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#474: How do I get my coworker to shut up?

Dear Captain Awkward,

I need advice on how to tell a work friend politely to just shut up. 

He’s a very nice guy – super friendly and sociable, which is kind of the problem. You see, he is WAY too talkative. He sometimes says things that are completely out of left field, and he tends to go on for AGES, often getting wrapped up in completely useless details. When he starts talking, everyone else has to be quiet and listen to his long and winding tale until he gets to the end, at which point we are all relieved and can get on with the conversation.

He is utterly lacking a social gauge and has no idea of how much it’s appropriate to say and for how long it’s OK to speak. I’d compare it to the social component of Asperger’s, but strangely this guy also loves to socialise. Anyway, it’s a big problem at work because everything has to stop while he tells a story – yesterday he talked at me for 10 minutes straight, totally unprompted, about the six Chinese holidays where people visit their parents, listing them in order.

I don’t know how to let him know that this is an issue for me (and other people in the office), or what to say when he starts to ramble. He seems to miss all the hints, strong and subtle. I feel like a script or two would really help me out.

Sincerely,
Tired Listener

Dear Tired Listener:

No more hints. And no more worries about exiting conversations gracefully.

And while interrupting people is generally rude, you get a pass with people who won’t ever stop talking and who don’t (for whatever reason, not all annoying behavior leads back to a diagnosis) gauge whether their audience wants to hear what they have to say.

Next time he starts one of these things, interrupt him.

“(Coworker), this seems like a long story, and frankly, I don’t have time to listen to it.”

And then turn back to your work.

Variations:

Coworker, sorry, I’m not interested in hearing about that right now.”

“Coworker, sorry, I’ve totally stopped following what you are saying. Anyway, I have to get back to work.”

“Coworker, was there a point to this? I’m actually trying to focus on (work problem).”

“Coworker, were you talking to someone in particular? Because if you were talking to me, I am trying to focus on work and I can’t listen to you right now.”

Do not invoke “everyone” or “the group.” It doesn’t matter if everyone else feels as you do, and that’s not helpful from a logic standpoint of convincing someone to change a behavior. The brave, classy thing to do is to speak only to your own experience. Keep it short, keep your tone even and light, like you expect that he will be reasonable and do the cool thing.

Leaving the room is another technique that you can employ. “Oops, can’t listen right now, need to check the fax machine/get a drink of water/use the restroom/go ask someone in another department a question/fish something out of my car/make a phone call.” Get a lot of exercise and stretch your legs, a lot. Up your water intake to the actually recommended amount. Your coworkers will jealously watch you go.

Is Talkative Coworker gonna be confused and sad at first? Yep. You’ve always listened to his stories before, and you might see him escalate his behavior temporarily to try harder to be heard. I had a person in my friend circle a while back who was like this – long stories made entirely of “middle”, to the point where I wondered sometimes if it wasn’t performance art to demonstrate the boring baroque response, constant talking, and no ability to see when everyone around was tuning out or silently begging them to stop. The only things that worked were “(Name), can this be quiet time now?” or “(Name), I’ve totally lost the thread of this story” or “(Name), I’m going to have to cut you off there, I am not really interested in hearing about this right now,” or, honestly, staying on the other side of parties from them and leaving rooms when they entered them. This person only responded to interruption + total bluntness. They didn’t get offended (though sometimes would launch into a long explanation of the history and psychology of why they think they talk so much, and that would have to be cut off), and they sure as hell didn’t change their ways, so part of remaining friends with this person was always going to entail dealing with this.

Go ahead and let your coworker be hurt/sad/confused. If he didn’t learn that this behavior is not welcome before now, he has to learn now, and being blunt and direct is actually the most respectful way you can deal with him. If he asks you if something is wrong, be honest. “I like you fine, but sometimes your stories go on for a while, and it’s really distracting when I am trying to work. I’m sorry I let it go on so long without saying anything. I don’t want to hurt your feelings or be rude, but I do need to be honest when I need to tune out and get back to work.

If you want to remain on friendly terms, once a day ask him how he is doing and budget a good 10 minutes to listening to him before saying “That’s great! Now I have to get back to work.” If at all possible, do this in the break room or a space other than your desk. “Coworker, I’m going to grab some tea. Want to walk with me and tell me that story you started earlier?” It sends a message that you don’t hate him, you just need work to be about work. And it sets up a ritual – walking to the kitchen, brewing tea, and walking back you are totally into his stories, but when you get back to your desk story time is over.

If bringing headphones will help you and is allowed, by all means use them for now while you are trying to reset the relationship.

I realize that this might put a temporary damper on the other friendly socializing that goes on around the office, but I think your coworkers will pick up the hint and the example from you and agree to “Quiet Time Tuesdays” or whatever.

 

104 comments
  1. You could try ”I love to learn new stuff, but I have a lot of work to do. Do you need any help with X work project?” or ”Sounds interesting, but I’m trying to be more productive. I don’t have time to talk.” It’s kind of like training a dog not to bark anymore and ignoring any noises and rewarding silence. If he comes into your office/cubicle/tent and doesn’t say anything and just stands there wanting attention, act like you don’t notice him until he uses his words. Just keep on working. It’s a bit of a re-training period, but it’s absolutely doable. Good luck!

    I hope he isn’t as stubborn as my friend. “My guy” is sweet and a bit clueless and doesn’t embarrass easily, so any foot in mouth-ing doesn’t bother him. Think Andy on Parks & Rec but worse. Week one of his new job he started telling terrorist jokes to his muslim coworkers. I’m facepalming just writing this. With him, it really only works to be very direct.

    • shehasathree said:

      My former boyfriend once demanded of me, bewildered, loudly and drawing the attention of everyone sitting at the table, “Why are you kicking me?!” *facepalm* Sometimes directness really is the only way to go.

  2. Josie said:

    Oh god, this is my ex-flatmate. I lost hours because of him until I finally got to the point where I’d had enough. I started small – clearly looking very bored, not saying anything, trying to direct the conversation away from his story, putting the TV on – but when that didn’t work I would have to be very blunt.

    For example, he would often stand at my (and my boyfriend’s) bedroom door talking at us, often in the late evening when I wanted to go to sleep. I would say, “[name], I need to go to bed now” and move to close the door. I wouldn’t shut it in his face (I would make sure he’d moved and I didn’t hurt him) but this determined action would make it very clear that he needed to go.

    You have to do some rude things and it does feel a bit horrible but is so worth it when you don’t have to listen to a boring annecdote for hours. My ex-flatmate never got the message and would continue to start his long stories but he was very good at shutting up & letting me leave the room when I was blunt about needing to go. I hope you get a similar reaction!

    Good luck LW.

    • Mary said:

      I shut the door in the face of one of my friends when she was staying with us once! I didn’t even wait until the end of a sentence. Love her dearly, but heavens, woman, I’m in my pyjamas standing at the door of my bed room and it’s half-past midnight. WHAT MORE CAN I DO?

      She just shrugged and went to bed. I guess when you talk that much it’s kind of a thing that happens ao regularly that you think it’s normal?

