Dear Crucial Skills,
How do you tell an employee they talk too much? My employee often talks to the point of having to tune them out. They give every little detail and then repeat themselves and I cannot get a word in edgewise and I have to wait until they take a breath to interrupt them. I end up focusing on them taking that breath instead of listening.
Tired of the Talking
Dear Tired of the Talking,
We receive many inquiries about how to get employees to speak up and share their perspective. Your email reminded me that there is another side to which the pendulum swings—an employee that talks too much! Though perhaps a less frequent problem than silent employees, over-talking contributes to frustration and communication breakdowns just like silence does.
Here are three tips for stepping up to this Crucial Conversation with your employee.
Replace Judgement with Curiosity
When someone behaves in ways that negatively impact us, it is natural to jump quickly to judgement. Why do they talk so much? Don’t they know how annoying it is? They are so annoying, ergo they must know.
When tempted to draw conclusions about a person’s behavior (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much all the time), we need to stop and remind ourselves of this salient fact: we don’t know why they are doing what they are doing. We need to replace judgement with curiosity, accept the limitations of our own thinking, and open ourselves to exploration. You might start by replacing the thought “They are doing this because…” with “I wonder why they do this.”
I don’t see any of that snap judgement in your inquiry, and I congratulate you on that.
Clarify What You Really Want
When people start a project at work or plan a vacation with a friend, they start by thinking about what it is they want to accomplish. Planning and forethought increase the odds that they will invest their effort wisely and be happy with the results. And yet, when it comes to conversations, we often identify what we want to discuss and dive right in. In my experience, this approach works about a third of the time.
To increase the likelihood of a successful conversation, try taking five minutes to get really clear on why you want to hold the conversation, not just what you want to talk about. Ask yourself:
- What do I really want here? What is my goal in bringing this up?
- How do I want the other person to feel during the conversation?
- What do I want for our relationship and how can this conversation contribute to that?
Notice that while these questions may start with what you want for yourself, they expand and ask you to consider what you want for the other person and for your relationship. In your case, you may want to create a more collaborative relationship with this person. Perhaps you want to give them some coaching about a blind spot that is holding them back professionally.
Whatever the case, you’ll be more successful in holding the conversation when you know clearly what you want for yourself and for them.
Share the Why and the What
Knowing why you want to have the conversation (your good intent) does two things for you. It helps you stay focused during the conversation and it gives you your opening line. Sharing your good intent is the best way to start the conversation. It might sound like:
“I’d like to talk with you about the way we communicate with each other. My goal in bringing this up is to improve how we work together. I enjoy working with you and value the contributions you bring to the team, and I think there are a few things that could help us work together better.”
Once you have shared the why, explain the what. Be specific and direct as you explain what you experience in conversation with this person and how it impacts the relationship. It might sound like:
“I have noticed that when we are talking, you often have a lot of ideas to share. So many, that I find myself trying to figure out when I can break into the conversation to share my perspective. I definitely want to hear your ideas, and I think our conversations might be more effective if we both had time to share our perspectives.”
Then—and this is really important—ask how the other person sees the situation. This might seem counterintuitive given the topic you’re addressing, but one of the best ways to create safety when bringing up a concern about someone’s behavior is to ask them for their perspective and then listen.
My guess is, when you do this, your employee will talk. A lot. And that is not a bad thing. It gives you a chance to point out to them in the moment the exact behavior you want to talk about. Do it kindly and carefully, with a focus on why you are bringing this up, and I am confident you can navigate this tricky conversation.
Best of luck,