her name until she does. Do not worry about making things awkward. The rambler is creating the awkwardness – you are just remedying it. You owe it to the rest of your employees to actively contain the rambler.

      1. Lower Back Exercises?*

        You’re not just devaluing them — you’re wasting the money it costs to employ them. If Rambin’ Rose monopolizes a meeting with 10 people in it for an hour, she’s wasted hundreds of dollars in payroll and benefits just as surely as if she’d set a laptop on fire. And this is before the cost of employees getting annoyed and choosing to move on.

      2. Lisa*

        Her manager needs to step in and be perfectly clear that she has a problem ( in private) Then set time limits to how long she can talk. If this proves unsuccessful, then she needs to be told that she may not speak in meetings unless asked to speak. Ramblers have to be have things explained to them in clear and concise language, because they are under the illusion that they are fascinating . It is actually a self esteem problem they are desperately trying to cover.

    2. HS Teacher*

      If the rambler on my campus gets promoted, I’d totally leave over that. It is exhausting, and nobody in a position to do anything seems willing to address it. Meetings are a nightmare because they dominate the conversation; they interrupt others who are talking; and they are highly confrontational when asked to let others finish a thought.

    3. Workerbee*

      Yeah, the whole “ I know she won’t get promoted into a management role without figuring this out” from the LW has definitely not been my unfortunate experience. In several companies, ramblers held high, if not top, positions.

  3. Zona the Great*

    I had a serious rambler in my circle recently. I even wrote in about her on the Friday threads. She would tell a 10 minute hypothetical as a lead up to a very simple question. It was bananas. I finally decided to recap her epics with a simple, “so you’re asking if there can be co-applicants?” She started catching on when I would paraphrase her rants with 10 words or less. I also started putting a hand up and saying, “ask me the question first and then I’ll let you know if I need the story to go with it”. I never needed the damn story. Maybe these could work with her?

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I have that friend. I’ve been blunt, “get there,” because a I lost my shit after I’d timed half an hour and in her story she was still in her car driving to the to the grocery store, no where near buying the food for the dinner she was going to make that evening.
      Yes, it was my fault that I’d asked her the question, so I do take part of the blame. Lesson learned. Next time I won’t follow up with her to confirm she was still able to use her tablet with her home wifi after I helped her connect it that one evening.

      1. Zona the Great*

        Hahaha this makes me laugh only because I know the pain so so much and if we didn’t laugh, we’d effing scream.

      2. Tea and Cake*

        Ha! I have that same friend! “Skip to the end.” was an often used request for a while…

      3. Not a cat*

        My mother is a rambler. And she never tells stories in chronological order. Usually, she starts in the middle, zooms around a bit, hints at the middle-end, then jumps to the beginning. It got so that no one in the family would stay still long enough to listen to her. For her at least, it’s not fixable.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      I hear so many high level leadership do this. IMO it really detracts from what they are trying to say and makes them look less professional. Just say what you have to say! Let me extrapolate all the possible scenarios on my own if that’s how I process (it isn’t).

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Captain Awkward has advice for social situation like this, where you ask someone, politely “Can you sum this up for me in two sentences?”, which I do use with my husband a lot in baseball season, where he wants to tell me complex baseball stories, but I do not have the bandwidth or forks to listen to it all. It is a great way to say “I want to hear what you want to tell me, but I need to hear it all in much less words”.

  4. What's in a name?*

    Make sure that this isn’t something that a man would get away with, or even be praised for. Women sometimes get negative labels for talking as much as men do.

    Not sure that is happening, but don’t be blind to the possibility.

    1. KHB*

      I have a male rambler on my team, and I can confirm that it is still just as annoying.

      Twice in the past few years, I’ve been on a hiring committee where we specifically ruled a (male) candidate out because of his verbosity.

      1. Artemesia*

        We once didn’t because he brought a lot of what we needed for a difficult to fill role. We were sorry. Living with his endless blather was awful.

        1. KHB*

          We were fortunate that we had other more qualified candidates in each case – but we decided that even if our top candidates all turned us down, we’d rather start the search over again than hire Blathering Bob.

        2. Kelly*

          Ugh do we work on the same team? Our rambler filled a position we’d had open for a couple years and is decent at his job, but he just sucks the air out of the room at literally all meetings.

      2. Your local password resetter*

        The biggest rambler I know is male. Fortunately I never had to work with him, or I might have blown my top at some point.

      3. alienor*

        I worked with a male rambler until a few months ago, and he was a nice enough guy, but I dreamt of murder every time we were in a meeting together. I finally just started interrupting him so I could say whatever I needed to say. He didn’t seem to mind.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I’ve been the rambler before, but at least I learned. The worst ramblers are those who take offence when they’re interrupted.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      You don’t have to let a woman get away with something just because a man might get away with it in a theoretical setting somewhere else. If you would correct a man for it, you can also correct a woman for it.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I think What’s in a Name is saying the opposite. Make sure this is about the employee being too talkative and not just outspoken. Men tend to be seen as confident; women as bossy.
        (But I think OP is pretty clear that employee simply talks to much. No issue about tone or content, just the amount.)

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes but there have been studies that women are perceived as talking more even when they talk the same amount so it’s worth running a self check on.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I had a coworker who always told me I talked too much, but it was really just him being an impatient, sexist jerk. Our boss spoke to him several times about his gruffness towards all the women in the office. If I need to give someone context so I can ask a question about a project, that’s not “talking too much.” That’s informing you of the situation so you can answer the question well. So you make a good point.

    3. Ray Garraty*

      Not from my perspective.
      I’ve worked for both male and female ramblers, and I daydreamed about strangling both of them with their own laptop cords with the exact same amount of enthusiasm.

    4. Marthooh*

      “The other people in the meeting can’t even get a word in to interrupt her” doesn’t sound like something anyone should be allowed to get away with.

    5. Your local password resetter*

      I vaguely recall reading about a study where they investigated that in regards to gender.

      The general takeaway was that when women talked ~20% of the time, they were perceived as talking about as much as the men.
      If they talked for 30-40% of the time, then people saw them as dominating the conversation.

    6. anonymous73*

      That’s irrelevant. If someone is always highjacking meetings where input is needed from other attendees, that’s a problem that needs to be addressed, regardless of gender.

    7. ggg*

      I worked with and later managed a male rambler. I just had to cut him off, loudly, multiple times.

      Occasionally someone would notice that another employee was stuck with him and call that person to come to their office right away to answer an urgent question, and this usually worked.

  5. KHB*

    I appreciate Alison’s usual “be direct and name the problem” advice, and I think that “cut the amount you’re talking to 30% of its current level” could be a useful way of thinking about it – but I’m not sure how well that will work as the entire solution, because that’s not really how people think about their own speech. You don’t (or at least I don’t) think, “I’m going to talk for five minutes and then stop” – rather, you probably just say what you think needs to be said, and however long it takes, it takes.

    In addition to giving Chatty Cathy global guidance of limiting the amount she talks to X amount or Y level of detail, I think you probably also need to train yourself to start cutting her off in the moment when she starts going down the unnecessary-detail rabbit holes. If she’s barely even pausing to take a breath, cutting her off means talking over her, which can feel uncomfortable at first – but if you’ve talked with her about the problem beforehand, so she knows this is coming and why you’re doing it, that might make it less uncomfortable.

    1. Darsynia*

      I’m the kind of person who can do this (and I’m regretting a wee bit saying so because I think the general consensus here is that there’s no hope for such people, which, eek), and I think the 30% would definitely help me in visualizing how much I’m verbally over-stepping boundaries. However, I’m also a very helpful, observant person so that might not work with this person, as I learned what was acceptable in early working environments and just didn’t always apply those in non-work ones (so I ramble at the grocery store lol). Someone firmly and fully established as an adult at work has maybe spent many years not listening if people brought it up, heh.

      The talking over thing is so crucial! I think a lot of us are socialized that this is actually more rude than allowing a coworker to waste everyone’s time, and it’s just… unfortunately necessary, the same way that bringing in a locking lunchbox may be in some offices. LW1, try to remind yourself that it’s for everyone’s benefit, not just yours!!

    2. Me*

      I agree more concrete than 30% is needed.

      Maybe it is something like, I need you to watch the clock as you are talking and if you are taking longer than 2 minutes to answer a question, I need you to stop and check in with the question asker if you are providing them the information they need. Or I need you to practice for meetings you are leading and if your opening statement is longer than 3 minutes, you need to revise.

      1. dresscode*

        That’s good advice. I was also thinking of making sure she’s not the first to answer every question, i.e. letting other’s have a turn.

        1. Me*

          That’s a good example as well. I’m just thinking that if someone has a hard time already understanding how much they are talking, they will likely need very very concrete tasks to help them learn to manage that trait.

      2. Mollie*

        As a person who struggles with giving either way too much or too little info and gets insanely nervous about it, this level of specificity is incredibly helpful. Thank you.

    3. anonymous73*

      Yes. I’m a Project Manager and if a conversation in a meeting goes off on a tangent, or is someone starts going off topic, I rein it in. Generally whoever is in charge of the meeting should speak up, but OP needs to speak to her as her manager as well, and not be afraid to tell her (nicely of course) to stuff a sock in it when it happens in the moment.

    4. A Wall*

      I’m a rambler by nature precisely because, when focusing on a subject, I can’t tell how long I’ve been talking. I sort of assume this is an ADHD problem in my case, but I’ve known a lot of people with similar issues who have other difficulties with attention or focus or time blindness. If someone told me to cut how much I talk by any quantitative amount, I would have absolutely no idea how to do that, because the whole problem is I can’t see what the total is.

      One of the more useful bits of advice I’ve received is to only answer the exact question asked and never provide extraneous information. Which sounds severe, but if you have a mighty impulse to add details then the amount of times that impulse wins out leaves you with a grand total of a normal amount of speech.

  6. Moi*

    What if it’s your peer that rambles? She takes over meetings by rambling, doesn’t get the social cues that I can’t take that long because I’m busy etc…

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Tell her. Just tell her. “I’m pressed for time today–what information do you need from me?”

    2. Your local password resetter*

      One suggestion: “sorry to cut you off, but I only have X more minutes. As I understand it *short summary of the relevant info*”
      And then move on to the next action/question/discussion point.

    3. anonymous73*

      Be direct and stop relying on her to get the hints that you’re sending because clearly she’s oblivious to them or just doesn’t care.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Honestly – I just ignored the story time and went back to whatever I was working on when one of my former coworkers who rambled would wander over. They never slowed down or stopped talking at me, but I still met my deadlines.

  7. James*

    As a card-carrying rambler myself, I’d try to find out why this employee rambles. There are two distinct kinds of rambling.

    On the one hand you have irrelevant ramblings–when you go off on tangents that have nothing to do with work and just go on and on and on. Those need to be dealt with in one way, and I haven’t found a great way yet outside of “Okay team, we really need to get back to work.” Save the chit-chat until after the work is done.

    On the other hand you have someone giving too much detail. That’s what I do. That’s a totally different problem. The person giving the details may not realize that no one else wants those details. Or they may lack confidence, and be using the information dump to show why they made the choices they did. I used to do that all the time, until someone told me it was annoying and all they wanted was the question–if they needed background they’d ask for it.

    Trying to solve one problem using the other solution isn’t going to work, because the problems are different.

    1. LizW.*

      Third option-talking through to process the issue and or problem solve.
      I have recognized this and will tell my boss/or coworker that I am telling them so I can process, keep doing what they are doing unless they really want to listen to me.
      That said, also guilty of 1 and 2!

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’ve been known to tell spouse that “I’m processing out loud – feel free to disregard.”
        If that is what is going on it’s a good thing to let others know.

    2. sb51*

      Fourth option: Rambler and coworkers have a different length of “normal conversational pause”. So you have these two POVs:

      Rambler: my coworkers are annoying! I was explaining how to troubleshoot the widget polisher, and they kept silently not responding as if they’d never heard of a widget. So after some excruciatingly-long silences*, I explained more, and they just got more quiet and looked more baffled!