  3. remi said:

    The Captain’s got the right idea on how to deal with him at work, but it’s probable he also does this in other situations, like at a company party or somewhere else you might meet him where you can’t use work as an excuse to get away. At times like this you are technically there to talk and listen to people talk, so it might be hard to think up a reason to escape. In those situations, feel free to interrupt him! If he interrupts you to tell a long story, tell him firmly, “I actually wasn’t finished talking, Coworker. Please don’t interrupt,” and continue what you were saying, talking over him if necessary. If he waits his turn to talk, but then starts rambling on for ages, give him a few minutes to get to the point and then interrupt, saying “You’ve been talking for a long time now, Coworker, and you seem to have a hard time getting to the point. Other Coworker, you had a baby recently, didn’t you?” When he’s dominating the conversation, just try to re-direct it when it gets out of control.

    Also, you said you’ve only hinted that he’s been talking too much. Try directly confronting him over it instead, so he can’t just ignore the hints. “Coworker, you’re a nice guy and I like you, but you talk way too much. I have a hard time paying attention to your stories when they are so long and when the subject isn’t very interesting. I’ve been trying to give you hints when you go on too long, but you don’t seem to notice, so I’ve decided to just talk to you about it. From now on, please try to tell your stories within a reasonable time limit so I can pay attention to them, and if I seem busy or if I am talking, please don’t interrupt me. I can talk to you at [time you can talk, like when you’re on a coffee break], but I’m going to stop you if you start dominating the conversation with a story that never ends. It just isn’t very pleasant to have a conversation where only one person gets to talk and the other person only gets to listen.”

    • Indywind said:

      It sounds as thought one part of remi’s advice is to interrupt the long-talking co-worker while they are talking and ‘give them a taste of their own medicine’. If I have got that wrong, the next couple paragraphs won’t make sense, so please skip them.

      I can imagine interrupting an interrupter (or talking at a talk-at-er etc.) would seem as though it would show them how it felt to be interrupted, but it can only show them how they feel when they are interrupted, not how YOU feel when YOU are interrupted. If you (general you, not only remi or LW) want someone else to know how you feel or what you want, it is most effective to say so. In my experience, it is not very effective to try to do things that you speculate might elicit a similar feeling in them and hope they will 1)have a similar enough feeling (“ugh, I’m aggravated”) 2)understand what circumstance evoked the feeling (“it’s no fun being talked over”) 3) recognize the circumstance from other perspectives (“talking over looks like this when I’m the one talked over, like this when I’m noticing other people do it, like that when I’m the one talking over”) 4)recognize other people might have similar emotions in a similar situation (“if I don’t like being talked over, I bet they don’t either” — this is NOT OBVIOUS or universal), 5)decide to try to amend their behavior to accommodate the imagined feelings of other people and 6)know how to do so in a practically effective way.
      Instead I suggest: if a long-talker is talking long in a situation like an office party, you are not obliged to stay and listen to him talk if you are not interested. you can excuse yourself and go elsewhere. (NB: you do not need an excuse to excuse yourself; “Excuse me” alone is a complete sentence.) If interrupted, you can say “I wasn’t finished” or “let me finish” or any of many other boundary-setting phrases that have recently been discussed –but preferably right then, not some minutes later after you have been seething and the interrupter has gotten into their own story.

      Another part of these advices I don’t recommend to the LW: pronouncing general judgements on the quality or quantity of someone else’s communication (or anything else about them), who has not asked you for advice. I’m pretty sure I am not unusual in not liking to hear others’ judgments of me unsolicited. It tends to leave me feeling disrespected (however slightly), unheard, defensive and argumentative… LESS inclined to accommodate the person who judged me or really LISTEN to them. Instead of pronouncing general judgements like “you talk too much” and “what you’re talking about isn’t interesting” or inferences about someone else’s experience like “you seem to have a hard time getting to the point” you can instead talk about YOUR OWN experience in the situation: “I’m not interested in this subject” “I can listen for a minute or two, then I want a turn talking” “I have a hard time seeing the point you’re trying to make”. Generalizations can also draw attention away from the specifics you’re dealing with. Instead of “It just isn’t very pleasant to have a conversation where only one person gets to talk and the other person only gets to listen” perhaps “I don’t enjoy conversations in which only one person gets to talk and the other only gets to listen,” because for some people and occasions only listening or only talking is just fine… But you aren’t concerned with people’s conversational preferences generally, you are concerned with YOUR preferences for your conversations with this co-worker.

      Other parts of remi’s advice and suggested scripting I like a lot; the general idea of communicating explicitly with someone for whom hints haven’t been working, saying how you feel and what you are going to do, and particularly “I have a hard time paying attention to your stories when”.

      Just, expecting inferences and compatible perspective from someone who already failed to spontaneously take your perspective or take hints, doesn’t seem likely to go well, compared to being direct and specific.

      • JenniferP said:

        I don’t think you interrupt them to give them a taste of how you feel, I think you interrupt them to ask them to stop the story (when they have a habit of interrupting or telling long, long stories that you don’t want to hear), and then you go back to work and don’t really worry about why they do what they do or how they feel. You interrupt because if you don’t you are stuck listening to the entire thing, again. I agree, making assumptions about why they do what they do or how everyone feels is bad (and bad communication), so saying “I can’t listen to this right now, sorry” and then going back to your own thing is the most direct and respectful way to handle it.

        • Root said:

          LW: The only advice I have for you beyond what others have said already comes in several parts…
          Firstly, please do not diagnose everyone you meet who is also socially awkward as a persyn on the Autism spectrum it is rude to do so.
          Secondly, Do not assume that those on the Autism spectrum are anti-social and introverted.This persyn might be seeking out social contact and conversation and still have Aspergers.

          Lastly, what you think is really obvious clues that you want to escape are often not obvious to others and can be compounded by neuro-diversity (as well as many other factors)
          Sincerely, A Persyn on the Autism Spectrum

      • staranise said:

        I cosign this comment. It’s a really good reminder of common thought traps people fall into. Don’t assume your experience is universal!

    • mythago said:

      I don’t know that last script would be very helpful. LW wants to quickly and directly address the problem, which is the co-worker interrupting and spending more time than LW would like talking. Dropping in personal comments like “you talk too much” and giving his chatting a sort of one-star rating (“a story that never ends”) is at best, unhelpful, and a waste of LW’s time – LW needs to be able to quickly interject so as to cut off the story, not launch into a Counter Time Wasting Conversation. (Also, attacking Co-worker is unlikely to result in “Gosh, you’re right! Thank you so much, LW whose relationship with me is entirely based on shared employment, for setting me straight!”)

  4. Elle said:

    Is it possible that this comment thread won’t turn into a bunch of introverts decrying extroverts as terrible people and complaining about all manner of terrible humiliating things they are required to suffer in the workplace, like small talk and people smiling at them? It’s inappropriate in a way that it would be inappropriate for me to write nasty messages about my co worker with Aspergers Syndrome and my negative experiences with him. This guy is not all extroverts.

