We asked experts to share some helpful tips on how to tell someone they talk way too much — but in a nice way.
Here are their insights.
Michelle Lachman, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Therapist | Co-Founder, Better Speech
We all know someone who we might politely call an excessive talker. It may even drive you crazy. This person might be a coworker who is way too chatty and does not let you get back to your tasks, or a friend who feels the need to describe every detail of what happened over the weekend.
Talking and communicating is part of what we humans do. It’s an integral part of who we are as social creatures. But of course, like anything else, there is a point where it may become too much and actually overstep the bounds of conversational norms.
Speech language pathologists often work with people who lack awareness of the fact that they are not engaging in the innate back and forth rhythm of listening and talking to their conversational partners.
Some people may actually have a social communication disorder. They tend to not be aware that they have been speaking for too long and not given their communication partner an opportunity to reply, ask a question, comment, request clarification, or even opt out of the conversation altogether.
Sometimes these people might have a specific and diagnosable disorder such as Autism or Aspbergers.
In these types of situations and with this population, speech therapists take the time to explain the norms of conversation — such as taking conversational turns or pausing to see if the conversational partner wants to chime in — in a very explicit way. And then to practice taking part in a conversation to try out the skills they have learned.
More often than not, the coworker that doesn’t leave your desk or the friend that spills her guts to you but never listens to what you have to say, are not people with a social communication disorder.
So, what can you do about them?
Approach the issue thoughtfully
When you are wondering how to approach this subject with a coworker or friend, it’s best to approach the issue thoughtfully. Since you likely want to keep your coworker working with you and your friend is a worthwhile person to spend time with over the course of a weekend.
So here are some tips to help you manage a situation in which a conversational partner is talking more than listening. These won’t “fix” the person’s propensity for monologues, but they should help get you out of this awkward situation faster.
1. Use a time limit
If you see the coworker approach your desk with an oversized cup of coffee, you can mention that you only have a few moments to speak before getting back to work.
Since often we are caught off guard and don’t have an excuse ready, it’s perfectly fine to say something like, “I’d love to chat, but I have about five minutes before I need to __.”
You can fill in that blank with anything appropriate to the work situation, such as a meeting. Or you can even say that you have to make a personal call.
2. Help them get to the point
Some people use conversation to think through a complicated situation. You can help them get to the point by asking them things like:
- What ended up happening?
- What do you think is the best thing to do in this situation?
- Would you like me to help in any way?
These types of sentences are a cue to the listener to wrap up their story and move along on their terms.
3. Take advantage of a pause
We all need to take a breath when we speak or pause to gather our thoughts. If that friend you’re meeting over the weekend gets into one of her soliloquies, wait for an advantageous moment to speak.
Perhaps you can start talking about a related subject or share a personal story. You can also feel free to change the subject so that your friend politely understands that you’ve grown tired of the subject they brought up.
4. As a last resort, tell the truth and be polite
Is this someone close to you? Try to be honest and polite without criticizing.
This friend or coworker may not realize that they tend to monopolize the conversation. So an honest observation as to how they come across may help resolve the issue. In fact, this may not be the first time they hear this, and your comment may only serve as a reminder.
Thought Leader | Transformational Coach, Patterns of Possibility
We’ve all met people who are “long-winded” and love to talk. When in conversation with them, you can’t get a word in edgewise, and they are oblivious to the fact that you checked out some time ago.
You want to tell them, but you’re not sure if they’ll get the message.
If you have ever been uncomfortably stuck trying to be polite but not wanting to feel bored to tears or ignored, then I have good news for you. You can save face, save their feelings, and save the conversation by telling them they talk too much — in a nice way.
Make sure you do not convey judgment
The key to keeping it cordial is to make sure you do not convey judgment and to make sure to frame your conversation in a way that shows how their excessive talking does not serve them.
With this, you minimize any chance they might feel shame or embarrassment with your revelation.
Step 1: Make sure that you have privacy
The conversation is only meant for you two. If you’re doing a video chat and there’s an opportunity for others to eavesdrop, make sure you’re wearing headphones.
Step 2: Check your mood
Make sure you’re in a calm, peaceful headspace. You want to send pleasant, safe, and comforting vibes towards this person.
Step 3: Give your partner a taste of your experience
Right after they have spoken for an extended period of time, ask them to repeat what they just said. Tell them that you weren’t able to follow them exactly. Then, suggest they slow down and break what they want to say in smaller chunks and get a sign of understanding from you before continuing.
This way, they can make sure you’re following what they want to communicate. Let them know, if this change is made, it won’t be necessary to repeat themselves. They’ll see this as a win.
Tell them how taking a moment periodically to check in with you will improve your conversations. Look for some level of agreement about the value of checking in. This will give you a point of reference and a point of agreement to build on.
The success of this depends on how clearly you address the person’s behavior and not the person’s character. They will be more receptive because you didn’t judge or blame them.
You simply identified a behavior, talked about the effects, and very nicely suggested a change that would benefit you both.
Janice Holly Booth, MA
Founder & CEO, The Teambuilding KIT
Telling someone they talk too much (in a nice way) is actually not as easy as it sounds. Because there are many reasons why someone talks too much (nerves, an inability to articulate, discomfort with silence), it’s hard to know what direction to take in giving a comment that is very likely to be perceived the wrong way.