      Coworkers: Rambler is annoying! They kept going on and on about widget basics when they’d told us what they needed in the first minute, and wouldn’t let us get a word in edgewise!

      * For conversational-overlapping types, the length of “excruciatingly long” can be less than zero. I.e. “if they aren’t cutting me off mid-sentence to say they’ve got it, they want me to explain more”.

      1. KHB*

        This is a really good point. The length of a pause in the conversation can feel very different depending on whether you’re the one speaking or trying to speak up.

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          It also depends on whether the rambler has a Reaganesque speech pattern – putting the pauses in the middle of a sentence rather than between sentences, so that no one has an easy way to chime in without feeling like they’re interrupting.
          I had heard that he did this on purpose, as a conversational tactic, but even if it’s a naturally/innocently occurring speech pattern, that might explain everyone else feeling like they can’t get a word in edgewise.

            1. tiasp*

              There was a radio talk show host who used to do this! I can’t remember who, but I remember noticing it and HATING it.

      2. alynn*

        Good Point! This differs culturally as well.
        I remember reading about this years ago and the author used dignitaries visiting the white house as an example

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I’m a rambler in an extreme wait-for-your-turn-to-speak culture, so because most people won’t interrupt easily, I’ve had to ask many people, including a former boss, to please interrupt me when I’m going off on one of my tangents. It doesn’t come naturally to us.

          I’ve also lived in Spain and France for extended periods, and didn’t really feel at home there until I learned to navigate the conversation-overlapping cultures, even when I was pretty fluent in the language. I still remember how awesome it felt to be truly included in the conversation, because I’d adapted to their ways in a way that made it as easy for them to talk to me as to any of their compatriots.

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Fifth Option: That person who re-summarizes the same information ten different ways. The one who re-mixes their sentences like each word is a number on a safe they are trying to break into. They just go over and over the same ground again and again until you want to scream “I get it! We’ve been reviewing the same thing for a half hour! We all get it!”. Drives me the most nuts.

      1. rototiller*

        Oh man, I had a coworker at my last job who did this. Nice guy, but he’d ask me to do something, I’d say yes, then he’d spend the next ten minutes persuading me to do the thing I’d just agreed to. And it would always be the same basic information, reframed in different ways. I guess he had some anxiety about making requests of people.

        1. PollyQ*

          My mother does this, and it’s definitely an anxiety/insecurity issue. I just cut her off, because I’m mean that way. I’ve tried telling her, “When you’ve made the sale, stop selling,” but realistically, she’s never going to stop doing it.

        2. Software Dev*

          God I have a coworker who does this, just endlessly repeats. It makes any conversation with him like pulling teeth.

      2. Rebecca*

        My husband calls this ‘teacher-splaining’.

        I teach 9 year olds all day, so it’s become second nature to slow my speech and say everything 4 different ways and still expect 6 identical questions. My husband has to grit his teeth and remind me that he does not have the attention span of a goldfish for the first 30-60 minutes I’m home every night.

    4. anonymous73*

      The reason behind it isn’t important. The solution is to be direct and clear with your expectations. If your rambling, regardless of why or what kind, is hindering your own or other’s productivity, it needs to be addressed.

    5. Jessica*

      Sixth option: Word-finding issues.

      I’ve always been weak at word-finding: It takes me longer than average to come up with the right words. I used to be taciturn; now I’ve become a rambler. It’s from living with a spouse with ADHD. If I’m not constantly talking, I lose him.

      Before living with the ADHDer, I left long pauses (and often people thought I was done and never got to hear my sometimes-important points). Now, I talk around the subject with the wrong words until I can finally come up with the right ones.

      It’s just as frustrating for me as it is for everyone else. But it’s turned out I actually do better as a rambler than I did before as a taciturn person who was always being scolded for “not being willing to share my expertise” or w/e. With my word-finding issues and the short conversational pauses others expect, rambling is actually the best I can do.

    6. wine dude*

      Seventh option? They can’t abide a silence and must fill the space. I had an employee like that. One day I said “Marcel! Would you please stop talking and start communicating?” Probably not my finest managing moment but the puzzled silence that followed was golden.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        I read a book about business culture in Japan and it warns westerners (and particularly Americans) not to take a period of silence in a meeting as a bad sign. It could mean that whatever the last person said was considered profound, and needs respectful time for consideration.

        In general I think we underrate quiet periods, and would be better off if we heeded Jorge Luis Borges—don’t speak unless you can improve upon silence.

  8. It's me, Mario!*

    Reformed over-talker here! This is how I used to be. And yes, I was aware that I was doing it and yet… I also couldn’t stop myself. I would try to back down, but once a silent moment hit I felt like everyone was looking at me to nudge the conversation along (sometimes this was legitimate – people did see me as the person to go to when a conversation needed a way forward. But other times it was likely in my head and/or I took it too far into rambletown). And yes, it also held me back from promotion. Ultimately I learned that it was an issue with me not being comfortable with silence. That may or may not be the case here, but it’s nothing a manager could have helped me fix. I needed to tackle this issue in all aspects of my life. I’ve gotten much better, but the compulsion to fill empty space with the sound of my voice still hits me from time to time. I’ve found the best option for me is to be self employed. Less meetings overall and less chances for me to find myself in this trap of talking too much. And now, when I do go into a meeting it’s because I’ve set it up and, therefore, I’ve had proper time to prepare for it and be more intentional about sticking to the main points.

      1. The OTHER Other*

        …along with a string of novelty records, such as “Hanukkah Balls” and “(No extra) Guacamole Bob”.

  9. Stormfly*

    It’s not just for her own sake and professional development that you should try to get her to curb this; if you value her fellow team members, you need to do it too. As someone on the same team as a chronic rambler, it’s an absolute nightmare to try and contribute to discussions. It’s having a major impact on my job satisfaction, and I’ve started disengaging from my role in general as a result.
    I once got so frustrated in a virtual one-on-one meeting with the guy that I started timing the amount of time each of us was speaking. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do it with sufficient accuracy to get any useful data.

  10. Junior Dev*

    I had a rambly roommate and one thing I noticed was missing from their rambles was a sense of what information would be useful and actionable in the context.

    For example, we were setting up our kitchen and deciding where things would go and the conversation went like this:

    Me: do you drink coffee?

    Them: Well, sometimes, if someone offers it to me. I like mochas and stuff like that, but I don’t drink them too often because the milk makes me gassy, but if they have almond milk, I’ll get one. At my last job they had free coffee and so…[insert 5 more sentences of vaguely related ideas]

    Me: I mean, do you need to dedicate a section of the kitchen to your coffee making equipment?

    Them. No.

    So one way to head this off at the pass is to clarify what concrete, actionable information you need from them when asking a question; but this gets exhausting, honestly, and so a better way to use this idea is when giving the employee feedback: “before you answer the question, I need you to think about why the person is asking, and what is the minimum amount of information they need in order to achieve that goal.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is my friend from the story above. I have learned to be specific. I’ve also learned to say that I will listen to the story, but answer my question first. She answers, I do what I’m doing while she narrates. It works.

    2. Pixies' Dust*

      This. A million times this. Sometimes the person is just a rambler. Other times, it’s about trying to answer the question the person thinks is being asked – or all the possible variants thereof.

      Also, you can work with someone like that to set up concrete talking points, pre-meeting. Which are informed by the specific ask, like the above.

    3. Not A Manager*

      I’m sympathetic to the roommate, though. She might not have thought that the context was “let’s set up the kitchen as efficiently as possible.” It sounds like she thought this was “getting to know my new roommate and bonding” time.

      1. Short’n’stout*

        This is what I came here to say Best to lead with the most specific version of the question, that would directly elicit the desired information. If I’d been asked that out of the blue, I would have been puzzled about the random, out-of-context question.

        1. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

          But it wasn’t out of the blue, and there was context: ” we were setting up our kitchen and deciding where things would go”

          (I agree that the question was somewhat indirect, because maybe the housemate in question would have wanted to set up a dedicated tea-making area, but it really wasn’t context-free.)

    4. calonkat*

      To be honest, I think your example question wasn’t great to start with :)

      You didn’t mean “do you drink coffee”, your question was “I don’t drink coffee, do you need a space for coffee making stuff”.

      So if this is part of the problem (the person in question is trying to answer all possible questions at once), then that’s the skill to work on, for them to learn to ask clarifying questions to get the actual question, then answering it in as few words as possible.

      1. Junior Dev*

        Please trust that this is an oversimplified example and there were a LOT of instances of this overall trend.

        It got exhausting trying to always phrase questions in the most explicit way possible. It felt like I was walking on eggshells and if I didn’t get it right I would be punished by a deluge of stream-of-consciousness.

        1. Sea Anemone*

          I’m still sympathetic to the roommate. Ask the question you want the answer to. If they answer the question you asked, well, that’s on you. It’s not walking on eggshells. It’s learning effective communication.

          1. alynn*

            learning effective communication goes both ways. In this example, they are literally deciding how the setup the kitchen so the question about coffee was related to setting up the kitchen and where that coffee stuff might go.

            My mom is a rambler so I know how to work with it but I have limited sympathy for ramblers :)

          2. Archaeopteryx*

            It’s not fair to put all of the onus on the speaker to preemptively head off bad listening skills. Conversation is a dance and one person can’t be tasked with doing all of the work, which includes not having to figure out increasingly unnatural ways to specifically point out what is and isn’t relevant to the conversation at hand.

          3. hbc*

            Well, yeah, but if the guy at the McDonald’s counter asks, “What would you like today?,” you’re probably not going to tell him about the steak you want for dinner, the shoes you’ve had your eye on, the particular weather you’d like to see, or the show you plan on watching tonight. Context matters, and effective communication goes both ways.

            And really, outside of certain very limited situations, it’s terrible conversation skills to take a simple question and run with it like that, even if it was a general inquiry about coffee preferences. “Sometimes–I don’t like it enough to pay for it or drink it straight, but some frou-frou coffees are up my alley. How about you?” If you find common interest in some of the details, it’ll come out in the back and forth, not in delivering a treatise.

          4. EchoGirl*

            I think you may be conflating two separate things here, though. The issue of whether the question is interpreted correctly/open to misinterpretation is somewhat separate from the question of how much detail is given/how long they spend answering a question — which, by the way, can be an issue even if the question is interpreted correctly (in fact, the two people who spring to mind for me when I think about this are often answering questions).

            For instance, in the top comment’s example, I wouldn’t fault the roommate for saying something to the effect of, “Well, not all the time, but once in a while, particularly mochas and stuff,” because yeah, I can see how the question could have been misinterpreted. But the roommate’s answer as described would be excessive detail even if she correctly interpreted what the OP was asking, and frankly, from my experience of people like this, someone like this might well launch into a similar monologue even in response to a direct question (“No, I don’t make coffee. I do drink coffee though, sometimes….”) .

            Also, yes, people should ask the questions they want the answers to, but people are also going to make mistakes. No one should feel like they have to get it perfect every time or else something unpleasant will happen — which I think is what the “walking on eggshells” part is referring to.

            1. EchoGirl*

              The end of that first paragraph should be “are often answering correctly interpreted questions”.

          5. Allonge*

            Being the roommate is an excellent way to get people to stop involving you in any decisions, and not ask any questions at all though. It’s roommate’s kitchen too, it’s not like they are doing a favour being involved in this conversation.

        2. calonkat*

          Junior Dev, that’s why I suggested that the “rambler” also needs to learn to ask the clarifying question BEFORE heading into the answer. The onus shouldn’t always be on the questioner, the listener should needs to think “is this appropriate, is this likely” and ask questions to be sure the answer matches.
          So your conversation could have gone
          (setting up kitchen)
          You: Do you drink coffee?
          Roommate: Sometimes, why do you ask?