    • JenniferP said:

      Projection much?

      • Elle said:

        Not really. It’s just happened enough by now that I’m sensitive to it.

        • JenniferP said:

          Maybe this isn’t the thread for you. Have a good weekend reading other parts of the internet!

    • Amy said:

      You are the only person in this thread who has used the word “extrovert.” You’re the only person in this thread who has called extroverts terrible people. You’re the only person in this thread who has said anything about smiling, much less that smiling at people is terrible. Literally no one else is having the fight that you’re having in your head.

    • therainparade said:

      I’m definitely an extrovert. I love to talk, and I love to listen to people’s stories and opinions, but this guy sounds like he would drive me up the wall. I don’t the LW was in any way “decrying extroverts”, nor have I seen evidence in these comments so far that introverts are condemning friendly or talkative people. Some people do not have good boundaries in conversation and will literally dominate the exchange until others can’t even participate anymore, and I think it is reasonable to shut them down when necessary – especially in a work setting when they are detracting from productivity and positive employee interactions.

    • manybellsdown said:

      I’m an *introvert*, but when I get started talking I cannot shut up. So yeah, what Amy said.

    • XtinaS said:

      It’s enlightening that a post about someone who talks non-stop for 10-15 minutes at a time and talks over people in order to ramble reminds you of extroverts.

      • Emmers said:

        Yeah, I am…not really seeing the introvert/extrovert divide in this question. IDK.

    • twomoogles said:

      I’m extroverted and sometimes I do see this problem on the internet, but I actually think that this website has gotten pretty good at *not* doing that. There was a post awhile back that specifically mentioned not using ‘I’m an introvert’ as an excuse for everything. And, the same goes for extroverts. Being an introvert isn’t an excuse for bailing on prior commitments and not dealing with necessary conflict. And being an extrovert isn’t an excuse for interrupting constantly and monologuing when others are trying to work.

      • Badger Rose said:

        Exactly this! And there’s a separation between proclivities and skills. Introverts may recharge better on their own, but they’re entirely capable of learning social skills and conflict-resolution tactics. Extroverts may recharge better in groups, but they’re entirely capable of learning conversational boundaries and situational appropriateness.

        It’s not like this is an RPG where members of the Introvert class are prohibited from buying points in Conversation, or where the Extrovert class isn’t allowed to wear Alone Time-level armor.

        • datdamwuf said:

          totally agree Badger Rose. Last week at a game night we had a discussion re MBTI, when I said I was strongly introverted one woman insisted I was not and could not be introverted. Why? because I was socializing easily, not shy…she also was trying to convince me to stay longer when I said my goodbyes with my usual excuses of prior commitments. You know, the commitment to myself to leave when I was ready to be alone again because I just spent 3 hours with a group of total strangers. It was fun but I was done.

      • I think there is often a problem with labels in general. I AM an introvert is saying something different from I tend to be introverted.

        When I’m grieving or upset I am introverted, though I TEND to be extroverted.

        There’s a scale, and because personalities are complicated you aren’t always going to be one way or another. Research on personalities and preferences is complicated for exactly this reason, depending on your emotional state you will respond differently to questions or stimuli. We aren’t all the same person all of the time.

        I think we tend to label ourselves too much in a categorical way. In reality we don’t all fit into neat little boxes, we are constantly in flux. And making assumptions about behavior based on those neat little boxes is going to be wrong most of the time.

        (From a nerdy stats perspective, a continuous variable is going to be more predictive than a categorical variable!)

        • staranise said:

          To be even nerdier: “introvert” and “extrovert” are verbs. They literally just mean “to turn inward” and “to turn outward”, and refer to how you process your perceptions and judgments–all in your own head, or in dialogue with the world around you?

          And to say that an extroverted person cannot introvert is to say that they literally cannot ever self-reflect or internally process at all, which is just daft.

    • popesuburban said:

      Well, since it doesn’t feel very good to me when people call me nasty names because I don’t talk a lot, I don’t see how I could in good conscience do that to people who do talk a lot. I mean, that would be a pretty ugly thing to do, don’t you think?

    • Katamari said:

      Just to clear this up, I’m the LW’s girlfriend, I know the guy, I’m an extravert, and he talks too much. It’s everything to do with inappropriate social boundaries and nothing to do with introversion/extraversion. I hope that comfortably wraps up this path of speculation.

  5. Kitewithfish said:

    Wow, I have a “friend” just like this. She’s a nice-ish person, a friend of my beloved’s from school. I wouldn’t mind her occasional conversation gaffes if she would just take a hint? I once met her accidentally on a train coming home from work, craving some time with my book and a snack, and she talked at me through the whole hour long train ride with only ‘uh-huhs’ and ‘huh, yeah’ to encourage her. I left feeling really just overwhelmed and upset and snarled at my sweetheart when I got home. She turns every gathering into a sounding board for whatever is going on in her life. Not fun.

    Lately she’s taken to coming and joining a regular group of friends I have over for watching a show some of us are REALLY intense about. She came over several times, and once, at the beginning of the night, started talking about her personal stuff. For all of dinner. We got her to stop talking about stuff for a couple hours, tho we had to shush her along the way on other topics.The blunt approach does work! But when we saw her off, she literally stood in the hallway for 20 minutes talking about the personal issue from the start of the night, boots and coat on, just talking while we kept going nod-nod-nod. I had to walk around her, open the door, and say, “Goodbye, [friend]!” before she would stop and actually GO.

    She makes the evening so uncomfortable by not taking the hint that when she asks if we’re hanging out on our group’s regular day, I tell her we’re not. I have a rule that I only invite people if I want to see them, and in this context, I don’t want to see her. So no invites! Not something that works for co-workers.

    I find the emotional toll of having to confront her to get her to stop talking is intensely unpleasant, because I want her to pick up on the cues that no one is interested. When she doesn’t it feels like she’s not paying attention to people, like we don’t matter, she could be chattering away to anyone who would listen. By the time I’m willing to actually interrupt her, I’m usually already annoyed and moving to angry. It’s not a great emotion to have associated with someone so often. I get that it’s just how she is, and that it’s not reasonable to expect change, but DAMN. It just make me feel so helpless and ignored when she just doesn’t NOTICE that I’ve moved from ‘not interested’ to ‘hoping she’s struck by a meteor.’

    I do like hanging out with her, in parties where her unending stream can be focused across several people and thus made less overwhelming. She’s never offended when we get blunt, but it takes so much mental energy to deal with her continual cue-missing that I avoid her when I am not scheduled to see her.

    Gah, this turned into mostly venting. I’m not terrible happy about how I get through these situations- I really don’t want to have to BE blunt, but it’s what needed.

    • Grumpy Cat said:

      Goodness! This sounds very like a similar social situation I had to deal with a few years ago. Only in my case the lady in question did not respond to redirection, blunt comments, or input of any sort (I remember a memorable incident in which she objected to my remonstrance after she interrupted me, won via sheer volume, demanded an apology for my having interrupted her, and went on with her current obsessive subject).

