The following is an exchange between Dr. Hurd and a journalist who found his article on excessive talking online.
Q: Super talking. Why do people do it? Is it rude? Controlling? Is it ADHD (‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’), OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), manic behavior? An inability to read social cues, e.g., the listener has turned away from the talker, or is walking away? And, as you write in the column, is it a result of insecurity and anxiety?
A. It’s usually anxiety. Anxiety is caused by mistaken assumptions, such as the false belief that, ‘I must be visible and heard at all times.’ Or: ‘It’s OK to dominate the conversation,’ or, ‘I have to repeat myself, otherwise I won’t be heard.’ There are many false beliefs people hold, and talking too much is one symptom of them. It has nothing to do with ADHD, although OCD, which is caused by anxiety, can be a cause of it. I have noticed that OCD people talk more than others. It’s because they’re ‘hyper-thinking’ and over analyzing. For them, all this talking is merely thinking aloud. Because they’re so anxious they need to do a lot of thinking, and therefore a lot of talking!
Over-talking certainly can be rude, but it isn’t necessarily meant to be. But that’s not an excuse. Some people who over-talk mean no harm, but they’re not anxious, either. They’re just lonely or otherwise understimulated. Some people don’t feel visible to their spouses or family members, so they latch on to unsuspecting people who will hopefully ‘hear them out.’ Also, some of us are good listeners. Over-talkers will misinterpret someone being a good listener as actually being interested. These are not the same thing! But they miss the social cues because they’re socially inept. Usually we think of painfully shy people as interpersonally inept. Actually, over-talkers are just as socially inept, only in the other direction.
Q: Some heavy talkers repeat themselves 2 and 3 times in a conversation. What’s up with that?
A. Often this is a highly anxious or OCD-type person. Think of how an OCD person checks four times to make sure the stove is off, or checks five times to make sure the door is locked. They will repeat themselves ‘just to make sure they’re heard’ over and over again. People incorrectly think it’s a memory lapse or a symptom of early Alzheimer’s; it’s simply a way to lower anxiety (for the OCD person).
Q: One big talker (originally from the Bronx) told me she sees herself as friendly and outgoing.
A. Yes, this is another false belief. ‘If I talk a lot, this means I’m an outgoing and nice person.’
Q: Regarding the listener: Can she control the super talker or simply manage her/his own behavior?
A. Nobody can control another’s behavior. Over-talkers can be stubborn and set in their ways, especially if they’re middle-aged or older. What you can do are the following: Say you don’t like it! When the person repeats themselves, just say, ‘Yes, I know—you told me that already, thank you.’
Walk away (‘Got to go now! Good talking to you!’) and don’t get overly concerned about manners. Remember that the over-talker is being inconsiderate, or at a minimum needs a reality check.
A lot of them aren’t offended when you do this. I suspect some of them know what they’re doing, accept that you’ve had your limit, but want to get in as much as they can verbally for as long as you’re willing to listen. It’s up to you to set the limit. They won’t do it for you—not ever.
Q: Strategies: What works when you’re cornered by the loquacious Gabbissimo? Avoidance, diversion, interrupting (talking at the same time so as to get a word in edge-wise)? Having an exit strategy?
A. All of the above. Also, regarding avoidance, this is fine with a stranger or someone you rarely see. But if it’s someone you see all the time, you have to be more direct. This isn’t to change the person so much as to get him or her used to the fact that you don’t like all the talking, and for them to not to consider you rude when you walk away. Also consider interrupting in order to introduce a new line of communication. Or go off on a speech yourself to get the point across!
Q: How do people feel being around over-talkers? Do introverts find them draining?
A. Yes, most people don’t like overtalkers and get drained and withdrawn. The challenge is to remain calm and minimally polite, but not to be overly worried about politeness. The rules are not the same here. Most overtalkers have no sense of what they’re doing because they’ve been enabled by people who won’t say, ‘Enough already!’
Q: What are some actual sentences, phrases, or actions people can employ to ‘get out of the clutches’ of a big talker? Is there a tactful way to tell them how you feel about their talking?
A. ‘Well, OK — it has been great! Got to go now.’ It’s as simple as that. Use a tone of voice that isn’t defensive and conveys you’re OK with what you’re doing. You’re entitled to your time. Someone told me once, ‘Don’t let others steal your time.’ Time is precious—the most precious commodity of all, because it can never be replaced—so don’t let another steal it from you. If you really and truly believe this, you’ll be convinced you’re not obligated to stay in a conversation any longer than your interest requires. It’s phony and hypocritical to pretend interest when it’s not there. How polite is that?
Q: Can it be helpful to start talking about yourself, something about which they may have no interest?
A: It’s worth a try, if for no other reason to get the point across, especially if it’s someone with whom you regularly have to spend time.