Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 19;   May 13, 2015: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Power

Compulsive Talkers at Work: Power

by

Compulsive talkers are unlikely to change their behavior in response to your polite (or even impolite) requests. In this second part of our exploration, we consider the role of power — both personal and organizational.
A portion of The Art of War, written in Tangut script

A portion of The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, written in Tangut script. Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese military general, strategist, and tactician. He is thought to have lived from 544 to 496 BCE. His treatise on military strategy, tactics, and operations is influential even today, in the military domain, in business, in politics, and beyond. The photo shows a portion of a page of this treatise, translated into Tangut, a script used for several hundred years commencing about 1000 years ago.

A keen understanding of how people contend with each other in both military and non-military conflicts can provide significant advantages in addressing any interpersonal issue, including compulsive talking. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

To deal effectively with problems, we need both strategy and tactics. Last time we explored why the strategy of convincing compulsive talkers to change their behavior is unlikely to succeed. If the goal is to end the disruptions caused by the compulsive talker, and if we're unlikely to be able to convince the compulsive talker to stop, we need alternatives. Considering power relations can be illuminating.

In what follows, I'll call the compulsive talker Sydney, which (lately) is a gender-neutral name.

Relationship power
Sometimes a close friend adopts a pattern of talking compulsively. If your relationship with Sydney is of reasonably long standing, and if it's based on genuine friendship and mutual respect, you have a rare opportunity. You probably can't help Sydney resolve the issue, but perhaps you can help him or her decide to seek an experienced counselor.
Approaching privately, carefully, and respectfully, having asked for and received permission to offer advice, you can suggest that help would be, um, helpful. An approach from a position of caring might work.
Organizational power
Asking your supervisor to intervene is a promising option. If it works, the problem is resolved. But if Sydney is your supervisor, there is not much hope. You can try to bend conversations toward something more productive, but since Sydney's objective lies elsewhere, success is unlikely. Because Sydney's job performance is probably inadequate, eventual termination or reassignment is likely in Sydney's future, assuming that Sydney's supervisor is not also compromised somehow. Still, the only sure path to relief is to make a change yourself.
The case in If your relationship with the compulsive
talker is of reasonably long standing,
and if it's based on genuine friendship and
mutual respect, you have a rare opportunity
which Sydney isn't your supervisor, but is instead someone else with organizational power, is another difficult one. Again, for analogous reasons, your supervisor is unlikely to assist effectively, if at all, and making a change yourself is the most promising approach.
Abuse of power
Finally, there is the repugnant possibility that what seems like compulsive talking is actually sexual harassment. Such behavior is frequently, in essence, abuse of power. If the behavior is harassment masquerading as compulsive talking, it's likely that Sydney spends so much time talking to you not because of a need to talk, but rather as an inept but well-concealed attempt to initiate a sexual relationship.
If this is a possibility, seek advice from a Human Resources representative. But beware. Merely seeking such advice, let alone lodging a complaint, can invite retaliation. Prepare concrete evidence: journal entries logging dates and times of incidents; direct, incriminating quotes; and willing witnesses who can corroborate your assertions. The more powerful Sydney is, the more dangerous it is file a complaint. It would be wise to seek legal advice before taking such steps.

We'll consider the most common case — peers or near-peers who talk compulsively — next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers 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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrensOfTwMtSOWPSaPoFner@ChacRczrZPqtmYolIeFAoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Conflict Management:

Thumbs downRecalcitrant Collaborators
Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments, other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant, what can we do?
A New England stone wallThe Advantages of Political Attack: III
In workplace politics, attackers have significant advantages that explain, in part, their surprising success rate. In this third part of our series on political attacks, we examine the psychological advantages of attackers.
President Barack Obama with Stevie WonderWhat You See Isn't Always What You Get
We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the groundNew Ideas: Generation
When groups work together to solve problems, they employ three processes repeatedly: they generate ideas, they judge those ideas, and they experiment with those ideas. We first examine idea generation.
Caneel with a close friend (me)Why Others Do What They Do
If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Prof. Tom PettigrewComing February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJxqnYdofQVLpRKWnner@ChachWgEqOpwGfCjuSFjoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.