      The case ended with an African Violet, and a slight obsession on my part for making sure everyone in my social group gets time to talk.

    • TO_Ont said:

      “I once met her accidentally on a train coming home from work, craving some time with my book and a snack, and she talked at me through the whole hour long train ride with only ‘uh-huhs’ and ‘huh, yeah’ to encourage her.”

      Well, it might not be a really massive encouragement, but what you’re describing is being a ‘good listener’, i.e., what you sometimes do to encourage someone telling a long story.

      Perhaps she’s simply misinterpreting your cues? You feel like you’re sending signals, but she’s reading them differently than you intend them?

      • staranise said:

        Yeah, to a lot of people being quiet, listening to that person, and making encouraging noises is, to all intents and purposes, sending cues that you want to hear what they have to say.

        To me, this is a matter of social cue calibration. With one group of friends, we’re all socialized as middle-class Canadian girls who are supposed to be helpful, attentive, and selfless; in that milieu, me falling silent and not participating in the conversation for five minutes is actually broadcasting a really strong signal that says “I am upset and want attention.” Another group I’m in sometimes socializes largely over hockey; they are boisterous, noisy, and blunt. If I fall silent for five minutes, nobody will notice. So it’s like switching into another dialect of language: with the hockey fans, if I’m upset and need that addressed I need to say “Hey! Take that back, you asshole!” and then they can apologize and we’re good again. On the other hand, saying that to my fellow nice girls would be like dropping a tactical nuke on the conversation. That’s the kind of thing you’d only ever say if you were on the brink of becoming bitter enemies.

        It literally is like speaking two different languages–or, language protocols. It sounds like in kitewithfish’s normal way of speaking, “You need to leave now” is kind of equivalent to “I HATE YOU.” But in clueless-friend’s language, it means, “It’s been nice but we need to go to sleep now!”. But if one can only say “You need to leave now” when you’re expecting it to sound like “I HATE YOU” communicating across the gap is super-stressful.

        • TO_Ont said:

          Yeah, I have very much noticed in my life that there are different languages or dialects when it comes to social cues.

      • BoyOrHedgehog said:

        This could be a useful point, but let’s also maybe let people define their own experiences unless they’re asking for clarification? Kitewithfish feels zie was sending clear signals and I don’t think anyone has any reason at this point to question that.

        • TO_Ont said:

          “Kitewithfish feels zie was sending clear signals ”

          Isn’t that kind of what the discussion is about, though? The fact that what’s a genuinely clear signal to one person is sometimes an unclear signal to another? That two people can experience the exact same thing differently?

          If there was a completely universal clear signal that was the same for 100% of humans none of the problems or discussions on this page would exist.

          • BoyOrHedgehog said:

            Unfortunately your last paragraph isn’t even remotely true, though. Because the other thing that happens is that people can read the signals, but choose to ignore them. I think “Use Your Words” is wonderful, liberating advice, but let’s not extrapolate it to the point that we think everyone getting harassed/exhausted/talked over just isn’t expressing themselves properly?

          • TO_Ont said:

            True, I worded that last paragraph badly looking at it again, since of course it’s not the ONLY reason this happens. It would be more accurate to say that different people reading the same signal differently is an extremely common thing.

    • neverjaunty said:

      If she takes bluntness well, and bluntness actually works, then….I’m a little confused why you are wearing yourself out hinting instead of just going right to “Blabtina, you interrupted me. Stop. Now, as I was saying….”

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yes — what’s rude or polite comes down in the end to being respectful of the feelings of the person you’re talking with, right?

        So if the person you’re talking to is happy with bluntness, then in THAT situation, with THAT person, bluntness is polite, not rude.

      • Because bluntness toward a chronic interrupter is exhausting. Saying “Blabtina [heh], you interrupted me” might work at the moment you say it. But then you’ll have to say it again 10 seconds later. And 15 seconds after that. And so on. I’ve never been persistent enough to find out if they ever stop the behavior entirely.

        • neverjaunty said:

          I’m not sure we’re responding to the same post? Kitewithfish said that Blabtina responds well to bluntness but not to hints, and Kitewithfish is wearing hirself out with the hints, which zie already knows do not work. Why not skip the rage-inducing hints and go directly to bluntness?

          • *scrolls back*

            Ah, sorry, that was a long way up and I must have lost the thread. I was responding to your comment out of context.

  6. duaecat said:

    Tiny nitpicky thing. There’s no recommended amount of water. There’s a recommended amount of fluid intake, but everything except alcohol counts. Not bashing water, water’s awesome, but the idea that it must be water is one invented by people selling water.

    But past that, you mention that everything has to stop when he starts talking? Why is that? Does he hold power over the group, work-wise or social? Because if that’s the case, you might have to develop graceful exit strategies instead “I’m sorry, I have to go text my cat. It’s very important.” And be careful of any coworker backlash of “I have to listen, why don’t you? Do you think you’re more important than us?” When Grandpa Simpson starts going at them.

    • That part about how “everything has to stop” is what I noticed, too. You’ve trained him that when he wants to hold forth, everybody will listen.

      Now you have to un-train him. Saying things like “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get this stuff done” or “I wish I had time to listen but I have to make some phone calls” is the kind of direct thing he needs to hear. You have the perfect reason to tell him you can’t stop and listen, after all – you’re trying to work!

  7. Hello Tired Listener!

    I would just like to flag up that having an autistic spectrum condition doesn’t mean I dislike socialising. Having an ASC also doesn’t make in an introvert; I am an introvert and I enjoy socialising and I’m autistic. It’s just that introversion == I need downtime to recharge, and autistic == in my case, having trained myself to check in as to whether people are still okay with how much I’m talking, making it very clear that I am open to being asked to stop (and negotiating hand-signals with people who can’t cope with verbal requests), in work situations regularly saying “I should probably let you get on with/back to [whatever]…?” and so on.

    Things that I have negotiated socially range from “I don’t want to talk about this [with qualifiers as necessary” via “kab, you’re dominating the conversation, let someone else have a turn?” to making the universal hand-symbol for “lower the volume” or using the “technical point” hand signal (making a T with your hands). (& to be clear? Adult autism diagnosis here. I learned this stuff via the Internet and some very patient friends who were willing to workshop with me on accommodating a diversity of communication styles.)

    Basically, I think (a) ascribing his behaviour to an autism spectrum condition is probably not helpful in terms of managing your interactions, and (b) there is some misunderstanding of how ASCs manifest.

    Some of the things I describe above might be useful to you, or they might not; obviously I’m negotiating this from the position of feeling like I talk too much, rather than the position that I’m being talked at too much (I’m kind of bad at dealing with the latter situation ;). But. Yes. Them’s tools I use, and I don’t think one has to be an introvert or autistic to get use out of them – lots of the people I hang out with have started picking them up for their own use, and they’re largely neurotypical.

    • Huh, I always treat the T with the hands as “Time-out”, and it seems to mean to me “this conversation is emotional and I need that to stop” or something to that effect. I’ve never thought of it as technical point. I wonder if that’s regional.