Assuming you are close enough with this person to have their ear (and their trust) you could say something like:
“Your point is a good one, yet I fear people are tuning out before you get to it.
Why not start with a one or two sentence summation of your idea and let people ask questions if they want more information.”
“You have a lot of good information, but I think you take too long to get to the point. See if you can get to the point quicker before people tune out.”
I had a client once who had enough self-awareness to know she talked WAY too much when asked even a simple question. “Word vomit,” she called it.
I told her to craft 2-3 sentence responses to the most commonly asked questions (she was an educator) and then stick to the script. It helped her quite a bit but she still goes off on tangents now and then. That’s just her nature.
Heather Z. Lyons, PhD
Licensed Psychologist | Owner, Baltimore Therapy Group
We all know the feeling of being talked at and feeling left out of a conversation. It can be incredibly frustrating or just boring to be part of a one-sided conversation.
However, rather than just waiting these interactions out or avoiding the person, directly addressing your reactions might open up possibilities for new ways of interacting.
Before providing feedback, I would do two things.
First, it can be helpful to play detective. Given what you know about the person talking to you, consider your understanding of why they might be engaged in a one-sided conversation.
- Is it that they’re feeling anxious?
- Do they lack the skills to engage in more reciprocal interactions?
- Do they feel a sense of hyper-responsibility in their relationships, which might include feeling responsible for keeping the conversation going?
- Do they struggle with ambiguity or vulnerability?
Forming some hypotheses about the reasons for the lack of reciprocity will help guide how you broach this difficulty.
The second thing I would do is to really think about the impact on you. Beyond irritation or boredom, I would consider what’s missing for you.
- Is it that you want to connect with this person, but you’re finding it difficult?
- Do you want to be helpful, but you aren’t able to ask the questions you need? I would then share that.
Perhaps you could say something along the lines of, “I would really like to learn more about the problem you’re talking about, but it’s hard to ask questions to learn more about how I can help. Would it be ok if I interrupted from time to time?”
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that the conversation you have with this person might need to happen more than once.
They’ve likely developed an aversive way of interacting for a reason. It might take a while for them to break this habit. However, if the relationship is important to you, so is persistence.
Senior Recruitment Advisor, VelvetJobs
Listen to the other person before getting to your point
We all have stories to tell but sometimes we don’t have the luxury of time to listen till the end. Not all conversations are pursuable especially when the topic makes us uncomfortable or when the conversation is too one-sided.
To be able to politely convey your thoughts, make sure you are attentively listening to the other person. Before getting to your point, you may recap what they had said to confirm you understood them right.
This will give them the idea that you are truly listening and that no further explanations are necessary.
Insert with an “Excuse me, but from what I understood…“ then end it with your own opinion. If he/she interrupts, you can easily say “Sorry, but I’d like to talk about my own sentiments.”
This will allow the other person to give you time to talk and if possible, you get to finish the conversation by saying “Well, it was nice seeing you, but I have a busy day ahead.”
Author | Award-winning Speaker | TEDx Presenter
Do it with humor
I have a number of friends who live alone and have done so for many years. I’ve noticed that one of the things they have in common is that they all talk a lot, I mean like nonstop.
If they ask how I’m doing and I reply, “I went to the doctor yesterday and…,” they don’t let me even finish the sentence. Instead, they tell me about their last five doctor’s visits and all about their diagnosis, how they don’t trust the doctor, the multiple medications they are taking, and how none of them work.
I try to steer the conversation back to the experience with my doctor, or to something else, but by this time it’s a losing battle.
The best I could do is move on, email them instead of phoning them, and try to lighten up the situation by secretly nicknaming them “The Voice of Doom.”
I have a theory that people who live alone don’t have many people to converse with, so they talk a lot when they are around other people. One such friend could go on for 15-minutes without seemingly taking a breath or letting me respond to what he is saying.
One day I finally was able to get a word in and told him, “Bob, it’s called a ‘dialogue,’ not a ‘monologue.” He acknowledged what I said with a slight smile, then went on talking without a stop.
Digital Writer, MyPerfectResume
Avoid accusations, insults, or generalization
As a person who talks a lot, I realize how problematic it can be to tell someone to seal up their lips a little.
Talking too much is a habit, and people don’t want to hear they’ve been inconsiderate, arrogant, or boring. On the other hand, in some cases, the only sensible way to resolve such a situation is to let them know they’ve committed a breach of manners, even if it’s awkward to interrupt.
Being trapped by a continuous speaker isn’t a common struggle, but with a little spirit, honesty, and kindness, all those who have been trapped by one-way schmoozer will be grateful.
Remember to always give such feedback in comfortable and protected conditions.
Start by checking the situation and then proceed to hand over your observations. Be polite and precise. Avoid accusations, insults, or generalization, as these won’t lead to the behavioral change you aim for.
Also, keep in mind that your opinion should be specific. Describe how that behavior had a genuine impact on a particular group, and recommend a way of action.
Be specific, and you’re more likely to achieve a positive result.
Letting go of the habit of talking too much is not simple, so you may have to speak with the one-way talker more than once. Nevertheless, stay firm and patient, and you’ll be rewarded – with peace of mind.
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