          So the skill the roommate (and possibly the OPs worker) needs to work on is SIMPLIFYING the response and making sure it’s appropriate.

    5. Gail Davidson-Durst*

      This is a really helpful perspective. I function as a sort of project manager at work, and one of the people I work with is a “too many details” rambler. Like,

      Me: Nick, it looks like the emergency last week means you won’t hit the target date for getting the new teapots painted. What’s your plan for catching up, and what’s the new target date?
      Nick: Sure, let me tell you what’s going on. First, the earth cooled . . .

      I think I need to be clearer that A.) I know there are good reasons why the date was missed and I don’t need any detail on that. B.) I want his best guess of the steps that will get it to Done and what date he think that can be done by.

    6. Joielle*

      Ooo, I do this sometimes. If someone asks me a very simple question but I think I know the larger context for the question, I’ll answer the full question I assume they had – but I’m not always right. From my perspective, I’m helpfully providing relevant information so they don’t have to ask followup questions… but from their perspective, I’m rambling about something unrelated because that’s not the question they were actually asking.

      I’ve tried to be better about just answering questions in a couple of words but saying “why do you ask?” or similar, to find out what the actual context for the question is.

  11. Empress Matilda*

    For the Chatty Cathy, you should also check if she even wants to be in management. You said you’ve given her some leadership roles, but it’s not clear if that’s something she’s asking for, versus something you think she should have (or want.)

    Obviously the rambling needs to be stopped either way, but you should be sure of your framing first. The message isn’t going to land if you tell her it’s holding her back from something she doesn’t even want.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This. I had a former coworker that wanted to stay as an individual contributor (desperately, desperately wanted to remain an individual contributor), who had a manager who was trying just as hard to push him into management. He did try using his words – and clearly, but the manager just didn’t want to listen to “I do not want a promotion, and I do not want to be a manager.” He turned to being a rambler to stay in the job he loved and dodge a promotion that would have driven him out of the company.
      (This all came out because eventually that other manager got replaced and the new manager got to the bottom of the mystery – and coworker was left in peace to the technical individual contributor role he had wanted.)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Oh, and he was never a rambler before or after that manager – it was just a really bad solution to a problem caused by that manager. That manager was truly a “missing stair person” we were all trying to work around.

  12. Cedarthea*

    I am a rambler and I get fixated on ideas, and thankfully after a really, really bad meeting where I was at peak rambling, my boss had the courageous conversation with me and made clear but what my behaviour looked like and what she expected.

    I wasn’t “in trouble” but it was very clear that my actions were outside the parameters of what was expected and needed some support and guidance. Since then I have been able to mostly manage myself, and when I am going off track she is quick and clear on redirection back to the main and I know that is her supporting me.

    I have asked other colleagues to please be clear with me when I am missing the cues and when they are clear with me I thank them (because I know its tough for them to help regulate me but it really, really helps everyone do better).

    My suggestion to OP1 is if you value this employee please have that conversation, if nothing else, at the end you will have made clear your expectations and if it is still an issue then you can take steps from there.

    I do have the additional bonus that I work in the childcare field (although not front line) so my organization has a mandate around education and inclusion (and employees who are well versed in that mindset) so it is easier for us to adapt and support folks with neurodiversities (like myself).

  13. Leela*

    Is #1 concerning any other neurodivergent readers? I know that I, and several other neurodivergent professionals I know, generally feel the need to give extra context because if we don’t, our managers and coworkers are jumping to unbelievably bad conclusions that are not correct, and often won’t give us the chance to set the record straight. I have literally lost a promotion over this and once they realized they’d jumped to a conclusion and gave me the chance to say “No, me saying X did not mean me implying Y, it means X. Literally X and nothing more” they “felt horribly” but they already rescinded it and gave it to someone else and said they just simply couldn’t put me in now that the new person was there. The phrase “social intelligence” unfortunately still usually means “is neurotypical” and it really hurts neurodivergent professionals. So many companies are trying to hire more of us for diviersity but still want to keep workplace norms that were built by a large neurotypical workforce as we were unhireable for not making neurotypical eye contact, or because our neurology was counted as poor behavior, or rudeness when it was neurology causing us to take a breath differently (which neurotypicals have been absolutely certain was to make a point, or sighing at them or something but it’s literally something our bodies have to do), or while we have been institutionalized and underemployed due to discrimination that is clearly continuing.

    1. Leah K.*

      I feel like there is a huge range between “giving extra context” and “dominating a conversation to the point where nobody else in a meeting is able to contribute”.

      1. Leela*

        indeed, I just know from experience, especially from working in HR where many interpersonal issues were brought to me, that “dominates a conversation to the point where nobody else in a meeting is able to contribute” is often how something like “giving extra context” is described from frustrated people who don’t understand the historical context that someone might feel compelled, and even required to do so so they don’t lose access to resources. For neurodivergent professionals, what people don’t understand is that what they’re seeing isn’t a lack of understanding of norms on our part, but the fact that when we participate in these norms (say by not giving extra context just incase) we get absolutely blindsided by bizarre responses based on perceived sleights, not on what we said, but what on what the other person thinks what we said means. What you are seeing actually *is* the end result of us comparing all the choices and making the one least likely to result in some form of harm to us, but it’s taken like we’re just being difficult/don’t understand basic things so we wouldn’t have thought to the “right” (which often just means “neurotypical”) thing

        1. The OTHER Other*

          You seem to be suggesting that atypical people are justified in being verbose, because when they are not, neurotypical people make bizarre assumptions about what they say. Not sure what your solution is for say, someone in a meeting of 10 people intended to give progress reports who talks for 45 minutes of the allotted hour. This is a problem that needs to be addressed, nonverbal cues are being ignored, it’s necessary for managers and colleagues to step in to say “you are talking too much”.

          1. Leela*

            Hi there, I think what’s actually happening is that you are jumping to the conclusion that I am suggesting that atypical people are justified in being verbose, because when they are not, neurotypical people make bizarre assumptions about what they say. Actually, you are illustrating that happening RIGHT NOW.

            Did you think I meant never stop someone from rambling no matter what happens? I specifically did not feel I had to give that context but you’re showing me that I do, and this is exactly why I said what I did. I feel like I have to buffer against every bizarre interpretation of what is said, usually because the assumptions cast me in a pretty negative light and every time I hang out with other ND folks this issue comes up for so many of us. My solution for someone in a meeting of 10 people giving progress reports where one person takes up 3/4 of the alotted time is to *stop them from doing that so everyone can share what they need*. I didn’t mean “everyone who rambles does so because they are neurodivergent, and thus should never be stopped and you shouldn’t apply any nuance to what I’ve said at all.” If someone takes up that much time….are they raising important, work-stopping issues that have been raised before but were ignored and directly impact that progress? Are they sharing context because if they don’t, people jump to conclusions that the perceived rambler will suffer professional consequences for unjustly? That’s the issue I’m raising here.

            I asked if the letter concerned other ND readers because I know this comes up for us a lot. I didn’t say, or mean, that no one should ever be stopped from talking under any circumstances.

            1. Inattentive Type*

              Leela, I wanted to say thanks for this perspective, because I couldn’t believe how many comments I had to go through before I saw the word “neurodivergent” come up.

              I have ADHD and a strong tendency to overexplain things (see: length of this comment), so I automatically sympathize with anyone described as a rambler. That said, I’ve also worked with controlling jerks who just love to hear themselves talk. What troubles me about this discussion is that we have no idea which kind of person the LW is describing, but the prevailing assumption is that they *must* be a controlling, narcissistic type who lacks both self-awareness and respect for colleagues.

              This is what’s so frustrating for neurodivergent people working in a neurotypical culture; we’re perceived as being everything from thoughtless to hostile when our brains do what they do naturally. If you tell me directly that my communication style is making people uncomfortable and/or hurting my reputation, I’m going to 1) be quietly mortified, and 2) work really hard at doing things differently! But if you presume I’m a selfish jerk who already knows better and is deliberately choosing not to do better, I’m going to keep doing the thing you hate, and continue not knowing how much you wish I’d stop. It’s that simple.

              Until you clearly state both the problem and your expectation to the person who’s driving you up a wall, you won’t actually know if they’re a narcissistic jackass or a neurodivergent person who would gladly take steps to change. (Or a young person who hasn’t yet had much exposure to professional behavior, or any of a number of other hypothetical people who would be happy to try solving the problem.) There is a whole world of people who aren’t “socially intelligent” but can be terrific to work with if given some guidance about expectations—in other words, if given the kind of clear, kind, direct feedback Allison consistently promotes for everyone. The presumption that any intelligent, professional person should be fully capable of understanding nonverbal cues is both ableist and counterproductive.

      2. WulfInTheForest*

        While that’s true, it may be just that the format of the information sharing should be rethought. If this person rambles in meetings, why not change the format to emails?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Although you may wish to plan about what to do if they ramble in emails too. Have had a few 4 page diatribes where I’ve had to sit and pick out the relevant stuff (‘here’s how to configure the IIS server to do X’) from and that’s just as annoying.

        2. RagingADHD*

          Because then nobody will read that person’s excessively long and irrelevant emails, or they will have “informal” meetings where they sit together to try to parse the needed info out of them, which results in the Rambler just being excluded from the project meetings.

    2. Pixies' Dust*

      In this case, I would work with a neurodivergent person (lots in my org) to ask clarifying questions up front. “Would you like X, Y, or Z?” goes a long way to ensuring the recipient knows additional information is there in the person’s brain for future follow-up, while the recipient can direct the conversation to the need at hand.

      A wrap up at the end could list a few (not all) contingencies with the most impact as long as it ties back to the original question. “…of course, if you wanted to do X for Y reasons, you’d encounter this problem, so it’s great that you are doing Z instead.”

      I suggested this above also, but talking points can be really helpful here, too.

      1. socks*

        Yeah, I have ADHD and also tend to overexplain, and learning to ask clarifying questions before I talk has been a godsend. I don’t disagree with Leela’s overall point about office norms, but I think there IS a right amount of information to give in most situations, and the goal should be “make it easier to identify the necessary info” rather than “let people explain as much as they like”

        1. American Job Venter*

          Oh entertaining. I thought I read this whole thread but when I went back to take some notes (because this contains useful information for a situation at my workplace) I found this subthread where you both also talked about clarifying questions. *facepalms at myself* So I wanted to 1) agree with you 2) say I wrote my comment before seeing yours, rather than that I was trying to claim your idea.

    3. Chloe*

      I’m sorry that happened to you, but that doesn’t mean your situation applies here. I think it’s important to stick to what the LW wrote and leave it at that, especially since it seems reasonable that the employee would have spoken up about being neurodivergent if that were the case.

      Sometimes, people just talk too much.

      1. Anon for this one*

        Your assumption relies on people 1) knowing they’re neurodivergent, and 2) feeling safe/comfortable doing so. ​I was 35 when I got an autism diagnosis and my partner was 41 when they got an ADHD diagnosis. Stereotypes still proliferate, to the extent that there are diagnosticians who believe that women (like me, and like OP’s employee) can’t be autistic.

        On the topic of feeling safe disclosing, I’ve never worked a job where this wasn’t used against me. The AAM letter “HR treats my autistic employee like he’s an incompetent child” is a good example of the stigma we face.

        I’m not going to engage in armchair diagnosis, but conversational pacing is something I struggle with myself, and “maybe there’s something deeper they struggle with” still takes LW’s situation at face value.

      2. Leela*

        It’s pretty surprising to me that you said the employee would have spoken up about being neurodivergent, many of us won’t do that at a workplace because it’s so poorly handled/responded to. It’s very, very common to have us not come forward. We’d have to look at the manager, the company overall, how they’ve responded to other things like accomodation requests/being aware of when they’re discriminating thinking they’re just doing what’s normal.