        • Given that I don’t play any sport… ;)

          No, this is standard usage in south-UK activist circles. I can cite the specific circles I hang out in, if that would be helpful!

          • I am in the USA, New England, but I think my expectation is from growing up in the midwest.

            It might also be a difference in the phrase “technical point”, because your description below is also right in line with what I’d expect.

            Same gesture, same meaning, different name. Neat.

      • Yeah, we use it for that too, but also for “hi, I recognise the discussion we are having is important, but THE HALL IS ON FIRE” or “I’m going to make tea, would anyone like some while I’m doing that” etc – meta-level conversation that isn’t intended to distract from the discussion at hand, but does need to be dealt with as a priority. (Obviously whether making tea counts as a priority varies between groups. ;) )

  8. Pterinochilus murinus said:

    As someone with related difficulties, I really treasure people who can calmly and cheerfully say “shut up, Pterinochilus” and then move on with whatever they wanted to do then. It is such a relief.

    One of the most upsetting social things for me is when the first time I get a warning about something I do wrong in words I can understand, it turns out that this is the fifth and final warning and now they’re really angry; and I had no idea because the other warnings were all the equivalent of writing ATTENTION ALL COLORBLIND PEOPLE in red on a green background.

    So, like the Captain said, explicit is the way to go. And… your feelings are yours, and you have a right to be angry if you are, but if you can manage not to blow up at him about the hints he missed (as opposed to the initial and continuing offence) then that’ll probably help.

    • JenniferP said:

      This has come up before, but let’s make it super-clear now:

      When you first bring an interpersonal problem to someone’s attention, it’s kindest to reset the clock. It may have been an ongoing problem for you, but this person is just learning about and realizing it, so give them a bit of time to let it sink in and adjust their behavior.

      I mean, I feel for the LW’s chatty coworker. I can be a Chatty One myself, and he probably thinks his stories are awesome and everyone loves him, and will have to adjust to the fact that they don’t, just like every chatty person has had to. Hints didn’t help me, they won’t help him.
      Hints merely create a sea of plausible deniability and wishful thinking in which unwitting offenders drown themselves. Just say it.

  9. wondering said:

    Ah! We have a similar fellow here at work. The things that have worked best for us are:

    1. Buddy system – If you see someone trapped by him, go rescue that person. “Sorry to interrupt, but I need X right now.”
    2. If rescue is not at hand, or you want to rescue yourself. You get up and start walking. He comes with you and you walk him back to his desk. “Well, it was great chatting with you, see you later!”

    Which I guess is bit like stepping around a broken stair, but over the years he has taken the hint and we are less likely to be trapped now.

    • You and your coworkers actually designed and implemented a buddy system in order to manage their interactions with this guy? Is this really easier than just bringing it up? You actually have to “rescue” people from him? Is the thought of potentially offending him really that terrifying?

      I’m not trying to attack you here, but I’m just imagining how this is actually “nicer” than saying something. Imagine if he ever found out.

      • Right? I would actually die if I found out my coworkers had a strategy for managing my awkward social behavior.

        It always comes back around to “Nice” is different than “Good.” Yes, what they are doing is “nice” no one is getting their feelings hurt right now, but it is in no way helpful to anyone in the long term.

      • Badger Rose said:

        Well… it depends on the workplace, I would think?

        Right now I’m in a workplace where I can say, “hey, I can’t talk now, I need to work,” or “hey, sorry, I’ve lost the thread of this story, can we wrap up?” without serious repercussions. So I do that. It is awesome.

        But I have worked past jobs where office politics were such that it would have come back to bite me in the butt. Or where the person doing the bothering was a supervisor, manager, or even higher, with whom, “Hey, I’m not really interested in your story,” would not have flown. (One university, the department head would wander down to ‘see what was going on’ in the lab and then pigeonhole us for a long, boring, unrelated story.) Or where the person doing the bothering was a valued regular customer and I as the service representative was supposed to be being pleasant and friendly and not say, “Sorry, I’m too busy to talk to you.”

        In those cases, yeah, we had rescue plans like Wondering mentioned.

        In theory, the real answer is, “Find a job that isn’t so toxic.” But that’s quite a bit easier said than done–in some places, in some industries, for some people, it may be essentially impossible without a complete change of career–and in the interim, bandaid solutions can help a lot.

        • Oh man good point. I wasn’t thinking of that scenario (which, don’t even get me started on customers/bosses taking advantage of the fact that you HAVE to listen to them talk, because ironically I will go on and on). I do think it’s really unkind if it’s a peer relationship, though.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Yeah, I’d agree with that! I generally go with, “It’s kindest to tell a constructive truth, and if the person is hurt/angry/upset, that’s theirs to deal with.” The exception is if the person is in a position of power (official or unofficial) such that they are actually capable of making their hurt/anger/upset into your problem, in which case I’m less concerned with kindness than with self-protection.

        • Guava said:

          Totally. It so depends. I worked with a guy like this once – he would come into my office, shut my door, and then cry in my chair for hours about his horrible marriage and the other horrible people in the office. If I interrupted him, he’d sulk – and then hold a grudge for weeks. He was also the owner of the company where I worked!

          Literally the only way to get rid of him was being interrupted by a client call. Ultimately my friends and I had to keep watch to see whether he had spent more than 15 minutes in someone’s office, then we’d pretend to be clients or calling on urgent business, just to spur him to leave. It was exhausting, and the #1 reason why I quit.

      • LunarG said:

        I agree that day in and day out, it’s an awkward work-around. But I do strongly recommend the buddy system at conventions, though.

      • Rosa said:

        Sometimes, you just have to live with the broken stair til you can move the hell out. I had a workplace where the wander-around-chatter was a senior VP and nobody whose job title wasn’t C*O had the power to shut him up.

  10. bundy said:

    This situation is super familiar to me as well– but the talker is my boss. I’d love to be direct with him, but I feel like I’m breaking some kind of Junior Employees Have To Take It code. I’m doing okay at continuing to work as he talks or leaving the room (which has given me some kind of sassy reputation, there are worse things), but I feel weird about calling him out mid-speech. So, to add to the original question — hopefully without derailing it — is there a different way of dealing with this when it’s higher ups going on and on?

    • kate said:

      I manage people myself, and I’d be fine with it if one of my employees either (in the moment) said ‘actually I’m a bit busy, I’d better get this done’, or (in private) said they were worried about running out of time for work and wanted to reduce the amount of chatting during the work day.

      However, I am a big fan of straight talking, and it depends a lot on the boss.

      Also since they set your workload be prepared to back up with details of whatever it is you have to do.

    • JenniferP said:

      Sometimes Junior Employees just have to take it, but here are some things you can try:

      Keep on doing work while he talks.

      Interrupt and excuse yourself, but make it work/deadline related. “Boss, can I interrupt you? I really want to hear the end of this, but if I don’t call Accounting/finish this email/edit this proposal we will miss our deadline/I will be here until 9:00/lose my train of thought.

