Overtalking: Part I
by Rick Brenner
Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?
Bull elk antler sparring for dominance in their herd. The larger bull elk is certainly winning in this contest for who is strongest and deserves the right to rule the herd. This is a common occurrence when the female and male Elk are in rut. The configurations of antlers vary from bull to bull, but most configurations are such that the bulls can easily disengage once locked. From time to time, though, two bulls can actually lock antlers in a way in which they cannot disengage, and that event can lead to the deaths of both.
Overtalking can be analogous to antler-locking. Usually the combatants find ways to disengage, but any particular pair might view the engagement in ways that make disengagement impossible for both.
Photo and caption courtesy ForestWander.com.
Those absolutely determined to dominate a conversation sometimes resort to overtalking, which is the tactic of intentionally beginning to speak, or continuing to speak, to prevent others from speaking or to make them stop if they're already speaking.
We sometimes characterize such people as overtalkers. This is most unhelpful, because it reduces the person's humanity to a single dimension — their overtalking. When we speak in terms that disregard the personhood of others we make it easier to employ abusive, disrespectful tactics in our attempts to deal with the overtalking behavior. So Step One in dealing with someone who overtalks is to realize that their overtalking isn't a full description of their humanity. If it were, attempts to persuade him or her to take a different approach would be futile.
People choose overtalking for a variety of reasons. Here are three examples:
- Overtalking is sometimes seen as necessary, though not necessarily effective, when dealing with overtalking. Tit-for-tat usually results in two people talking at each other, desperately trying to focus on what they themselves are saying, to avoid being confused by what the other person is saying. To accomplish this, they sometimes find it necessary to talk increasingly loudly.
- Life patterns
- Some people were reared in family environments or in cultures in which overtalking was a common pattern of conversation. They see overtalking as part of normal, human conversation. To some, reluctance to overtalk suggests weakness or lack of commitment to one's own beliefs.
- Overtalking can be a tool employed by those who want to bully others. People who use it in this way probably believe that overtalking is disrespectful. They engage in overtalking, in part, because they believe that their targets will feel disrespected.
Overtalking is expensive to the organization. Here are some examples of the costs it imposes.
- Reduced productivity of meetings
- Because overtalking Some people were reared in
family environments or in
cultures in which overtalking
was a common pattern
of conversationprevents people from clearly hearing what's being said, it impedes the free exchange of ideas, which reduces the productivity of meetings. But worse than that is the confusion that can result when someone misunderstands what was said during the overtalking, or fails to hear it at all.
- Increased risk of toxic conflict
- Frustration arising when someone talks over another person, coupled with a sense of being disrespected or even violated, can easily lead to hurt feelings and ruptured relationships. This makes fertile ground for toxic conflict.
- Intimidation effects
- When one person in a meeting repeatedly uses overtalking to prevent others from contributing, others are likely to adopt a lemme-outta-here stance. They decide that the experience of being overtalked is so repugnant that they try to limit their risk by speaking only minimally, or by not speaking at all. This deprives the meeting of their contributions, which can lead to distorted results.
What can we do about overtalking? That's the topic for next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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See also Conflict Management and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
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