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How to Tell an Employee They Talk Too Much

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,


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15 thoughts on “How to Tell an Employee They Talk Too Much”

  1. Scott

    Why must the employer go thru so many machinations? It seems like you are giving all the power to the employee without regard to the business relationship or employer’s authority. Why so overly sensitive to the point of avoiding hurting someone’s feelings when they can’t follow clear, simple rules?

    It seems simpler to be direct. “You talk to much”. “You are being paid to do a job, and talking to much is cutting into productivity…both your’s and teammates.”

    1. Sherrie Crandal

      Your comments would definitely shut this talker down. I would also be thinking, I am not needed here. My words and input are not necessary. But I am not a young family person who may be learning the ropes. Feeling the need to jump through hoops any more. I am likely to follow the rules and avoid conflict but move on from where I am not appreciated.

    2. Michelle M.

      I wonder why it feels overly sensitive to ask an employee if they see the impact of their over-talking in the same way their manager does?

      I agree it’s simpler for the manager to be direct, but then you never get a chance to hear from the employee, and the employee never gets a chance to learn and grow. Telling the employee what to do without any chance for hearing their perspective is more like a master-slave relationship. A manager-employee relationship should allow both parties to communicate like 2 adults, growing and learning and become better. If you don’t see your employees as a human worthy of open communication, I wonder why they were hired?

      The employee has a history and skill set and experience which the manager found valuable enough to hire. Giving that employee a chance to speak up and react to your comments will give you better insight into how to manage them and ultimately will make them more productive.

    3. Michelle

      I don’t see it as being “overly sensitive”, I see it as balancing respect and candor (elements of crucial conversations) to see the employee as a human being. There are so many “reasons” this person may be talking more than I prefer and if I just tell them to stop I don’t get to hear their perspective and I risk them not sharing important things in the future.

      Dialogue is a two-way conversation where we both add to the pool of shared meaning and figure out how to move forward and saying “you talk to much” feels (to me) like a monologue with a hard stop of no understanding.

  2. Sherrie Crandal

    I see myself in this talking person. I recently met with my small group from church. I love the way my very young pastor engages the group. The families are young and I find myself offering unwanted advice as I have been a caregiver and teacher for special needs kiddos and typical kiddos for thirty years. I now wait to be asked as I am often shut down by one of the women in the group. A woman I respect in many ways.

    Our meeting last week was outside around a fire pit. It was a design I was fascinated with and I asked questions about it which drew out other comments. However, I misunderstood what I had heard the pastor say about the night. He had said it would be a calm night and we would see where it lead us.

    The only other couple who are close to my age are a great influence to the group in the way they live their lives. As a couple they wake up in the morning and think of ways they can serve. They are obviously together in this passion. But they do not just serve in the community. One of the woman is a permanent substitute teacher. I can easily say she is wanted in the classroom every day. The principle sighs with relief when she walks in the door.

    The husband is an executive in a very high position. He flies all over the world. But he does it with tremendous physical pain. This sacrifice is amazing to me. I am in awe of these humble and loving people.

    I found an opening to start asking him about how he got his injury. I kept asking and the group was learning more about this man and able to see him as I do.

    At one point a member asked they pastor what we were going to do that night. He said well I had a little plan but if everyone wants to just keep sharing that is OK too.

    I was devastated. I had taken over the group with my own agenda and I never meant to do so. But I did mean to do so. Just not to cause our leaders good sense and plans to go off in a different direction.

    I learn about myself and my failings every day and I try to take them to heart. My education in the past year has been about how I can sit quietly and learn more about the people (mostly younger,) in my life and I glean a lot from them. I appreciate my time with them more.

    Thanks for letting me say a little from my perspective because I really know it is a problem for the people I care about and work with.

  3. Emily

    This is great advice! I have a coworker whose office is next door to mine, and I find myself wondering how much work she is able to get done because she’s always in my office wanting to gossip. I’ve had to have a careful conversation with her about how much I value her input, but that I also need some space to get my own work done. I wish I had read this before talking to her!

  4. Marguerite

    A consultant whom I trust very much took the following approach with a former supervisee: first, gave them a notebook in which to record their great ideas – recognizing and validating the value of creative thinking and innovation; next, provided instruction: “Once you have completed the core work activities, put a *meeting* on my calendar to share and discuss some of the ideas that you’ve been conceptualizing.”

    I actually think that Scott’s direct approach has merit, and in a trusting relationship with a supervisor or co-worker, this level of direct communication can be valuable.