      If things start getting weird – he starts acting hurt or sensitive or makes sharper-than-necessary comments, have a talk with him. “Boss, I want to be polite and also hear what you have to say, but sometimes it affects my ability to meet deadlines. How do you want me to handle x situation from now on?” Or, “I want to hear what you have to say, but sometimes I need quiet so I can focus and get things done. Is there some signal we could work out when I’m in the zone?” (True Story: I used to wear a ridiculous hat, like Jo March in Little Women, that meant WRITING NOW DO NOT APPROACH.)

      Do the same thing suggested in the OP (works for anyone who doesn’t have good communication boundaries) and make some time each day to have a good listen. If you take control of when & how the interactions happen you send a message that you aren’t uncaring or disinterest, you’re just trying to manage your work shit at work.

    • AnnieJ said:

      Bundy – keep doing what you’re doing. It can take a while for a talker’s habits to change. But if you are trapped at your desk and your boss starts rambling, bring up something work-related such as “Hey boss, I’d love to hear more, but you said you need this report by tomorrow/next week/whenever so I really need to get busy on it.” Or simply “I would love to chat, but I have a ton of stuff that you need me to do, so can we pick this up later?”
      I guess the key is to keep the focus of the message on *work you are doing for him* to diffuse any sense of insult that you aren’t interested in listening to him.

    • bundy said:

      thanks, great advice all!

  11. J. Preposterice said:

    Oh sweet pie, I have a friend like this. The good news is that she not only doesn’t take hints AT ALL, but that she is also not at all offended by things that would be SUPER rude to do to someone who is more aware of nuance. Here is how you stop having a phone conversation with this friend. [interrupt a story]”OK, I have to go now, bye” [immediate hangup, no waiting for a reply]. You cannot give her even a breath of time to respond or you’re in the middle of another 20 minute tale. _She is completely not offended or bothered by you doing this to her._ I don’t know why, but it works out fine.

    With luck, LW, your coworker is in the same category of people, where the bluntness just won’t read as abrupt or rude at all, but as totally reasonable.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Depending where you grew up and what your family was like and so on, too much hinting and too little saying directly and pleasantly what you mean can actually seem kind of weird and manipulative and passive aggressive, if you do pick it up and realize that it was intended as a hint.

      Whatever the reason behind it, perceptions of what’s rude and what’s polite are not universal, so sometimes it’s useful to try a different style and see if it works better.

      • I’m kindof this way – “hinting” reads to me as really passive agressive and manipulative, and then I think I need to be really on guard for this person’s hints and I’m never going to really know whether I’m accidentally annoying them all the time. It’s super stressful and draining.

        I’m not a huge fan of blunt, either – I can respond just fine to tactful requests – but people hinting at me makes me feel all paranoid and go on a “what did they MEAN????” loop in my head.

      • Agree x1000 with hints. I would much rather someone tell me straight out what they want from me. Hints make me feel a) insulted that the other person wants me to do all the work of figuring out what they want and the appropriate response and/or b) mortified that I’ve been acting in a way the other person doesn’t like for who knows how long. I think there’s a lot of ground between subtle hints and aggressive bluntness and most of the suggestions I’ve seen in the comments so far do a good job of finding some kind of midpoint where you’re saying what you want but not being a jerk about it.

  12. Tam said:

    Hi, another person with an ASC here. I don’t want to indulge in internet diagnostic speculation about the subject of the post, he could be on the spectrum, he could not be, it isn’t really relevent. However I would like to point out that statistically it is likely that a few of the talkers you guys are encountering are in the set hint-oblivious (not necessarily with an ASC but possibly) rather than the set obnoxious jerk.
    (Although these two do have a non-zero intersection.)

    Anyway my point is that generally (person in question is friendly, isn’t your boss etc.) assuming the first before the second and JUST TELLING THEM is worth a try. If they just don’t care about boundaries you haven’t lost anything and now know they are a wanker, if they were oblivious it might help.
    It might be worth keeping in mind for more body-language aware types that even if from your perspective you are body languaging at them in ALL CAPS, ALL THE TIME, from their perspective you may well be shouting at them in French when they only speak Portugese. This will only lead to confusion, hurt feelings and garlic everywhere.
    I have been told that for some people having to communicate your feelings in actual blunt words can genuinely be unsettling, and I respect the fact that no one is obliged to be a social skills tutor. However it seems a little cruel to continue to socalise with them and then complain afterwards that they were mixing up tu and vous again.

    • theamander said:

      This comment gives me a big SMILE :-)
      Communicating your feelings in actual blunt words is a good skill to learn. I think the sugar that helps the medicine down is to have a quick subject-change ready to go right after the bluntly worded feelings, so you can reward the person with happy thanks when they give you what you want. Positive reinforcement means happier learning! The logorrheic blabbers can be rewarded with a sunny goodbye: “See you after work, have a great day!”

  13. The script for dealing with Super Talkers when actually working is great, but I’m wondering if there are any scripts for it otherwise? Specifically, I have a really chatty coworker – he’s nice and friendly and we actually have a fair amount in common, but dear god someone please make him stop talking – who, since I don’t work with him directly, approaches me in the breakroom. Even if I’m reading on my phone/Kindle, trying to eat, not making eye contact, barely responding with noncommital noises, etc. he doesn’t respond to the cues and just keeps talking. I feel like saying “Hey, please go away” would be rude, especially since we’re not friends and this is the only time we interact, but I would love to be able to eat in peace again.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love a solo lunch, away from my coworkers, so I go away. from. my. coworkers. If you are in a public/social space like a break room, I think it’s okay for people to talk to you. One time in 10 you can say, “can I get back to you later? I am at a really good part in my book” or “I am having a crazy day, is it ok if I grab a little quiet time to recharge?” but if you shut the poor guy down every day you will be the jerk in the story.

      • TO_Ont said:

        That is kind of true, come to think of it — most lunchrooms I’ve known were basically ‘the socialization room’, and it was assumed that if you didn’t want to socialize you wouldn’t be in that room, you’d either eat at your desk or go away somewhere else.

      • The problem is, I work in retail so the breakroom is the only place to sit down. The general culture is to not talk at all; he’s definitely an outlier as far as that’s concerned.

        • MuddieMae said:

          Is there anywhere nearby but outside of the store you could go? Even a bench on the sidewalk (during nice weather) can be a nice place to take a lunch break.

    • sasha said:

      If you do like him enough that you’d like to spend time with him, but need downtime during lunch/breaktime, could you be specific about that? Something along the lines of “Hey, I’d love to hear all about [X], but man, I really need some down time during lunch*. Want to grab a coffee later?,” all said in the friendliest voice you can muster.

      *If your job involves a lot of social interaction, you could specifically cite this here as a reason for needing solo time

    • TO_Ont said:

      Just ideas, but:

      Headphones with some music on?

