Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 43;   October 23, 2013: Overtalking: II

Overtalking: II

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Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it happens, what can we do about it?
Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans Snyders

Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans Snyders (1579-1657). If a meeting has grown tolerant of overtalking, eventually, some meetings can degenerate into multiple overtalking conversations. The overall feel of such a meeting is not unlike the scene in this painting. Oil on canvas, circa 1645. Photo available at WikiMedia.

As we saw last time, overtalking is expensive. It reduces the productivity of meetings, it intimidates people into withholding their contributions, and it enhances the risk of toxic conflict, which can permanently disrupt relationships. Let's now examine how we can prevent overtalking, and how we can intervene when it occurs.

I'll use the name Oscar to stand for the person who engages in overtalking. And I'll assume that the meeting in question is one in which more or less the same group meets repeatedly. Here's a short list of actions we can take.

Adopt behavioral norms
Adopt norms of behavior that preclude overtalking. Mention overtalking explicitly, saying that it is a deprecated behavior pattern.
Recognize that overtalking is a performance issue
Treating overtalking as a performance issue is a short path to an effective resolution — if a resolution is accessible at all. Have a private conversation with Oscar. If that doesn't work, ask Oscar's supervisor for assistance. If that doesn't work, ask your own supervisor to deal with Oscar's supervisor. If that doesn't work, the chances of improvement depend on the behavior of the rest of the group.
Ask for help
Ask Oscar for Treating overtalking as a
performance issue is a short
path to an effective
resolution — if a resolution
is accessible at all
help in encouraging other meeting attendees to contribute. Explain that he can help by leaving space for others to contribute. If the overtalking comes from a place of eager earnestness, this tactic could be effective. If, on the other hand, the overtalking is a tactic employed to gain unfair advantage, or to abuse others, respectful requests for Oscar's help will likely fail.
Recognize that others play roles too
Dealing with problem behavior is everyone's responsibility. If overtalking has been effective for Oscar for some time, other attendees probably have contributed, either by not finding an effective way to deal with Oscar, or by not trying to deal with Oscar, or worse, by taking actions that exacerbated the situation. Have private conversations with those most willing to change. Suggest that if they ever feel that anyone else is overtalking when they're trying to speak, they can then ask the chair (or facilitator) to ask for order.
Facilitate
Most meetings do have someone in a designated facilitator role. If there isn't a formal facilitator, the meeting chair is the facilitator. Ensuring that the meeting is productive is the facilitator's responsibility. Because overtalking reduces productivity, the facilitator is responsible for intervening when overtalking occurs. When it occurs, the facilitator can say, "Excuse me Oscar, <someone-else's-name> has the floor." If Oscar continues overtalking, the facilitator can repeat the intervention. If Oscar continues after that, adjourn the meeting immediately, and take the steps described above for performance issues. If you can't adjourn, declare a ten-minute break, but adjournment is far safer.

Overtalking is generally unpleasant in non-overtalking cultures. Unpleasant though it might be, keeping your focus on the productivity you can gain by eliminating overtalking can help motivate you as you work through the problem.  Next in this seriesFirst in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Twelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: I  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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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