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I have a co-worker who is a compulsive talker. He constantly interrupts others and hijacks the conversation, proceeding to talk endlessly if not interrupted in turn. If left to talk by himself, he will often ramble and even interrupt himself to start a new topic. I suspect that the roots may be stress, anxiety, or potentially some other undiagnosed condition.

He is very competent and makes very valuable contributions to our projects, to the point I would regard him irreplaceable in our team. However, during presentations and meetings his behaviour is a problem, since he never lets others finish their sentences and causes trivial meetings to turn into a fight for the right to talk.

He is aware that he talks too much and apparently has been told so before by other people. Sometimes when called out, he politely allows others to speak, but it doesn't always work. Moreover people who aren't aware of this characteristic of his simply don't dare to call him out.

Since he is an essential part of our team, it is evident that he needs to partake in meetings, but how should we do so that we manage to discuss everything and everyone manages to get their points through?

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  • Does this answer your question? How can one politely keep a coworker on topic?
    – gnat
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:45
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    Does this answer your question? How to equalize the opportunity to speak during meetings
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:45
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    While helpful, these questions are slightly different from my problem. The co-worker is on topic, so I don't need advice in keeping him on topic. However, he only presents his view of the topic and his points, interrupting everyone else. Also, unlike the person in "How to equialize the opportunity to speak during meetings," this co-worker is not dominating the conversation as a demonstration of authority. We work in a small research team in a university and no one has authority over anyone. This is also why I don't have much power to re-direct attention or chair our meetings.
    – Kenji
    Dec 10, 2019 at 20:52
  • Sounds like ADHD. there's a lot of existing lit relating to dealing with it.
    – dandavis
    Dec 10, 2019 at 22:25
  • Maybe the rest of you could raise your hand when you want to get a word in, in effect if you can't have someone else chair the meeting, then see if you can get this person to be an effective chair instead of a monolog. Or else see if you can get them to agree to have someone chair the meeting. There is a concept of a talking totem that you pass around and only get to speak when holding, but you probably don't need to go there. Or you could get a big gong and give everyone a mallet. Dec 10, 2019 at 23:06

4 Answers 4

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Five potential solutions:

  1. Use a talking stick. Whoever has the stick gets to speak.

  2. Have everyone agree to chip in $1 or 25 cents for pizza every time they interrupt someone else.

  3. Have him be the note taker

  4. Do a remote meeting where the software allows the host to mute whoever he wants.

  5. Give every meeting participant a nerf gun. Shoot whoever interrupts.

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    #4 is not professional at all nor nice thing to do. Dec 11, 2019 at 4:54
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    @KhalilKhalaf, I'm sorry, but if someone is interrupting someone else, muting the person disrupting the meeting is the nice thing to do. To be fair, you could even mute everybody and just unmute each person as it's their time to speak. If someone really needs to say something when someone else is talking, they can always type it in the chat window. Dec 11, 2019 at 5:56
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    Some great ideas. tbh, if they're in their own world talking endlessly then they might barely notice they've been muted the first few times and so #4 might not make much of a difference to their continued talking but at least the rest of the participants don't need to suffer. Extreme cases sometimes call for extreme measures.
    – ChrisFNZ
    Dec 11, 2019 at 7:48
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but how should we do so that we manage to discuss everything and everyone manages to get their points through?

If you are the meeting organizer, you need to stop your coworker when he begins to ramble and bring the meeting back on track. Remind him that time is limited and that the group would like to address all of the meeting points. If his behavior persists, I would warn him first and eventually stop inviting him to meetings.

If you are not the organizer, there is not much you can do other than speak to the organizer and ask if he could keep the meeting on topic and within the allotted time.

Since he is an essential part of our team, it is evident that he needs to partake in meetings

The purpose of a meeting isn't simply attendance. If this coworker is constantly derailing the meeting where all topics cannot be discussed, then they are of little value to the meeting.

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Assuming that you've asked them directly to make a conscious effort to give others a chance to speak during the meeting, from experience I'd recommend a few options:

  1. Keep completely silent and let them ramble on endlessly. Eventually they'll run out of breath or ideas or realise they're being a prat.
  2. Ask them to remind everyone what the agenda for the meeting is. If they say "It's not my meeting" then ask them "Are you sure".
  3. Stop inviting them to meetings or ask for them to be excluded. If people can't adhere to basic rules of ettiquette then they don't deserve to participate until they've learned how to behave as an adult.

For some people, even the most direct approach doesn't work.

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I am not going to mention more techniques since people already did that. I would say though, what is the part (as a manager), you can do yourself.

  1. You can train yourself to facilitate meetings in a more efficient way, find smooth ways to direct the conversation to another person or park topics that go off-track and not related to the meeting and take them outside.

  2. Give that person the feedback in private on how their behaviour is impacting others. P.S. be careful not to mix praise with critical feedback

E.g. A good feedback here stating the behaviour and impact could be: I want to give you feedback about your contributions in meetings, sometimes you interrupt people and you go for long without giving them the chance to talk, some people are more introverted and need their space and some seconds to pick it up and talk, otherwise, they might feel overwhelmed & they will refrain from talking in meetings and then disconnect from the rest of the team.

And you can of course wait for them to acknowledge the baheviour before you give some of the options like others mentioned in their answers.

What I wouldn't add to that "But don't be upset, your contributions are really amazing but bla bla bla". This would be really bad cause it would discredit the good part that you might be honest about since the person is only hearing what they think is bad.

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