        There are also many barriers in the way to getting a diagnosis even if you know, like what Anon says below. Many women can’t get diagnosed because it’s “not that common for women” (underdiagnosed in women because diagnosis is often based on young wealthy white boys specifically) or extremely poor assumptions (you can make eye contact, so you’re not Autistic!…but…they don’t ask if it was an extreme struggle that took decades for you to be able to make eye contact).

        If you aren’t neurodivergent, please don’t make guesses like that. It can seriously impact the quality of life for neurodivergent people and that is exactly what I was trying to address with my post. If you are neurodivergent, please be aware that not all neurodivergent people have the same experience or access to the same resources.

        1. Tess*

          Speculation about anything gets away from what the LW wrote. Could we please stick with the letter, and only the letter? Barriers? Diagnoses? How did this turn into that?

          Besides, to assume I don’t have experience with neurodivergency is unkind. Not everyone expresses their experiences in the same way, let alone have the same experiences. The logic that “This happened to me; therefore, this is what happens in every instance like it” is very narrow.

          1. Anon for this one*

            ‘The logic that “This happened to me; therefore, this is what happens in every instance like it” is very narrow.’

            Except that’s what everyone else is doing – this sameness is a common assumption with invisible disabilities. There’s an excellent article (and book) called Laziness Does Not Exist that discusses barriers, and thinking about barriers in these circumstances is neither a leap nor unkind. I say this as someone who’s been harmed repeatedly by those assumptions of sameness.

            I do see that Leela said “if you aren’t neurodivergent…”, which would mean they are not making an assumption. Their original comments were about having a different experience and different expressions of their experiences.

          2. Leela*

            What assumption was made that you don’t have any experience with neurodivergency? And “this happened to me; therefore, this is what happens in every instance like it” is not what I was saying *at all*. The underlying takeaway from what I said should be “this is a situation I’m often in, that goes poorly, unjustly, because of centuries of discrimination against a group I’m a part of. I think it’s important to bring that up because while some people do indeed ramble, who gets to decide what is unnecessary speech is related to power that is currently related to an extremely high rate of unemployment for ND folks – Autistics can get recorded at 80-some percent joblessness when they are degree-holding and actively looking for work, we need to start discussing this”. But every time we try we get shutdown with strawmen arguments like this.

      3. A Wall*

        it seems reasonable that the employee would have spoken up about being neurodivergent if that were the case

        I dunno about other people, but I hope I never have to tell anyone I work with that I have ADHD. But also I didn’t know I had ADHD until I was in my 30’s when I just so happened to see a psychiatrist for unrelated reasons who picked up on it, so for the grand majority of my working life I was unaware there was anything to speak up about in the first place.

        Now, I’m not assuming the rambler is neurodivergent. Talking a lot is not necessarily clinical and shouldn’t be treated as such. But it is also such a well-established trait in a lot of different forms of ND that advice for someone asking for help with coaching a rambler is going to be incomplete if it does not include at least some information along those lines. “Be direct and tell them to talk less” is fine, but you also need “if they aren’t able to accurately assess ‘less’, here are other ways to coach them that might be helpful.” It’s the same as any other letter on here where people are going to share their perspectives in case they are useful to the letter writer– that doesn’t become nonsense just because the perspective in question is disability.

        In fact, people who are not used to dealing with disability often make sweeping yet incorrect assumptions about the topic. For example, your assumption that a disability would be both known and disclosed is a common one, but it’s typically incorrect. It is frequently not safe to disclose, for one. And with disabilities like this there is a massive and well-established diagnosis gap, where a significant portion of people who are actually affected are unlikely to ever be diagnosed by a specialist. See also: what I said above about mine. Leela touched on that a little in her comments as well, and if this isn’t a familiar topic that can seem like a weird jump away from the letter. The point is simply that an absence of an established accommodation request by the rambling employee doesn’t mean that the LW should bin any and all coaching advice given for/by ND folks and assume this is just someone being stupid or rude.

    4. WulfInTheForest*

      YES. Phrases like “social intelligence” and “common sense” are extremely upsetting to me, as I do not have them. Workplace norms like this are inherently ableist in my opinion.

      In this particular case, do these meetings actually need to be meetings? It may be worthwhile to see if they would be more useful when condensed down into emails or another format? In my opinion, most meetings should be emails or phone calls instead.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m definitely not ‘normal’ mentally and yeah, in the past I rambled a lot – desperate to fit in with the ‘normal’ humans.

      But I ended up in IT where that really isn’t a good trait at all – and a manager of mine straight up told me to ‘stop babbling. If you can’t get to the point in 5 sentences then stop’ (okay, he was a blunt guy) which he’d say to anyone who was droning on and dominating conversations and causing meetings to run over etc.

      I wouldn’t suggest his approach these days, but it was exactly the clear direction I needed. Telling someone that they need to be more concise and to give others time to talk isn’t in any way discriminatory to those of us with our brains wired a bit differently.

      1. Leela*

        I don’t think that telling someone to be concise is discriminatory, but are we assuming the people saying it are using some objective measure? My issue isn’t that no one will ever be correct in saying that someone needs to be more concise and thus it’s discriminatory if they say it, my issue is that a lot of these “obvious” workplace norms are based on white, cis, straight, able-bodied men which results in a lot of issues for people who don’t fall into all, or even many, of those categories. And it stops workplaces from being diverse and well-functioning as they could be, by proceeding like workplace norms are based on some kind of default human instead of whoever’s had the most power and least systemic barriers in their way to getting into the workplace to build up those notions of norms in the first place

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          From my perspective of someone who definitely isn’t white, straight, able-bodied, male…I’m going to disagree on that. If I’m taking up too much of the air time then I’m doing it wrong – and if anyone else is doing it then they are wrong too – especially if they’ve been told previously to tone it down.

          There are some things that are business normals – like don’t shout at your staff, don’t physically grab your staff, don’t talk over your staff, don’t criticise the body shape or your staff or what they eat, don’t monopolise every conversation – that I think are good workplace norms to keep (change ‘staff’ to ‘coworkers’ and it’s true as well).

          Where I wish diversity would come in is things like, I dunno, not having to live my life terrified that someone at work will find out about my particular brain disorder (highly stigmatised), or understanding that some people really can’t make continued eye contact and find it extremely difficult to do so.

          1. Leela*

            I’m not saying that there aren’t or shouldn’t be workplace normals. I’m saying that what is considered normal tends to be based on certain things, mainly who was in power when those normals were codified. And people who are in those groups far too often think that things are running off of some kind of default or more correct human when they’re running off of who has typically been in power, and I speak up when I see norms that disadvantage groups I’m a part of and can represent, or groups I’m not a part of (not POC but I would call out an all-white diversity committee, for example) if it’s important and I have access.

            But this thread (not talking about your response specifically, but the thread) actually illustrates what I’m talking about a lot.

            Me: I see a potential issue that could negatively impact a group I’m a part of when people don’t use nuance or hear our lived experiences when it comes to said issue, so I asked other readers who are also part of that group for their take on this “normal” which is often not questioned by those not on the receiving end of being excluded from the formula for normal.

            Other people: *respond like what I said is there aren’t normals and that anyone at all should be able to talk at length with no consideration for others*

            That’s not what I said, and it’s not what I meant, but here I am having to deal with the conclusions people have jumped to, not because of my words but because of meaning THEY put into my words that wasn’t there. This happens all the time, costs neurodivergent people promotions, wages, jobs, and getting an offer in the first place, and that’s exactly what I was trying to call out.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Well, I’m not part of that normal, not by any means (living with schizophrenia is an extreme situation I grant) and I’m perfectly willing to fight for the rights of those of us in disadvantaged groups. I just don’t see that this is relevant here in this post?

              However, I’ll grant my understanding is sometimes flawed. See above point!

        2. KHB*

          But none of that means we don’t need workplace norms at all. In any job that involves working with other people in any capacity (which is to say, most of them), being able to express yourself clearly and concisely is an important skill. Just because it’s a skill that comes more easily to some people than to others doesn’t make it discriminatory to say that it’s an important skill.

          The talkative employee isn’t the only one whose interests matter here. The colleagues who are getting steamrolled in meetings (who, statistically, probably also include some people with marginalized identities) are just as deserving of having a well-functioning workplace. If they’re constantly finding themselves in meetings where they’re getting drowned in unnecessary detail and can’t get a word in edgewise, that’s not “well-functioning” from their point of view.

          1. Leela*

            this is a really surprising response but also illustrates exactly what I was getting at. I now feel compelled to attach “I’m not saying there don’t need to be workplace norms” and “i’m not saying that this is always an issue of discrimination” and “of course I don’t mean that no one else’s interest matter other than a talkative person” as extra context if I ever make this point again, not because I actually said anything to the contrary, but because without that extra context I now have to deal with people coming at me with those assumptions like they’re explaining something to me I don’t know. And this type of situation happens all the time. This is a pretty low-stakes conversation – strangers on a message board – but if you were my boss or my coworker and I found myself getting responded to like this I would *absolutely* feel like I had to share all of this context to protect myself from the assumptions constantly being made about what neurodivergent people mean by what we say. If you were looking to promote someone to manager, and I now know that you think that I actually don’t know the things you said above based on what I said, I’m now in a pretty bad spot because of untrue assumptions made about what I said. And I guarantee you from a lifetime of these experiences that that will be taken as “rambling” and “giving unnecessary context” but if I don’t give it, I find myself professionally unfairly screwed over.

            What I posted was an explanation that sometimes we DO actually have to speak more at length, because of what we face. But instead of a neurodivergent person explaining their experience resulting in listening which means I could ever have a shot at having any point in my life not completely dominated by norms that came about from our institutionalization, exclusion, and ongoing efforts to remove us from the gene pool, it’s resulted in a bunch of comments addressing things I have not said or meant, and that’s exactly what I have come to expect in a working world dominated by neurotypical workplace norms, and that’s exactly why I spoke up like I did.

            1. KHB*

              Rather than “feeling compelled” to add the “extra context” of all the things you’re not saying, why don’t you take a step back and think about what exactly it is that you are saying? Because it seems like a lot of people aren’t understanding you.

              The question at hand – the one in the original letter – is “how should a manager best manager an employee who’s overly verbose?” “But maybe the employee is neurodivergent” doesn’t do anything to answer that question – especially because, as you yourself pointed out, the manager might not know that about their employee. So what should the manager actually do?

              1. Leela*

                You might take a look at Dr. Damian Milton’s double-empathy research. It’s not that “lots of people aren’t understanding me” (you don’t actually know how many people are, I’m listing the instance they happen not the percents of what people do and don’t react like this) it’s “it is shown with research that non-Autistics do not understand Autistics, however because they have been treated as normal and default it is assumed that we simply communicate clearly. However in trials, non-Autistics also fail to communicate well with Autistics.”

                What the manager should do is what all managers should do – look at their workplace norms and wonder if they’re based on humans in general, or a narrow set of humans that have held power and thus had the workplace built around them and their needs. Take that into account when addressing an issue that could be rising because of a disconnect in “workplace norms” and “what different types of humans actually do and need”. It’s totally possible this is simply a rambly employee, that’s fine. But I raised the point because addressing employees as just being rambly without considering that some of the things employees do that upset colleagues actually are the best option for a marginalized group. For example, some women are scolded for putting “!”, or “just wondering” or things like that in our e-mails but that’s often done in response to the feedback that we’re aggressive or upset if we don’t, but that underlying issue is never addressed.

          2. American Job Venter*

            ” (who, statistically, probably also include some people with marginalized identities) ”

            I don’t think that bringing up other possible marginalized groups is a counterpoint which defeats Leela’s argument, by which I mean: I don’t think Leela brought up neurodiverse people to say, “neurodiverse people have a marginalized identity and having any marginalized identity means one deserves a Get Out Of Jail Free card,” but to discuss how being neurodiverse in specific can affect communication in ways that can lead to someone being a rambler, and that dealing with that may require modified tactics on both the part of the rambling person and the part of the person coaching them.