      How about chatting with him a few minutes (properly, with eye contact and participation and so on), then saying something like ‘What a crazy story/yeah I know what you mean/etc (or whatever, related to your conversation). You know what, my brain always gets so fried from work, I think I need to sit quietly for half an hour and read.’ You can even add a brief jokey apology like ‘Sorry, I feel so antisocial! But I get a bit crazy if I don’t get that quiet time before I face the afternoon!’. Laugh and say it in a friendly way with a smile, give things a sentence or two to wrap up (like 10-20 seconds, tops), then do your all your turning back to your book/no more eye contact/put headphones back in thing.

      And keep putting aside a few minutes to chat with him, smile and nod when you pass, etc.

      • Ann said:

        White noise apps are great if you can’t read with music. Of course, if you don’t have a pod/phone thingie, there is nothing that says you can’t put on a four-buck set of headphones with the cord leading into your pocket.

        • caryatid said:

          i’ve totally done this :)

          • Knights Who Say Knit said:

            Yes, I definitely do this whenever my iPhone battery dies and I still have to take the bus home. Of course headphones don’t always keep chatty bus people away (there was the one memorable experience when the woman sitting next to me actually tried to take one of my earbuds and put it in her own ear so she could hear my music too. And when I tried to explain to her that it was not music, it was a podcast, she was confused and it took me several minutes to explain what a podcast was while trying to get her to stop talking at me so I could ride home in peace. Yeah, that was fun.)

      • Thanks for the ideas! I think the second one (short conversation, explanation) is what I’ll need to do. :)

    • staranise said:

      These days, I just say, “I’m sorry, I’m all peopled out right now. I can’t chat.”

      I used to be super concerned about being polite and never making anyone uncomfortable. But right now, even though I’m allistic most of my really good friends are somewhere on the autism spectrum. And why yes, it was hanging out with the spectrumy folks that taught me amazing things about how to socialize adeptly. I went from communicating almost entirely through (futile!) nonverbals to, when my roommate asked me how my day was, saying, “Fine! By which I mean it sucked but I want to pretend it went FINE or else I will burst into tears.”

      Also, then I did years of medieval re-enactment and got used to passing through a lot of public places in costume. I got used to being stared at and weirding people out, and learned that even if everyone in the room thinks you are an escaped mental patient, it’s okay.

      Something I’ve learned by closely observing weird, rude, and awful people around me is: the level of rudeness polite people are usually capable of is still less than what will bring serious physical/social consequences on them. So I’ve learned to live with being a person who is not always sweet, accommodating, and nice. I try to be kind, but that’s a very different thing, and sometimes it includes being blunt.

      • datdamwuf said:

        Did I meet you at the renaissance festival in MD? I so want to try going all makeup/dress up and act weird just once like the folks I saw/talked with last year. :)

        • staranise said:

          Ha, no. I’m in the SCA, which has hundreds of members even up in my home province which has no renfaire. I went to costumed meetings every month, big tourneys and feasts about every other month, and fencing practice every week. Renfaires seem cool, but I wonder how they’re different–they seem more like one intense dose over the year instead of slow, prolonged exposure.

  14. Jolly said:

    So much headphones. I have a coworker kind of like this, but she mixes her boring stories with the fact that she is a terrible person (yeah, I definitely want to hear all about what kind of treats you feed your dogs and how excited they get about it, with POV descriptions of them referring to you as mom, and then sit through a fifth telling of your awesome story about watching overweight people eat more food than you at a fast food place you went to, and how much better you are than those pathetic losers). She does this thing where she will bake snacks, leave them out on her desk (rather than a common area) so that people have to come by to get them. Then when they take the bait, she starts telling them all about how she made them, in detail, with emphasis on how great she is, then launches into a story about dogs. I have seen people slowly start to walk back to their desk, and she literally gets up and follows them to their desk.

    After sitting next to this person for a year, I now keep headphones on at all times, and even when I’m not listening to anything, give a loud “WHAT??” when she starts trying to talk to me while I wear them. It makes me seem antisocial, but that’s better than wanting to crawl in a hole and hide 40 hours a week/confronting someone who has to be the rudest, most vindictive person I’ve ever met in my life.

    • BoyOrHedgehog said:

      Haha I’ve done a bit of this. Bonus points if you pop the earphone back in at the end of every sentence, so that if they keep talking you have to go WHAT!? again. Rinse and repeat, conversations tend to get pretty quick =D

  15. Beth said:

    This is a different context, but it seems to work very well. In my writers group there is one member who will talk endlessly. The group leader tells him she’s putting him on a timer, gets out her iPhone, starts the timer, and when it goes off she holds up the phone and tells him he’s done now. I’m the sort who doesn’t talk over others, so it’s easy for me to not be able to get in a word in this type of conversation, so I’m always tremendously grateful for her leadership in this area.

  16. thepaintedlady said:

    It’s not necessarily your job to teach him social skills, but if you feel like it/if he asks, here’s something that works for me. I teach this wonderfully weird 15 year old who has all sorts of passions, which is fantastic. Some of these passions, like Dr. Who and terrible horror movies, I love. Others I don’t share, but I’m happy to hear her chatter on…for a little while. But after too many hours of hearing her talk to the point of literal shortness of breath, without ever having a chance to speak and also having nothing to say even if given the chance, I finally realized she had no idea I wasn’t just fascinated. So, what I said was, “Hey Student, I love hearing about all this stuff because I’m not familiar with it and I like learning new things. But when you don’t give me a chance to talk, and when I run out of ways to relate to this, I feel like I’m being talked AT, which makes me feel like you don’t really care whether I’m interested or not, and that kind of sucks. So when I haven’t talked for a little while beyond just “Uh huh,” say, two minutes, that’s a signal I would very much like you to change the subject. Would you be okay with that?” Being a wonderful kid, she was all for it. She still needs reminders, but now all I have to say is, “Talking at me!” and she immediately switches gears. I get the impression she’s always been tuned out at home, though not in a way that she feels ignored, and so she didn’t realize anything was wrong with talking at a person with glazed-over eyes whose only response is, “Uh huh.”

    • JenniferP said:

      Where were you when I was 15? COULD HAVE USED THIS LIKE A LOT.

      • thepaintedlady said:

        I actually intentionally became the teacher I could have used at 15. I’m a nerd at heart, but I got much better at social interactions as I hit adulthood, and I really wish I’d had a teacher like that to translate Regular People into Nerd for me.

    • caryatid said:

      one of my friend’s (asperger diagnosed) son likes to go on and ON about his interests that don’t interest me – this sounds like it would work super well! so far, what has worked for me is just listening for as long as i care to, then saying, “hey [name], i’m going to take a break from listening now, ok?”

      and he cheerily says, “ok!”

      • thepaintedlady said:

        Yeah, this student has actually been screened for ASD (partly at my request due to that same tendency and some other social indicators) and turns out she’s neurotypical, just weird and awesome. But whatever, she’s bad at social cues, so a loving nudge gives her the option to adjust if she wants.

        • caryatid said:

          totally! and btw, i promise i wasn’t trying to internet diagnose, i’ve tried this approach on others whose spectrum status i have no idea about.