    My issue: the individual in my org who needs to be reigned in is the president of the entire organization, who talks/pontificates ad nauseum in meetings, regardless of whether the meeting is one of the leadership team, department staff, or external partners, and even when he takes a breath and others try to intervene, he uses the exhale to add “one more thing…”

    Would love any thoughts when the power dynamic is reversed from the example above!

    1. Michelle

      I would think the answer is the same – a direct approach has merit, and in a trusting relationship with a supervisor or co-worker, this level of direct communication can be valuable.

      If you have that same trusting relationship with the president, then be direct.

      My wonder is why do we see being “direct” with our employees as okay, but then when it’s our “leader/manager” the rules change.

  5. Rhonda

    So, while I understand this is a topic for the workplace, I have this exact issue with a sibling at family gatherings. She dominates all conversations and is very loud; so loud that no side conversations can be had in the same room. Most family gatherings happen in my home. How do I have this conversation with a family member who is likely to become offended.

    1. Bob Lasher

      So you know my cousin Margot too, eh?

  6. Sm

    My problem, employees not talking about their issues and voice them in verbose manner. But while working g they yap yap yap a lot. Telling them not to talk too much and get them concentrate on work is Angering them. What to do?

    1. George Wilhelmsen

      You seem to have two problems.
      The first seems to be your people have been driven to silence.

      To fix that, you have to make them comfortable to bring up issues again. Perhaps a way you could do that is to ask people publicly “Is there anything on your project you need help with, or you are stuck with?” They go quiet and listen. Don’t jump in and “prime the pump.” Just stay quiet. It will take a few minutes, but someone will start.

      THANK THEM for their input. Then do something with it – how can you help them get past where they are stuck? If you can show people you listen and then follow up and help them, that will go a long way towards breaking down the barriers.

      Now the second issue – it seems like you are judging a bit here by saying “yap yap yap.”

      Are they talking about company issues? Concerns with the company?

      Talking isn’t a bad thing if it’s related to the business.

      If it’s not related to the business, it would be a good place to have a crucial conversation. Ask people “What are you talking about?” Then again, LISTEN to what they say. If they say they are talking about something non-business related, it’s an opportunity to share.

      For example: “You may not know this, but the VP was walking through the area the other day. I had just made a presentation on why we missed a deadline last week, and explained that the team is overloaded. When he walked through, I got feedback that it didn’t seem the team was very overloaded since they were talking about non-business related things for quite a while.”

      Don’t make anything up. It comes down to we’re a business, and we are here to make money. You don’t mind some occasional side discussions, but the level of these non-business discussions are affecting our profitability as a division. Let’s work together and try to cut these side discussions down.

      Good luck. It’s a challenging problem – I’m sure if you use your Crucial Conversation skills, you’ll be successful in changing the behaviors. Just stay curious.

  7. Bob Lasher

    The talkers I work with have garnered regional reputations in our industry as motor-mouths and it’s really painful to see how that affects our businesses. Additionally, they hog the floor so much in meetings that others are regularly driven to silence. Heck, I’ve had to schedule meetings specifically excluding the talkers so I could ensure the other 6-8 people would have a chance to speak. In my situation, it’s not about one-on-one talking that’s the issue, it’s the impact on meeting productivity and shutting out of other people’s opportunity to speak. Not sure if this approach would work in these cases. (Heck, one is even a Director.)

  8. FYI January 29, 2022 – Instagatrix

    […] By Emily Gregory, Crucial Skills: How to Tell an Employee They Talk Too Much […]

  9. Marie Altman

    Think of air time time as if it were a baton and one person holds it. When another person takes a turn with it, the talker immediately grabs it back and grasps it firmly in hand. The others might reach for it, or even touch it briefly, but the overtalker never shares freely. It forms a lopsided pattern, lacking reciprocity and mutual sharing. Conscious or not, it’s self-centered, due to the overtalker’s wants, needs, or desires. Some people simply hog the air waves out of habit. They may demonstrate a lack of curiosity about others and are mainly interested in what they have to say. They consistently interrupt, talk over, and dominate air time, which puts severe limits on a relationship. I find that subtlety does not work when someone is unaware of others. Telling them what they do and how it affects me, then addressing it when it happens will show whether they care about others or just themselves. If they become angry, it’s like getting mad when you point out they’re taking 4/5 of the pie and leave 1/5 for everyone else. I’m not interested in placating or walking on eggshells for this kind of behavior. What’s wrong with factually and even-mindedly telling them their conversation behavior is out of balance in measurable ways? This can open up a dialogue about why we do what we do. Why not be real? Why not advocate for myself in the face of domineering behavior of speech? Or must I defer with nicey-nice? It doesn’t seem to be effective when interacting with this entrenched habit. Am I off base?

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