            Leela, did I interpret your statements correctly?

          3. American Job Venter*

            I think that mentioning that other people in the meeting may have marginalized identities is a bit spurious, because I don’t think that Leela brought up how neurodiverse people have a marginalized identity in order to claim a Marginalized Identity Get Out Of Jail Free Card. I interpreted her mentioning neurodiversity as an attempt to discusss how communication can be different for neurodiverse people and thus that approaches to dealing with a neurodiverse rambler may need to be modified both by the rambling person and by the person coaching them. Unlike the vast majority of such mentions of neurodiversity, I think she has a useful point worth considering. Not as a GOOJF Card but as a place to shift gears in planning.

            Leela, did I interpret you correctly?

        3. BRR*

          I don’t disagree with the overarching issue you’re bring it, because it happens all the time, but I’m neurodivergent and the answer specifically isn’t concerning to me. This sounds far beyond giving a little bit of extra context.

        4. ceiswyn*

          But there are neurodivergent people on both sides of this divide. What about the neurodivergent person who has been ‘trapped’ by someone who rambles on irrelevantly, who isn’t given any openings to speak, and who doesn’t have the social intelligence to redirect the conversation or end the interaction? Should they just lump it?

          Or should the rambler be told that they’re causing a problem, and maybe be given basic coaching on how to stop?

          1. KHB*

            Or, to put this another way: Leela and other neurodivergent readers, if it so happened that you were talking too much at work, annoying your colleagues, and potentially limiting your own career, how would you want your boss to handle it? What kind of coaching would you find most beneficial?

            1. WulfInTheForest*

              Gently. I’ve been taken aside before and told that I’ve accidentally dominated the conversation, or that I’ve been too loud and I should try to keep my voice down. My boss was saying these things from a friendly/teaching perspective, and was kind about it. It’s not something I would want addressed in the middle of a meeting, but rather as an ongoing issue to work on (and not a PIP either, because I think it’s not a performance issue, but rather a social one). When told often enough, eventually my brain can “get it” if I work at it.

            2. Anon for this one*

              I’ve spent a lot of time learning about communication/feedback/conflict management, and many of the general things I’ve picked up are helpful for me…

              -Timeliness. Within 48 hours is the figure I often see. It can often be overwhelming to deal with all of those secondary aspects of communication – tone, body language, hidden meanings, etc., which means that the extra brain power used to modulate that stuff can hinder my working memory. If I don’t remember doing something, I’m really going to struggle to figure out the root cause and address it.

              -Directness/specificity. I often find that allistics share their conclusions without sharing their work, so to speak. I’ve heard feedback like “people don’t want to work with you” – I can’t do any root cause analysis with that. The last course I took suggested Action/Impact/Desired – for instance, “in our last team meeting, you spent half of it talking about trains. We weren’t able to discuss the second half of the agenda as a result. I’d like us to find a way to stick to the agenda close enough to get through it in an hour”.

              -Be as calm and objective as possible. People get frustrated and resentful about things like steamrolling. I get that and I get frustrated too. This is a me thing and not universal, but I find I absorb those emotions, which further muddies my brain, so to speak. My own anxiety and frustration can amplify those behaviours that people dislike, even if I’m aware of them. One of my strategies for conflict management is to find a root cause that’s nobody’s fault (at least no one within the conflict). We have higher ambient stress levels from the ongoing pandemic, for instance.

              -Work with them to find cues that they’ll understand. Alison’s advice to cut down to 30% doesn’t work for me, for instance, as I can’t visualize a percentage of my talking. A pendulum effect might help, where the person doesn’t talk during the meetings at all and then they gradually try increasing their verbal contribution. Perhaps they can record the meeting and take notes so that they don’t lose any ideas or thoughts they have during the flurry of others talking (which happens to me). Perhaps a nonverbal signal is agreed on like raising one’s hand. Perhaps everyone gets a minute to speak. Perhaps their manager books a follow up meeting for them to verbally process.

              -Check your assumptions and your biases. Workplace norms are often biased against minorities – black women’s natural hair is often seen as unprofessional, for instance. There’s so much going on in my brain that I often need to ask a lot of questions to understand someone else’s request or perspective. I’ve been perceived as defensive or insuboordinate for that, which leads to a negative feedback loop of me trying to understand via asking questions, them getting frustrated, me getting anxious, etc. Think about those conclusions, where they might come from, and what alternatives there might be.

              None of this is specific to neurodivergent folks, and general information on internal bias, giving feedback, etc., has been very useful to me. The key is centering that person in the solution finding – I am in the expert on me, so asking me will lead to the most success! The following quote about autism has always resonated with me:

              “What looks like a behaviour issue is actually a communication issue.”

    6. Just an autistic redhead*

      I mean, the OP’s description was reminding me of how I used to write emails at work… I eventually (thanks in part to some pointers from my manager/co-workers and in part to my own introspection) managed to “read it like a recipient” before sending it and that helped me cut it down a lot (sometimes the novella would still be present, but at least readers would know what the topic and/or question was).
      I’ve never been enough of a talker to do that with actual talking meetings though. :D

    7. Foila*

      I’m curious what your advice would be for how to respond to this problem in a way that works for neurodivergent folks. Because the answer can’t be “Whoever wants to talk over their colleagues indefinitely gets to do so with no consequences”. That will just lead to sneaky consequences, like since nothing was accomplished in the meeting with the Rambler, the necessary conversations happen covertly without them. And sure, some meetings could be emails instead, but sometimes a meeting really is the most effective way to discuss something.

      1. EchoGirl*

        Not the OP of this thread, but I would say that a big part of it is making sure that you’re creating a situation where they can feel like they’ll be understood without having to preemptively explain everything. Things like asking clarifying questions and confirming perceived subtext or implications rather than just assuming you’ve interpreted correctly can go a long way towards showing them that it’s okay not to over-explain initially. The problem is that a lot of the time, the message that’s given to us is, “Don’t over-explain or there will be consequences, but also, if you leave something out and I misunderstand, there will be consequences,” and that can feel like a catch-22, particularly if you’re someone who doesn’t always recognize what details other people consider important or what they might be inferring from a given statement.

      2. Leela*

        Thank you for asking! Like all marginalized groups, the way to address this isn’t to look for the one konami cheat code that is objectively neurodivergent friendly (just like people ask me about sound in the workplace, some ND people need music to focus, some need quiet, but what’s really needed is the accommodation that people can have access to either through headphones, thinking about office space, wfh as applicable, etc, versus a broad rule about how much noise to allow somewhere).

        The answer was never going to be “whoever wants to talk over their colleagues indefinitely gets to do so with no consequences”, it’s honestly kind of frustrating to see this response because this is exactly what I’m talking about…neurodivergent people make points that we need to make and then get responses that have gone through some kind of filter system where now saying X somehow means Z and we’re taken to task for it. Of course I don’t mean that no one should ever be stopped from talking when they’re taking up other peoples’ time and space. My point was that ND folks are often stopped from talking for “rambling” when what we’re doing is giving critical context to protect ourselves from the incorrect assumptions neurotypicals make about us (up to the point that we are incarcerated at very high numbers, and have disproportionate rates of homelesness, joblessness, and poor mental health because of it. Currently the solution non-Autistics seem most excited about to fix the fact that non-Autistics won’t hire us is to train robots to force us to make the kind of eye contact they make instead of realizing that “good” eye contact has just meant “non-Autistic eye contact” and ending the discrimination, for example).

        If they want to do right by potential ND employees I’d ask, do they have any ND leadership? Any training on ND candidates? If they have some kind of say, Autism hiring program, is it mainly only for programmers because the company wants Rain Man, but the program isn’t open to ND managers, accountants, HR people, or anyone else who could support said programmers that they DO accept? The way to address possible discrimination isn’t to get one answer from one person that should be applied to all people from that group, but to ensure that people are trained in what discrimination against that group looks like, and that that group is empowered enough that different people within it can come forward with what works. Remember that when things like “business norms” or “acceptable” or “professional” or “everyone” as in “everyone knows THAT!” were all being formed when up through my parents’ generation people like me were removed from society and institutionalized. There is a long, long, long way to go until that scale is balanced but every time one of us speaks up we’re shut up because we aren’t kids or the parents of ND kids and the clock on when people my age could ever get what non-ND candidates are freely given gets pushed back (and back and back, I don’t ever expect what needs to happen to happen in my lifetime).

    8. neeko*

      Do you have a suggestion for something actionable for the OP? I know it’s from years ago but clearly it’s hit a nerve with plenty of folks.

    9. RagingADHD*

      Am ND.

      Letting my ND traits *stop other people from getting their own work done* is not a reasonable accommodation of differences.

      If nobody else gets to talk in the meeting because Rambler talks over them, then the meeting was unproductive and a waste of everyone’s time. Talking over people is not a misinterpretation of breathing. It is rude, period.

      There are basic social skills that are necessary to collaborating with other people, and taking turns is one of them. The concept or rule of taking turns is not hard for ND people to understand (though the cues might be).

      The solution would not be “let Rambler shut everyone else out from participating because they might be Schroedinger’s Autist.” If they were ND, the solution might instead be “set a timer so everyone including Rambler knows when their turn is over.”

      1. Leela*

        My solution was never “let Rambler shut everyone else out from participating” it was “consider what some of what you call rambling might be necessary context they’re giving because of poor outcomes when they communicate like everyone else…not because of what they said, but because of the conclusions others jump to thinking that X meant Y which must mean Z. And it’s totally possible they just ramble, which is fine! Address it! But if you don’t understand the mechanisms of discrimination against marginalized populations and try to apply solutions to them that don’t belong there, you’re failing that population.”

    10. American Job Venter*

      Having read this thread I think I see what you mean — nowhere have you said “so letting the rambler ramble unchecked is the only way to handle this,” but people have definitely replied to you as if that’s what you’ve said.

      I wonder if one method that might help is developing a rubric to ask clarifying questions. As in, “Before I can answer that can I ask a few questions to help make my answer more precise?” The thing is that the clarifying questions need to be few and brief (maybe up to four, mostly yes-or-no) and what they are will be specific to the situation, so I can’t think of a rubric for them. But I wonder if the very concept might be helpful, in helping avoid the need to give all possibly relevant information, which from the listener’s side can come off as a flood of mostly irrelevant information with relevant concepts needing to be picked out.

      1. Leela*

        That’s definitely what I mean, yeah. I would feel extremely compelled to give at least an extra paragraph of what I’m NOT saying if I were to ever post something like this again, because of what’s happened in this thread. Not because I think it’s good or because I should have to, but in a professional setting, that’s really the lesser of two evils for me, and always will be unless people from marginalized groups are able to look at a proposed workplace solution and say “actually that can cause problems for a marginalized group I’m a part of if just broadly implemented without knowing historical context, and it’s extremely important we start talking about that”

        1. Leela*

          And if I had brought this up in a work meeting…I have to now wonder if everyone thinks I’m the kind of person who believes that ramblers should just be allowed to ramble because otherwise you’re a Big Bad Discriminator, and what it means for me professionally to have colleagues think that. Hence, the extra context!

      2. RagingADHD*

        And ironically, the reason that people are responding that way is because there are so many irrelevant details here (indeed, ones that completely contradict the original letter) that very few people can parse what the commenter means.

        In relation to the actual letter — the topic at hand — the LW is the manager. The LW knows which details are relevant to the work, and which are not.

        It’s possible that Rambler may *think* the excessive, distracting detail is somehow related to the point of the meeting because of Rambler’s internal feelings about the topic, but the LW who was actually there knows that these details are not in fact helping the work get done.

        The Rambler’s internally-felt need to provide additional “context” (if that is even what’s happening) is not in fact helping their coworkers understand anything.

