We all have been to meetings in which there is someone who has lots to say, and others are not saying much. No one knows what to do. It’s not that this person is trying to be dominating; they are just talking or thinking out loud, or they don’t have their thoughts together.
The dominant talkers know that they talk a lot. They know that they often go first and most of them know that there is value in letting others share. They are simply well practiced at talking. So help them and help others in the room. Remedy the situation by following these steps.
Step 1: Stop them. You will need to interrupt them. This can be the hardest part. Less experienced facilitators might wait until there is a lull or a thought is completed. That could take a long time if the person is on a tangent or thinking out loud. If you have been able to remain in a neutral position and found yourself thinking,“I wish this person would stop talking,” you are not the only one in the room thinking that. When it’s valuable to the group for a person to stop talking, then you must find a way to stop them sooner rather than later.
When I’m leading, I will often use the word “pause.” A colleague of mine uses the word “stop.” You can also use some kind of body language, like in the earlier story where a colleague acted as a traffic cop in order to redirect emotions.
“Can I pause you right there?” or “Let me pause you.” “Hold on. Stop right there.” (Be attentive to your tone—it will have a huge impact.)
Step 2: Affirm them if you can do it genuinely. Faking is not allowed.
- “Thank you for sharing.”
- “Thank you for being so forthright with your thoughts.”
- “Jake, I love how you can think so quickly about new material.”
Step 3: Reflect what you heard, using the tools of reflective listening. If you want to be sure they don’t keep going, use a short Verbatim reflection. “I heard you say . . .”
Step 4 (optional): Invite the group to respond to what the speaker said.
“Let’s see how others respond to what you are saying.”
“What do others think about what Jake is saying?”
Sometimes with very chatty folks, you need to introduce Step 4 before you actually do Step 3. That might sound like this with all the steps:
Jake “I think that American history clearly says why we are here. You must know what has happened in the past to be able to predict the present. In addition, what it says is . . . We should have known this was going to happen. There has always been some group of people that we oppressed: the Native Americans, the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Jews. And yet . . .”
You “Hold on, Jake. Thank you for sharing. I want to also see what others are thinking about what you said and the original question. You are saying that American history could easily predict this present moment. Okay, folks: what are your thoughts?”
In addition, if acronyms are helpful for you to be able to do this, use SARR: Stop, Affirm, Redirect, Respond. When fear arises over stopping someone, it has been helpful for me to remember two things:
- The talker is okay with it.
- The rest of the group will be grateful for your actions.
If you feel like they have talked too long, the rest of the group feels it, too. The health of the whole group is at risk if you let them continue. It is all right to interrupt them from a loving space.
Above is a chapter called: Managing the Overtalkers from the book Ask Powerful Questions by Will Wise. Learn more about the book and ways that it can transform everyday, “How are you?” questions into powerful opportunities for growth and connection here.
WiLL WiSE has over two decades of experience custom building leadership programs for corporate and nonprofit groups. He has earned a reputation as one who can transform groups and people into their best selves. Tens of thousands of people have been empowered with positive communication skills after spending some time with WiLL and We!™ Most recently, WiLL has also added author to his list of accomplishments with the release of his new book, Ask Powerful Questions.