By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
While caught in conversation with an excessive talker, we can feel like our chances of escaping are on par with breaking out of a maximum-security prison. It isn’t going to happen. At least not quickly enough. And definitely not graciously.
In today’s Q&A, one of our readers feels trapped by a talkative coworker. After reading her letter, see if you’ve been in a similar situation. I bet, like me, you have.
How to Politely Excuse Yourself from a Talkative Person — The Question
Please, please, please help me! I have a co-worker who talks non-stop every day. She goes on and on about her problems, and she has a lot of them. It seems like there’s a new family crisis every week. I don’t want to be mean, but honestly, I don’t care to hear about any of it. Last night, I had to stay late at work to finish what I didn’t get done because she was talking to me about her “horrible life and family” all day.
I have to work with her; we’re part of the same two-person team. She’d be nice if she would keep focused on work and keep her problems and long stories about people I don’t even know to herself.
What can I do? I can’t ask for a transfer since it’s a small firm. I’d look for another job, but I like my job — except for her talking.
Thank you for any help you can offer.
Whether it’s a coworker, a neighbor who pops over to our house — and stays — or a friend who calls and keeps us on the phone for an hour, I think we’ve all experienced people who don’t know when to pull the ripcord on their conversations. Not to worry, there are ways to politely excuse yourself and get back to your day.
How to Politely Excuse Yourself From a Talkative Person — The 8 Best Ways
1. Understand why the person might be talking so much. Understanding the reason behind the excessive talking is your first step in coming up with a solution. In this case, it sounds like the talkative coworker needs the advice of a therapist or clergy member because of her many dysfunctional family situations.
However, this isn’t the case with a lot of people who might be talking your ear off. I learned something fascinating while speaking one day to Dwight Bain, founder of Life Works Group, media-sought counselor, author of Destination Success, and LMHC, NCC, CPC. Dwight shared, much to my surprise, that the number-one reason people enter counseling isn’t because of financial, marital, or childhood issues. They enter because they feel out of place in their lives. They don’t have anyone to talk to, and they so need and want to be listened to that they enter counseling to be heard.
While we’re a very connected culture via electronic screens, those electronic screens become like the glass panels used in prisons to separate prisoners from their visitors. We lose the vital personal connection we all need. So while talkative people might be inconvenient, and I do understand that’s an understatement when it comes to certain people, try to give them some of your time, before saying goodbye. One of the core tenets of good manners is never to assume. (In this case we are assuming people are talking just to drive us crazy or to hear their own voice.) In The Top 5 Manners Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, you can learn more about this precept.
2. When it’s a constant problem, you have to set boundaries. While understanding the “why” of people talking too much helps us to have compassion for them, we can’t allow it to excuse them from the behavior.
A. Let them know that you care about them and their situation/problem(s). “Jane, I care about you. And, I’m sorry that you’re having so many family problems. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I know it can’t be easy on you, and you need a listening ear.”
B. Tell them how their actions are negatively impacting you. “When we talk at work the amount that we do, it negatively impacts my productivity. In fact, I had to stay after work the other night to complete what I didn’t finish during the day. I have people counting on me at home and need to be there as soon after work as possible.”
C. For someone you have constant contact with, set up a time and place to talk and a limit to the amount of time. “Jane, let’s do this. What if we get coffee for 15 minutes every Tuesday and Friday, and you can catch me up. Outside of that, I’m more comfortable keeping our work conversations focused on work.”
D. Then stick to the agreement the two of you have made, no matter how often the other person tries to break it. The person may try to break it several times a day, since it’s a habit. The best way to handle this is to remind of what you both agreed would be best:
“Jane, before you tell me more, remember we agreed it would be best to talk business at work, and family and other things during our Tuesday and Friday times together.”
Become a parrot if you have to, saying the same thing until the other person understands that you mean what you say and that you’re sticking to the agreement the two of you made.
3. Once you get a chance to talk, interrupt yourself in order to excuse yourself. Whether in person or on the phone, if you can wait to excuse yourself from people until you’re the one talking, they don’t feel like you cut them off: “…and then we were on I-75 when — Oh, I’m sorry, Jim. I just noticed the time. I’m going to need to say goodbye because I need to….”
4. If someone else joins the conversation, ask whether they’ve met. If not, introduce the two of them, and then excuse yourself. Since the two people are new to one another, they might actually enjoy each other’s company. Also, if the other person does leave abruptly, the talkative person isn’t holding it against you. (Even if they do know one another, you can still excuse yourself when the other person joins.)
5. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom. On the way back, stop to talk to others. It’s natural at a party or at work. It’s likely that the talkative person won’t follow you. But I’ve had people follow me more than once. If you think they might, say something along the lines of “Please excuse me because I need to go to the bathroom alone.” The word “because” probably will deter them enough to stop them from following you. There’s a psychological effect that takes place when the only reason we give for doing something is “because.” It goes back to our childhood when it was one of the first logical words introduced to us. We asked our moms why, and they answered, “Because!” Subconsciously, we still accept that it’s as good of a reason as any other for doing or not doing something!
6. If the talkative person calls, allow the call to go to voicemail and then text your answer or greetings. With an excessive talker, sometimes the best conversation is digital.
7. When talkative people want to set up a time to meet you, ask them to email you a couple of days and times. Put the monkey on their shoulders. Perhaps they’ll forget and not contact you. If they do, pick a day and time when you have something to do that will allow you only a certain amount of time (15 or 30 minutes to an hour, perhaps) before you must leave or get onto your next task.
8. If people come to your house unannounced (unless it’s an emergency), you have no obligation to invite them in. “Jane and John! What a surprise to see you! I wish you had let me know you were coming before you walked two streets over to get here. I’m in the middle of something and can’t invite you in. This evening, would you email or text me a couple of times that you’re available, and we’ll set something up.”
Obviously, if they’ve come a long way to surprise you, you’ll want to welcome them with open arms. However, you don’t need to entertain everyone at their command, especially those you see often. Hosts extend invitations to guests to their home, not vice versa.
Loneliness and The People Drowning in It
Several years ago, I knew a person who would, as they say, talk your ear off. Everyone avoided her, including me after several months. She was in her mid-fifties, and her husband had left her and their young teen son. Her loneliness led her to become a pen pal to prisoners. One of them convinced her to visit him. She went, and after his sentence was completed, they were married. Within months, her life savings and her new husband were nowhere to be found. All she had wanted was someone to listen to her, someone to let her know she was worthy of their time. Her actions were crazy; however, desperate people do desperate things.
How to Politely Excuse Yourself From a Talkative Person — Know That We Know How To, But Here’s Why Sometimes We Shouldn’t
Sure, sometimes excessive talking comes from people who believe they know it all and want everyone to hear it. But mostly, truly mostly, the talkers are the loneliest and most insecure people. They’re the ones willing to spill everything, including their dignity, to hold your attention for as long as possible, because while they have your attention, they don’t have to face their loneliness alone.
So yes, of course, set boundaries, and remember that while those of us with good manners set out the welcome mat for others, we don’t allow people to turn us into door mats.
It’s so easy to want to brush off an overly talkative person. However, if you have a few minutes, or more, try to sit and listen sometimes. It’s an eternally better use of time than an hour of watching TV. Your listening ear is a gift that only you can give. And to the person you’re lending it to, it’s very likely to be as welcomed as cool water to someone lost in the desert.
Until next time, keep doing what only YOU can do. Bless the world by being you at your authentic best!