        1. American Job Venter*

          The Rambler’s internally-felt need to provide additional “context” (if that is even what’s happening) is not in fact helping their coworkers understand anything.

          This is absolutely, obviously true. So, have we sufficiently condemned the Rambler? Can we go on to providing suggestions to get them to stop rambling? That’s what I found useful about Lyssa’s comments, that the description she gave of a possible POV suggested ideas that might help such a person narrow down what they need to say from what they fear to leave out, and then a couple of other commenters built on that with concrete suggestions.

        2. EchoGirl*

          I don’t think Leela was suggesting that all the detail is actually necessary so much as that a fear of being misunderstood — especially if that misunderstanding may be to one’s own detriment — can cause someone to overcompensate in the opposite direction by including every detail that even might be relevant, and that that’s something that should be taken into account when trying to work through the issue. As for how, like I said above, something as simple as making an effort to avoid assumptions/question inferences could be a big step towards helping Rambler feel like they don’t have to preemptively explain so much.

  14. anonymous73*

    Being direct does not equate to being mean. As a manager it is your job to provide feedback to your employees to help them improve. And hinting around to what they should or shouldn’t do is not helpful at all.

  15. Sleepless*

    This is really timely for me, and not for the workplace! My young adult son can talk pretty much endlessly. He’s fairly socially awkward plus he had a lot of trouble with what the speech pathologists call pragmatics-he had a hard time finding the words to use. So he spent a lot of time in speech therapy. Years later, he can find the words just fine, and doesn’t know when to stop using them! I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to him about it in a way that sounds more like “this is a habit you need to fix, and I’m Team You so I’m giving you some guidance” and less like “OMGGGG SHUT UUUUUUP.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Good luck. Speaking to others is skill. Help him hone it. You are helping him more than either of you realize. Not just for your sanity, but for his quality of life.

      1. Frankie Bergstein*

        Because I’m a person who struggles to speak up, and more generally to take up space, I have strong negative reactions to ramblers. When folks take up all the air time in a meeting sharing too much detail and interrupting others, I get very, very annoyed! I also abhor being interrupted. For me, if someone is filibustering a meeting, it shows that they don’t respect everyone else’s thinking and contributions as much as their own. That’s incredibly rude, even if it’s not what’s meant. It’s still the effect that this bulldozing behavior has.

        Second, I’ve been the facilitator for meetings where a filibusterer is attending. It’s so much more work for me! I have to plan the agenda down to the minute and allocate 30% of my energy to saying things like:

        “Filibusterer, can you let Joaquin finish? I really want to hear the rest of his point.”

        “OK, we need to wrap up discussion on agenda item 1 and move to number 2 so that we can end on time. I know some of you have meetings right after this.”

        It’s exhausting. It’s really exhausting to do this much extra work for this personality type. I know I am more reactive to this personality trait than most. Most people will be more forgiving, but to me, this is my least favorite trait in a coworker. It burns our bridge quickly.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I understand. I sit and wonder how they cannot understand that everyone in the room feels their ideas are worth sharing – that people are choosing NOT to talk. That they can choose NOT to talk.
          Please don’t fill up space. I’m good.

        2. Cold Fish*

          Also a person who struggles to speak up. I don’t necessarily have a problem with ramblers, unless they are repeating the same point over and over again. I don’t need it explained in five different ways why the report is due on Monday; just that the report is due on Monday. That gets annoying real quick.

          But I do have a problem with interrupting. I have a very soft voice to begin with so it is often a struggle to be heard. I find it extremely rude when someone does interrupt me, especially when they think they know what my point is but are completely wrong. And because I find it so rude I am loathe to interrupt others which often leads to me not being able to actually finish my thought/point/question.

          I wish more managers/meeting leaders would spend a little more time actually directing a meeting instead of just letting the people with the loudest voices dominate.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            My biggest pet peeve, “in other words.”
            OH MY GOD! If I didn’t understand the concept, I’ll ask you. If I don’t ask you, I GET IT.
            and to your other point, people who can lead meetings, truly set the agenda, keep people on track, let everyone be heard, they are special people. Truly, “works well with others” should mean “enabling others to do their best.”

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      My mom used to tell me that the general structure of a back-and-forth conversation should be “no more than two statements and then a question for the other person to talk about” to try to get me to stop giving longer, detailed explanations about something. I won’t say that it was always effective with me, but it was at least a template that she could remind me to follow.

      If you’re actively teaching a skill, you can also do things like detailed time-tracking where you listen to a conversations and put tick marks in boxes each 5 minutes for who had a chance to talk during those five minutes, or various other ways to track or map out the flow of the conversation so it’s something he can see later and analyze himself. I would only do this after telling him that you’re going to and explaining that this is something you’re going to be actively working on, and also make sure that you have some idea what the data would look like for a more back-and-forth discussion versus the current over-detailed one so you can see how to use whatever it is you’re collecting for feedback.

      It’s also nice to set aside some designated times that are just for monologuing about interests, if that’s a thing your kids does. I have a friend where we do that, and each of us gets 10 minutes (or whatever) to talk about something we’ve been thinking about/working on lately while the other person listens and then riffs off of it if they have anything to add. That’d be exhausting if I was looking for Action Items in that very long explanation, but I’m not – it’s basically like listening to a live podcast, and it wasn’t in response to an Action Item question like “what should we eat for dinner” but rather something we both agreed was happening as part of social time.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I spent a good chunk of my early years in speech therapy (combination of hyperlexia and a severe stammer) and, yeah, the switch into ‘hey, I can do this talking thing!’ has a really well hidden “off” switch!

      This is going back several decades (I’m in my late 40s) but I think mum said something about it being friendly to other people if you intersperse your speeches to others with questions for them and listen to the other person’s responses. Then it’s more of a conversation than a lecture.

    4. alynn*

      My parents like to say conversation is like tennis (not that we played ha). The idea being you hit the ball (share idea/ask question) and then the other person has the opportunity/obligation to return the ball (say something related to that thing). I think they used the analogy to get my brother to give others an opportunity to contribute to conversations and to get me to respond haha. I remember the phrase ‘keep the ball moving’.

    5. Jessica*

      Are you sure? Maybe he’s made the same metamorphosis I did from taciturn to rambler (see my other comment upthread). For me it’s still because of word-finding issues. “Slightly the wrong words, so your meaning is slightly off, so you haven’t actually made your intended point and need to keep talking” is still a result of *weak* word-finding, *not* “finding the words just fine now.”

  16. LadyByTheLake*

    I had an employee once who was like this — it all boiled down to her not being confident, so she wanted to give everyone all of the details and all of her thought processes so that they would know what she knew and why she did what she did. It took a while to convince her that higher ups genuinely, 100% did not want all that detail — at least not at the outset. I made her try it a few times, I reviewed ahead of time what she planned to include and I slashed and burned the content. I got a lot of pushback from her at first because she was convinced that all of the details were important, but when we had the meetings and the higher ups were able to move forward without all that detail (or maybe would ask one or two questions), it helped her to see that all that detail was genuinely unnecessary. It took a few times, and I could tell that she was deeply uncomfortable at first just giving the high level, but once it worked she had an epiphany that knowing the detail was her job, not theirs.

    1. calonkat*

      This is an excellent take and idea for moving forward. I struggle with this as well, and what I’ve done is prepare everything, but then report on the high level stuff. Working has finally taught me the advantages of outlining a paper :) And my boss only needs the top level, maybe the second level of detail in most situations.

    2. Texan In Exile*

      I am married to an engineer and he wants to tell me his process. Every time. Even though all I want is the answer. He wants me to know the cool things he did to get to the answer.

      1. alynn*

        hahahaha YES! Until this moment, I didn’t know getting just the answer was even a possibility. My dad, brother and, spouse are all engineers.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That was me too, in my early career. A combination of not knowing how to interact with others (I tend toward solitary in a big way) and a serious lack of confidence. Therefore I thought the more I talked the a) wiser I’d seem and b) more others would like me.

      Whoops. Totally got that wrong. It was a manager who told me to dial it wayyy back.

      (Later, much later, I worked out that often the ones most in the know and the most confident actually said the *least*)

    4. kt*

      Yep, this is on point. It’s the “showing your homework” approach and comes from the idea/stance that you need to show the person “grading your work” that you “did all the work”. It is not from a position of confidence, it’s not from the position of a peer, and I have talked with some of my employees about the fact that they’ve been hired to be the experts on their work (not on everything, but on certain things) and that they should make recommendations that they’re prepared to justify, rather than listing out all the homework pieces and asking the higher-up to come to the conclusion.

      “the detail was her job, not theirs” — exactly!

    5. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      I had an employee who also did this for the exact same reason. They were highly intelligent and very logical, but unfortunately went overboard with detail when speaking with executives. And I did the same thing that you did. Edited every slide and made them practice their presentations with me. It worked and they are much better about that now.

    6. rototiller*

      Yep, I was this person once, and my grad school advisor took a similar approach. Made me a much better presenter. One of his suggestions which I really like is to take the slides you cut and put them after the ending slide. Then if someone asks a relevant question during Q&A, you can jump to that slide and look like a genius.

      I don’t give as many presentations these days, but this general concept is one I’ve found really helpful. The advantage of having a brain like mine/your employee’s is that you naturally keep all the context and details in your head, even if you say a fraction of them out loud. If you dump it all out at once, people get frustrated. But if you keep a bunch in reserve and pull it out in response to followup questions, you look smart and confident. People love having their questions answered!

  17. Salad Daisy*

    There is someone on my team just like this! When we have a roundtable where we go around and everyone shares what they are doing, our manager always goes to them last. Otherwise they hijack the entire meeting.

  18. FG*

    For #3, my guess is smoking. He goes to the smoking area & over time he develops friendly relationships with other smokers, and the breaks get longer & more frequent. Every place I’ve ever worked had a smoking clique. Where the building housed more than one company, it was cross-organization.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was thinking smoking, too. There may be one place that is closer, or maybe it’s a matter of elevators. A ten minute trip at 9:30 could be a 30 minute trip at 1:15.

      1. Forty Years In the Hole*

        That was my experience/frustration when managing the squadron admin office: crew of 8, 5 of whom smoked. So, one heads off for a “quick” puff within 10 min of starting work. That meant a second (or 3rd) had to trail along because smokers can’t smoke alone, apparently. Then an hour later, same scenario. Multiply this by 5 folks round-robining at >15 min per puff…that’s…a lot of time out of the office. The MFWIC (me) had words with the Sgt, once I’d totted up the total person-hours/time spent/lost, on a daily basis. Which meant clients had to troup back/forth from the the engine bays/flight line – only to find the clerk they needed wasn’t available. That got sorted real quick.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          I worked on the 18th and 25th floors. It was maddening, to hear “I smoke a cigarette in 10 minutes.” Yeah, you do, but you don’t fly or transport, so it’s 30 minutes total. out of every two hours.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Now imagine that person working a four hour shift and still expecting to have a smoke break every hour on the hour (oh, but he had to completely leave the campus our building is on because we are completely smoke free (and nope – no smoking pavilions or lounges anywhere on campus).

            He was eventually managed out for failure to meet productivity standards and one too many write-up (for insubordination for refusing to follow the office Covid Protocols). It’s far more peaceful in the office without him.

    2. calonkat*

      Agreed on smoking as the most likely scenario. I’ve worked multiple places where smokers just took breaks as often as they wanted for as long as they wanted. A few places you couldn’t really tell when smokers were on sick leave or there, their work level was about the same, but since they were outside smoking with the supervisor, it was ok I guess.

    3. turquoisecow*

      Oh yeah that’s probably it. I’ve had coworkers who seemed to always be outside smoking when you needed them. It was usually a group activity, so they’d get to chatting and I think sometimes not realize how much time it took. Also if you’re on an upper level and have to get to the ground floor, whether by stairs or elevator, you can use up ten minutes of time just getting down to the smoking area, which is often far from the building nowadays (my current employer used to constantly send emails reminding people not to smoke near the door, and my former employer’s designated smoking area was a short hike from the door.) They may think it’s a ten minute break but it’s probably closer to 20 or 30.

