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Network for Peace through Dialogue

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JULY 21, 2009

What to do When They STILL Won't Stop Talking! | 1

Recent Living Room dialogues have provided opportunities to develop dialogue skills. This one addressed the problem of compulsive talkers, what to do about people who "occupy your psychic space and crowd out any meaningful exchange of ideas" either in our personal lives or in groups. Pamela Zivari, a Network program coordinator, facilitated the evening.

The initial go-round of introductions revealed that many of the sixteen people in the room were personally struggling how to deal with a person who monopolizes conversations or were facilitators of groups where this can be an issue. The first step in our dialogue was to try to figure out what motivates people who do this. People had a number of theories about the "why":

  • Someone wants to make a point and fears that listeners are never going to get it
  • Someone feels the need to persuade and turns every conversation into a debate - wants to dominate
  • Internal uncertainty or nervousness, lack of self-confidence, fear of losing control of the conversation
  • Fearing a lull in the conversation
  • Someone is lonely and doesn't have enough opportunities to talk
  • Something has happened that has upset them and they didn't have a place to talk about it at the time it happened - talking can be healing
  • There are different personality types - Introverts try to figure out what they want to say before speaking while extroverts talk in order to figure things out
  • Language is used differently in different cultures - there may be no concept of what we call "dialogue"
  • Long ago, people had more time and perhaps were willing to listen while someone talked until they were finished - we have time pressure
  • People who are hard of hearing sometimes talk a lot because they are afraid someone will ask a question they won't understand

There were also questions about whether the problem was with the talker or the listeners. Do we assume that everybody tries to communicate in the same way we do? Is the listener impatient? The purpose of the conversation, the context, can make a big difference. Are we trying to create an environment where people are regarded as equals? If we are facilitating a group, how do we decide when it is appropriate to interrupt and how can we do it in ways that do not cause the speaker to disengage from the group?

Pamela Zivari distributed a handout with some suggestions for "What we can do with/for/about 'monopolizers.'" As an exercise, people in the group formed pairs. One person in each pair was to be the interminable talker and the other was to figure out a way to interrupt him or her. Afterwards people shared what that experience was like for them. Some people had trouble figuring out a way to interrupt because they were used to being attentive listeners and found it hard to give up the role. Others just became interested in what their partner was talking about. A question that came up was whether the point was to shift the conversation to another topic or to change the way the conversation was being conducted.

There was agreement that in one-on-one situations, it can be important to find ways of interrupting that strengthen rather than damage the relationship.

After the one-one-one exercise, there was an exercise where the whole group simulated a support group. It was decided the group was to be on parenting. One person volunteered to be a parent compulsively talking and two people volunteered to act as the co-facilitators.

In the discussion after this exercise, one person said she that in the agency where she facilitates groups, they might incorporate in the intake process an assessment of different personality types and different needs of people before placing people in groups. It could be important to understand the "why," where someone is coming from. Another person observed that talking can be a defense against anxiety. A person thought it could be helpful to raise the awareness of someone who was doing excessive talking - they could just be oblivious as to the effect they were having.

Pamela's handout follows:

What we can do with/for/about "monopolizers."

  • Make them feel at ease by showing interest and asking questions.
  • Stay respectful of them. This is crucial!
  • Then interrupt. Gently.
  • Choose a statement such as:
  • Two person conversation: "That's a very interesting point you just made, and I'd like an opportunity to comment on what you just said."
  • Group conversation: "Excuse me, that is a very (controversial, interesting, etc.) comment you just made and I'd like to hear what Harriet thinks about this - and Jim as well - go ahead, Harriet, what do you think?
  • If this person is someone you see often, you may need to simply state clearly and honestly, "Justine, you are so clever and you have so much information to share, but I feel as though when we talk, you don't really give me (or us) any time to share our ideas with you. Can we talk about this?"
  • Use humor. Say the person's name, several times in a row. Once you have their attention, say, "you know, I haven't gotten to say anything in the last five minutes; it's my turn." Then chuckle.

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