          AND – it works like a charm on my neurotypical 8 year old, who is just super obsessed with Minecraft.

          • thepaintedlady said:

            Oh no, I didn’t think that! I just completely related, and then I realized it sounded like I had this poor kid tested because she talks a lot about stuff I find boring. And I realized that made me sound a little monstrous.

        • Rosa said:

          My kid is diagnosed, but watching all the kids in the classroom, I really wish we just offered social skills help to anyone who needs it, like we do reading help. Regardless of diagnosis or nondiagnosis.

          Soft skills are important.

    • Diane said:

      “I get the impression she’s always been tuned out at home, though not in a way that she feels ignored, and so she didn’t realize anything was wrong with talking at a person with glazed-over eyes whose only response is, “Uh huh.””

      Yep, that was my life until recently! I honestly assume people aren’t listening to me (because my parents certainly didn’t), so I just prattle on forever under the assumption that you don’t even care. I’m re-learning how to have a conversation, and something like this can be really helpful.

  17. I had a coworker like that for a while. She’d corner anyone she possibly could to talk about anything at all, for as long as she could without the person getting away… After I realized she really didn’t understand any social cues whatsoever, I’d just interrupt her with “Hey, I need to get back to work now” and then walk away (if she caught me around the office) or turn back to my work at my desk and ignore her (if she cornered me in my cubicle). Completely turning my back to her seemed like the only thing that she really understood.

  18. I have a brilliant scientific collaborator whom I love and cherish, but who is a fucken bloviating gibbering loghorheic fuckebagge and will go on and on and on about narishkeit endlessly if you let her. My script is to interrupt with, “Whoah! Whoah! I hear what you’re saying, but {return to immediate reality}.” Where {return to immediate reality} can be an action point or decision that we need to make or a piece of information I need or a statement that I simply need to move on to other tasks. This is a less overtly aggressive approach than the Captain’s, and worth a try.

  19. Quisty said:

    Oh man. I have an acquaintance who will do this when we run into each other. It can be anywhere, but lately it’s been at the gym before work. I will see him, make a quick wave which I assumed meant, “hi! I have seen you and am not ignoring your existence.” but to him means, “Hello friend! Come over and please talk to me!” and then he will talk to me for ten minuets while I feel the time ticking away before I have to be at work like the ticking of a time bomb. I can hardly get a word in edge-wise or I would cut him off much sooner.

    I usually don’t have a problem with being blunt or setting boundaries, but every time I cut him off with some variation of “it’s been nice but I need to get my workout in before I leave to go to work” he will give me ALL THE APOLOGIES and I feel like I kicked a puppy. It doesn’t help that I know that he’s socially awkward and is a bit lonely and has trouble making friends. I’ve started pretending to be so into my workout that I don’t see him because it’s such a no-win situation. :/

  20. drst said:

    My Annoying Coworker (ACW) at my previous job was one of these people and also a zealous oversharer of all manner of personal details, only zie not only had the office next to mine, zie lived next door to me. It got to the point where I was sneaking out of the building by the back route and then pretending I wasn’t home to avoid this person. I never could draw a boundary (it was a complicated situation) and zie left after one year to my immense relief.

  21. Emski said:

    Absolutely supporting the Captain’s advice. Be blunt and to the point because hints don’t work in my experience. I’ve worried about how rude I might appear as I nicely tell the Talker to STFU ; I worried about what my co-workers thought of my response (they preferred to moan about the Talker behind their back) and worried that I was being uptight and rigid about my time; I mean SOMETIMES it was nice talking -or rather listening to them.
    At the end of the day, I noticed the Talker went blithely about their business, never appearing to worry in the least about how they were interrupting everyone, oozing their neediness . I had assumed that a response ( “Sorry, I’m not interested or I’m really busy) that would mortify me would mortify the Talker. Not so. They shrugged and didn’t take it personally at all!
    What I do now:
    -if they are talking in general to the room and I am not interested is I DO NOT make ANY response, not even a little nod or “Yeah” which can encourage the Talker to zero in on you.
    – if it’s just you and the Talker, say, ” Sorry, I have to get back to work”. Simple, straight to the point and then do it- get back to work.
    Also, I ‘ve found it interesting with the 2 Talkers in our office that when they don’t want to engage, they do not: one wears headphones, the other just ignores background chat unless it interests him.

  22. MadGastronomer said:

    Oh, I had an employee like this. On at least one occasion, he kept talking to me after I’d said, “I really don’t want to talk about this anymore,” repeatedly, and he followed me around the damn restaurant for an hour before I shook him.

    I’d just have told him to go do his damn job, but we were completely dead and he’d done all his side work, and I was letting the cook who’d done all her prep slack, too. Hell, I didn’t actually have anything to do either, I was just there waiting to lock up when we closed.

    He was a very difficult man.

  23. LW, hopefully your coworker is of the ‘doesn’t get offended at bluntness sort,’ but it doesn’t really matter. When you are blunt with people like this, they must make a choice: be hurt by the bluntness and then try to avoid being hurt in the future by talking less or talk as much as they want and stop caring if people walk away/are blunt. This is a social situation that will sort itself out if you just do what you want to do.

  24. slashy said:

    I am a SuperTalker (excellent name for the species, thank you whoever coined it upthread!). I can find myself 15 minutes into a gapless monologue at the drop of a hat, with people half-asleep all around me, and have been ushered out a door mid-sentence more than a few times. My mother once set the kitchen of our house on fire because she needed to flee one of my monologues and left oil burning on the stove when she did so. It’s a… tendency. I was also a hyper-literate child who consumed paperbacks by the kilogram and won story contests a lot- I suspect these things are connected. I wish I’d had someone like thepaintedlady in my life as a teen/young adult, to help me learn to handle the SuperTalker side of having such a language-overloaded brain.

    I am just posting this here for the benefit of other SuperTalkers who are looking for tactics to mitigate the SuperTalking: these days, my personal homework is to WRITE. WRITE IT DOWN. Write as though there is a tireless listener in front of me who has no conversational needs of their own, who I can relate all of my woes to, and who I can use as my silent sounding board so that I can reach useful conclusions (one factor that contributes to my SuperTalking: I am literally unable to reach conclusions without speaking the problem out loud- or, as I am learning, writing it out). Then, when I am in conversations with actual human beings, I do not feel that it is necessary to allow the entire torrent of the monologue to pour forth, because I already got it off my chest once, and I already feel the satisfaction of having arrived at a conclusion about it. I can pick and choose appropriately-sized segments of realisation or conclusion from what I wrote that day, and share that without feeling such a compulsion to detail the entire AGONISINGLY LONG PROCESS it took to get there, and then I can shut up and let others speak.

    This is working really well for me at the moment, I think (feedback from partner and others says: yes). The tool I use to do this writing is http://www.750words.com, which has free accounts available up til the 1st of May, and I HIGHLY recommend it for other SuperTalkers who need to feel like they need some kind of an “audience” for the unfiltered internal monologue, but are ready to stop expecting everyone in the world to be that audience.

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