    4. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      I was going to say the same thing. Smoke break coupled with a bathroom break plus grabbing a coffee/snack adds up way faster than they realize.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s a great point. I used to be a 20+ a day smoker (last quit about 6 years ago) and I think if I added up now the amount of time I’d be heading off with different people to go smoke a cig during the day…errr. Yeah.

      (I try to tell my nieces and nephews now that it’s not just a really expensive habit and bad for your health, but it also takes you away from things a lot – since you can’t smoke indoors)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Congrats on breaking away. It’s tougher than people realize (spoken from watching a few relatives fight to quit – they all finally managed it – one took nine tries before it finally took).

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Last time was my…8th attempt? Nearly went back on the cigs last year. Glad I didn’t but the craving doesn’t go.

    6. WulfInTheForest*

      Either that, or having to pee a lot/refill a water bottle/get a snack. I could easily see a pee break turning into 10-20 minutes if you go to the bathroom, wash hands, refill your water, and go grab a snack from the vending machines.

  19. Rose*

    For #2 this is one of the only times I think it’s better not to say anything. If you tell her mid way through the interview she’s going to be embarrassed and it’s going to throw her off. She’ll be embarrassed afterwords too but it’s too late for it to throw her off by then.

    1. DivineMissL*

      I’m just thinking of Rachel from Friends, after she accidentally kissed her interviewer, she went back with ink on her lip and the interviewer was gently trying to gesture to her…

    2. RJ*

      I think it depends on how you approach it. It sounds like it was distracting, so I would hold out a box of tissues and be very matter of fact. “Oh here, you’ve got lipstick on your tooth. I know I’d want someone to tell me if it was me. Great! Now as we were discussing…”

  20. turquoisecow*

    Maybe it would help the rambler to prepare for meetings by thinking about what she’s going to talk about and maybe outlining the main points.

    Like, okay, this is a meeting about Project X, so someone is probably going to need to know about where you are on y, z, and q. Write down two or three (short!) sentences (or just have them in your head, but written notes might help you remember and stick to just that) on that topic and then say just that. And then stop.

    I wonder if some of it is nerves or a desire to want to appear smarter by continuing to talk. I sometimes will ramble a bit in situations where I’m feeling anxious or uncomfortable or like I’m being judged by others. It’s also sometimes true that people have this compulsion to fill silence, so if you pause briefly and no one else starts talking immediately, then you feel compelled to keep talking because it feels like the others are waiting for you to say more. It’s especially true in conference calls or video chats where there’s a slight pause between what you’ve said and what they hear.

    Good luck, OP, I’ve been in meetings with ramblers and it wasn’t fun, but I’ve never had the authority to stop them.

  21. Amber Rose*

    I work with two people who ramble, and it’s awful. It’s been notably miserable lately as staff meetings have ramped up in frequency and duration.

    It’s enough to make me want to cry. It’s not just job opportunities that get damaged, it’s staff relations. If I think I’m gonna get pulled into a three hour ramble, I’m not likely to want to talk to someone at all.

    1. Ozzie*

      Absolutely this. My direct manager is a rambler, and I dread meetings, because a “quick chat” is never quick. It can derail an hour or more of my time, and I usually walk away with less information than I started with on the topic. I try to avoid meetings as a result, or keep them to Slack or email to force brevity, or at least so I can read them when I have the time and capacity to read that level of detail. (also notably, a chat is rarely needed for these types of things, and has been part of a larger effort to reduce meeting load generally)

      But when you’re avoiding meetings with your direct manager, that’s never good… but I also shouldn’t have to dread every sit down I have with her.

    2. Workerbee*

      This!
      It came as a shock and welcome surprise when the two chief ramblers on my team (one was the boss) left the company. Suddenly, we had all this time back to, you know, actually get stuff done.

      I learned from previous rambler encounters never to schedule or be in a meeting with them before lunch or quitting time.

  22. LizM*

    I’m a reformed rambler (usually).

    It’s a combination of nerves and my brain going faster than I can speak.

    Some concrete advice that helped me was a mentor encouraging me to write down the 1-3 key points I wanted to make before responding in a meeting.

    Agendas also help. They help meetings go smoother even if a rambler isn’t present, but if you’re in the habit of developing and sticking to an agenda, it feels less rude for participants to cut the rambler off, pointing to the agenda, and letting them know if they need more time, they can add it to the agenda for the next meeting. (Usually when given the time to think about it, a rambler realizes they don’t need that time, but on the rare occasion they do, this helps set some sideboards for the discussion).

    Obviously not every conversation has an agenda, but I’ve gotten in the habitat of telling rambling staff members, “You’re going into a lot of detail here. Is this something we can handle in the next 5 min, or should we schedule some time? How about 30 min this afternoon? Can you throw together a quick agenda so I know the key questions you need answers to?”

  23. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – make this a performance issue with clear guidelines on how the employee is to handle herself in meetings.

    I’m a talker – I process information by talking about it. I’m naturally verbose. I want to express my thoughts in the precise language that will convey the exact meaning I am trying to communicate. I’ve worked VERY hard on this, but it helped a lot to have specific, actionable things to work on, from one of my very best managers.

    Things you can use as actionable items:

    1. My manager pointed out to me that clients/colleagues/higher ups DON’T want every detail. Giving them every detail undermines your credibility and their confidence in you. They want your CONCLUSIONS. If they have further questions, they will ask. Then you trot out details to the extent needed to answer the question. Rinse, repeat. (That was an epiphany for me – I had been giving very detailed answers to prove that I knew what I was talking about and to convince people that my conclusions were correct).
    2. This requires you to be very organized about what you are going to say – highlights/conclusions at a high level, then detailed notes for each highlight, then metrics / proof / examples for your specific points. Tell your employee to organize their notes this way (I do it in point form. If the bullet starts in from the highlight, I don’t mention it before the highlight has been provided and the person asks for details). Highlighters are your friends, here.
    3. Stop after giving the highlights. See if anyone has a question. If they do, you talk for 1 minute about the details. Then stop for questions. If they want evidence/proof, you talk for 2-3 minutes, tops. Obviously using a stop watch is going to look odd, but most computers and offices have a clock you can glance at.
    4. Once you have gotten to the end of your highlights, details, and proofs, stop talking. Let others talk. If they misunderstood something, you can point that out and VERY quickly clarify, but DONT rehash the whole discussion again.
    5. Take notes – being busy writing down what other people are saying gives you time to also organize your thoughts and note down what you want to say in response. It also keeps you from opening your mouth until they are finished. (It also helps to have a fidget or something that partially occupies your attention.)
    6. You can give the highlights in meetings, and tell people you will email the details, if the meeting is supposed to be short.

    Hope these ideas help. For me, it was an issue of confidence and knowing what was appropriate and how to convey information without overwhelming people.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      ETA – yes, I have a further thought – for ramblers, coaching them on how to convey information directly is also important. The highlights to details approach works, but sometimes you do need context to have people understand the situation. So, have the individual also have a Context section in their meeting preparation – again, with conclusions about the context, then details, then examples/proof). Eg. Our research was conducted with a reduced sample size due to COVID issues, but we feel our results are valid. Then – if needed – the reasons the sample was valid in general, etc. etc. (rather than a discussion about how COVID has affected everything).

  24. LizB*

    The coworker I work most closely with is a rambler, even when asked a direct question that can be answered in a sentence or less. A conversation I have had too many times:

    Me, in training: I know you told me this already, but I forgot to write it down – do the Llama invoices go to the general Llama department email, or to Susan, the head groomer?
    Her: They go to Susan. I think Lucinda used to send them to the general email, but then one time she missed one that was really time sensitive – she was just super checked out and ready to retire by the time I got here, so she wasn’t being very careful – so we switched it over to Susan because she wanted to be more hands-on in following up on those invoices. We did send it to the general email and to Wakeen while Susan was on leave in March, so he could be her backup, but now that she’s back in the office it’s just directly to her even if she’s out on PTO for a bit. Wakeen can kinda handle the invoices, but he doesn’t really have as good a grasp on what to be expecting as Susan does, so it’s really better for them to go directly to her. Although there was some talk that maybe he’d start taking over invoicing, but Jane told us to hold off on that, it won’t happen until the new fiscal year at the earliest and she’ll let us know, so that wouldn’t happen until January, and–
    Me: (praying for the sweet release of death as I send the invoice to Susan)

    1. James*

      I do that as well (the rambling bit, not the praying for death bit). But it’s a learned behavior for me. When I first got into the job folks would send me all over and have me do tasks at different sites, but without context. And I found that for me, context matters. There are ten million decisions that you make in my line of work as you do the job, and knowing how the task fits into the big picture helps you make those decisions better. Plus, you feel more like part of the team if you know how your task fits into the bigger picture–you’re not just a robot doing the same thing over and over, you’re making a real difference, even if it’s only for a week.

      Of course, not everyone is like that. It’s hit and miss–some get annoyed with me, some really appreciate it. It all depends on the person.

      There are also times I go into detail not because YOU need it, but because I do, and I’m using this opportunity to refine my understanding of the process. It’s not totally fair to you, but, well, it all pays the same, and I’ve done MUCH worse for my paycheck than act as a sounding board!

      1. LizB*

        I guess my real gripe is that she will go into this same spiel every. time. I ask about a semi-related topic. It doesn’t give me any more context to hear for the third time this week how Lucinda was very checked out and ready to retire, I just want to know if Bob is in charge of Alpaca statistics! That’s all I asked! It was a yes or no question! It needed maybe a maximum of one sentence of context!

    2. Frankie Bergstein*

      Good goddess, I only email these people. I literally stop talking to them. This sounds exhausting!

      1. LizB*

        I was in a virtual meeting last week that could have taken 15 minutes tops. Instead we went several minutes past the allotted hour. It was… not great.

  25. Green Goose*

    #3
    Is this his first job? I ask because I had an intern a few years ago and it was his first job/internship ever and he would also just disappear. He had NO IDEA what office norms were, and it was my first time being someone’s very first boss so I didn’t realize how much training he needed. Stuff that seemed like common knowledge he was totally clueless about, wearing sweatpants to the office, routinely showing up ten minutes late for an hourly job, the disappearing and he even invited friends to come hangout at the office once. I was trying to super gentle approach because he would look on the verge of passing out anytime I had to provide criticism to him but now that its been a few years I know how important it is to be direct and early on. It won’t feel weird if you address this in his first week, but if we wait weeks or months and then address it.
    You could even give him the benefit of the doubt when talking to him and phase it like, this is how we do it at this office, it may have been different at your past place of employment.

    Also, on the flip side. When I had a summer job in college I was working at a movie theater and our schedules changed every week, when I started I asked the manager how I could find out my next week’s schedule and he said I could call him on the Sunday and get it. So I did this for a few weeks and one Sunday that I called he blew up at me and said I needed to check the schedule myself and to stop asking him to do it for me. I was confused and a bit upset because apparently there was a weekly schedule posted in one of the backrooms that I never used, but he hadn’t told me when I first asked. So instead of telling me how things worked, he just assumed I was being lazy. Just another plug for why it’s important to explain things directly with new people.

    1. Need More Sunshine*

      I had a similar experience in one of my first jobs to your last paragraph. This was at a gourmet grocery/deli and part of our benefits were that we had a lunch stipend where we could eat food from the kitchen/deli up to a certain dollar amount for free. Well most of it was prepackaged, so I would just grab a packed container of chicken salad and whatever else I wanted up to the dollar limit. No one told me that there were bowls and plates and utensils in the kitchen for staff to use so we would save materials/money on the to-go packaging for customers. It wasn’t until probably a month in that the bookkeeper (who was only there once a week!) finally told me and implied that our boss and my manager were annoyed that I was using the packaging. I felt so embarrassed!

      1. Green Goose*

        Ugh! Yes very similar, and also, why would you have known that?! “Let’s not tell them and just assume the worst.”

  26. Beth*

    Re the interviewee with the smear on her teeth: there’s nothing you can do in the moment, as Alison said. But there is a possible face-saving act of kindness you can perform to reduce the amount of after-the-fact horror and embarrassment:

    Be the last person to shake hands or otherwise say good-bye at the end. When you do, do a small double-take and say, “Huh, I think you just got a smear on your teeth.” — phrasing that implies that the embarrassing smear has NOT been there all along.

  27. Frankie Bergstein*

    Because I’m a person who struggles to speak up, and more generally to take up space, I have strong negative reactions to ramblers. When folks take up all the air time in a meeting sharing too much detail and interrupting others, I get very, very annoyed! I also abhor being interrupted. For me, if someone is filibustering a meeting, it shows that they don’t respect everyone else’s thinking and contributions as much as their own. That’s incredibly rude, even if it’s not what’s meant. It’s still the effect that this bulldozing behavior has.

    Second, I’ve been the facilitator for meetings where a filibusterer is attending. It’s so much more work for me! I have to plan the agenda down to the minute and allocate 30% of my energy to saying things like:

    “Filibusterer, can you let Joaquin finish? I really want to hear the rest of his point.”

    “OK, we need to wrap up discussion on agenda item 1 and move to number 2 so that we can end on time. I know some of you have meetings right after this.”

    It’s exhausting. It’s really exhausting to do this much extra work for this personality type. I know I am more reactive to this personality trait than most. Most people will be more forgiving, but to me, this is my least favorite trait in a coworker. It burns our bridge quickly.

    1. Ozzie*

      You’re not alone in this AT ALL. I routinely attend meetings where I say less than 10 words because one or two people (in a 5+ person meeting) take up the entire thing, with about 50% content. It’s frustrating, especially because the person running the meeting…. just doesn’t, ultimately. (and who can blame them, for the reasons you’ve stated above)

      For a certain project we’ve been working on, I had to request that this person not be invited to meetings that she was not absolutely necessary in, because she was commandeering hard-to-schedule people’s attention for information that was not on the topic at all, and no one seemed to want to reel her in. The person arranging the meetings agreed, and they became much, much more productive after the fact, where we could fill everyone in later on the topic at hand, and then bring people in as-needed to follow ups. (we generally scaled them back – did not just exclude the one person, which is key to handling it gracefully! But not an option at, say, all-staff meetings)

  28. Me*

    #3 – Oh this reminds me of the guy we had to fire for many reasons. He was new but came in with an attitude of knowing everything and entitled like he’d worked here for a decade.

    He would disappear and we found he was doing things like working outside because it was nice and he felt like it. Take work off site to get other peoples opinions (his moms I swear to god). Things that weren’t done. Not even by well tenured employees. Just not how we worked.

    He just couldn’t grasp he was new and as such expected to be in his office learning from his more advanced peers and most definitely had not earned any kind of privileges that come with known good work.

    So yeah, ask him directly what’s going on and state the expectation. Hopefully he can take correction and roll with it. Unlike our no longer employee.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Or maybe he suffers from an embarrassing and painful condition like IBS and is scared to tell anyone for fear of getting fired.

      1. Need More Sunshine*

        Well that’s the point, right – if OP#3 just talks to him about it, she ensures that nothing wildly out of touch is happening like the above, or no resentment builds on either side for his being out of commission so frequently if it’s something like IBS or an overactive bladder.

  29. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I wonder if the coaching doesn’t help, if the OP will just need to say to The Rambler, “Please stop talking” during their meetings. Or if that feels too drastic, to restructure the meetings so everyone gets a set amount of time to speak and to set a timer. When the timer goes off that person is done and has to stop talking. I once worked with 2 ramblers who would ramble at each other (this is a rare and potent problem but it happens) and by the end of meetings, which often went on for hours, people felt like they were going to cry. None of this is fair to anyone.

    1. Meep*

      You cannot just get up and walk out of the room?

      We have a similar problem. Our President likes to sit there in silence as he absorbs what he just heard. Our VP is a rambler and needs to fill that silence. And because she refuses to listen, it is usually nonsense or questions that have already been answered. He has told her to shut up a couple of times with varying degrees of frustration. It doesn’t work for long.

      I think the timer bit is the best alternative.

    2. Sea Anemone*

      Don’t say that. That’s actually rude, and adding “please” doesn’t help. There are any number of direct things that OP can say that do not cross the line into rudeness. How about,

      “Jane, I’d like to stop you here to let people respond to what you have said so far. Joaquin, Emily, do you have anything?”

      “Jane, let me interject to say that we’ve spent 10 on the barley, and we only have 20 min left to discuss the rest of the grains. Can you sum up in a sentence or two?”

  30. Meep*

    LW#1 – My boss is a professor as well so he does this thing where he is silent for large swaths of time. He does it for two reasons – 1. He is processing what you told him and 2. He is trying to get you to spill more otherwise. When I first started working here, I tried my best to fill the silence with the expectation that “more info” equated to “more knowledgeable”. I now say what I need to say and let him sit in silence. It is less awkward now too.

    Perhaps she is afraid of silence and afraid of coming off as “unknowledgeable”? Try asking her why she fills the silence so much. You will probably find it is anxiety-based.

  31. Intern - Teapot Developer*

    #2 I joined as an intern this year, and my manager missed my first *two* weeks.

    Funnily enough, I survived perfectly well, and managed to settle in to my role just fine.

    However, if I need help, I’ll just go to someone else instead, and I’m closer to another manager. It would’ve definitely been ideal to have him there for my start, especially as there were lots of HR-related things to get done (e.g. a laptop mixup, and forms needing managerial approval), but it wasn’t a big deal.

  32. Sea Anemone*

    To give you a sense of where you should be aiming, I’d like to see you cut the amount of talking you’re doing in work discussions down to about 30 percent of its current level. That’s a big cut, obviously, but it’s essential to be able to advance here.

    That’s not great advice bc it gives no guidance on what the correct 70% to cut is. Better advice is:

    What I’m hearing from others* is that you go into detail on your thought process before you give your recommendations. What I’d like to see instead is no more than 3 summary statements about your thought process followed by your recommendation. Save the details for if people ask.

    *It seems like LW#1 has witnessed the problem firsthand, so replace “what I’m hearing from others” with “what I hear when you are asked to talk.” And if some of the feedback is secondhand, don’t let the feedback stop at “Jane talks too much.” Ask follow up questions about what parts they would like not to hear.

  33. Cherry*

    I’m a serial disappearer! But I seriously believe it’s considered okay in my role. Where I am, we aren’t expected to be at our desks all day and have flexible hours (within reason). We don’t have to be reachable or findable all day or even most of it, so long as we’re doing something reasonable. Also, when I disappear I tend to still be doing work. And, I’m typically logged on for far too long on evenings/weekends. I’ll tell you reasons I disappear when I could have been doing exactly the same work at my desk:
    – I really need to focus and office distractions are not cutting it
    – I need to privately use some coping strategies to help with my hidden anxiety/being neuroatypical (typically, sit on my own, listen to loud music on earphones and do a low-energy activity like reading through emails or reports)
    – I want to make a particular work call or do a particular activity for which I would prefer privacy
    – Writing presentations. Just cannot do that well in the office for some reason
    – Or, not very often, I might be either really about to feel panicky or majorly pissed off about something that’s just happened, and need to switch tasks for a little while.

    So, your guy might not be anything like this. But you also (I hope?) wouldn’t guess some of these things even if you worked in the same office as me. If it actually is anything like this, it sounds like in his role you just can’t do these things. I couldn’t – and didn’t know it would have helped me to do so – in my first job either. But as I’ve very slowly learned a lot about how to get the best out of myself, these were the answers. If he’s figured all this out early on in life, I take my hat off to him because I very decidedly did not.

    Or, he’s smoking. Could just be a smoker.

  34. Jennifer Juniper*

    I’m guessing this employee could literally talk herself out of her job if she doesn’t shut up!

    1. Maxie's Mommy*

      We had one who got limited to answers of ten words or less, or she had to memo what she wanted. She had pushed the name partner’s buttons once too often, and got a lecture on the value of words and holding a jury’s attention.

  35. CW*

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Why take 5 minute (or worse, longer) when most would only take 5 seconds to say something? Like, stop wasting my time, I have things I need to get done. But I have learned to avoid these people in my personal life. My professional life? I am not so sure, because it luckily hasn’t happened to me yet.

  36. Safely Retired*

    For #4, asking the intern about how to handle your not being there… I think the intern is going to try very hard – too hard? – to figure out what you want the choice to be, and use every possible hint in how you have made the offer to do so. Perhaps they will be self confident enough to treat the question as a question and not a test, but I’d hate to have to bet on it.

  37. ugh*

    OP3, I’d put money on it being that this new hire either has a medical situation that needs bathroom breaks (as Alison said), or possibly a serious family issue that means they need to take a private phone call. But I’d bet it’s the first one.

    You also need to ascertain as to if his absences are actually impacting the workflow, or if things are still getting done in the same time as can be reasonably expected (especially for a new starter), but you are getting frustrated by the fact he’s not at his desk when you want or need to ask him something.

  38. Celestine*

    Hmm. Being neurodivergent and prone to the same kind of rambling and oversharing, I’d caution the OP against approaching this as an employee who just “talks too much.” For some neurodivergent people this is just the way they relate to the world and to other people and asking them to mask too hard is putting a lot of stress on that person. Masking is emotional labor.

    We don’t know if the employee in question is neurodivergent and even if they are, there are definitely times and places where masking ND behavior is unfortunately still necessary. I guess all I’m saying is it’s past time employers become more aware and accepting of some of the more common ND behaviors and find ways of allowing ND people to be themselves as often as possible.

  39. Apt Nickname*

    One skill set I greatly admire in my great-grandboss (formerly my grandboss before a well-deserved promotion) is the ability to give just enough context to make something understandable without going into unnecessary details or leaving too many details out. She is also excellent at summarizing someone else’s blather. If OP has someone they can point to as a role model for this skill set, that might help her rambler.

  40. Catonymous*

    What about when it’s a manager who rambles? I’m in a situation where, for example, what should be a 20 minute meeting can easily become an hour+ meeting, to the point where I do my best to avoid meetings with them if at all possible. And it extends to other things, including differences of opinion about how to do my job (a field in which, as far as I’m aware, they have no expertise – it’s a small organization and manager is probably micromanaging the level of involvement they have in my portfolio) – they seem to believe more words are always better, and the sooner things get said, the better, resulting in massively wordy emails going out to our email list sometimes as late as 9pm. They edit everything before I publish it, and inevitably, I end up with much longer, less clear versions of the original, often sent to me so last minute I don’t have time to re-edit and get manager’s approval again.

    I’ve gotten tired of pointing out that this is not an effective way to communicate with our audience only to be shot down every time, and I worry I’m coming across as difficult when I am only trying to do a good job. But staying silent and doing what I’m told, I feel guilty that I’m not doing a good job…

  41. Whatever*

    I used to work with A Rambler and eventually became the “Go-to” person for everyone else (including bosses) to channel any queries/requests/info requirements to him, because I could (usually) anticipate & head off or cut down the ramblings by reformulating whatever was needed into “yes/no” questions & answers. It was far from an ideal solution & was frequently frustrating for me as it took MY time & energy in advance.

    We were also more or less peers in the organization (although he didn’t see that at first) which made it easier to say on occasion “Dude, I/we only need to know if we can proceed with X, because YZ depend on it, but I don’t need to know all your what if scenarios & case comparisons/backstories.”

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