How to Deal With People Who Just Won't Stop Talking (2024)

How to Deal With People Who Just Won't Stop Talking (1)

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You’re trying to get out the door after a long day at work, and your boss decides to start chatting with you about the latest gossip out of Hollywood. You’re not really all that interested in the first place, but it’s your boss, and you don’t feel you can easily ease yourself out the door. Or perhaps you’re at a family gathering, and you’ve been seated next to a relative you really adore, but who tends to maintain a conversation that’s almost entirely one-sided. You can’t get a word in edgewise, and your relative hardly seems to notice.

When we get stuck in these predicaments, it would be nice to have a go-to strategy to get out. These situations certainly derive from the personalities of the people involved, as well as your relationship to them. This makes your choice of a strategy a tricky one, especially when you don’t want to offend someone important to you, such as your boss or your aunt.

A new approach by Oslo and Akerhus University’s Carsta Simon and UC Davis’ William Baum (2017) uses principles of Skinnerian conditioning to analyze the conversational exchanges between communication partners. Seeing communication in terms of “verbal behavior,” the international team decided to see how reinforcement patterns create and maintain these uneven patterns in which one person dominates an interaction.

As the authors note, “Humans’ talking occurs as a stream whose functional units vary greatly in duration” (p. 259). They believe that because organisms constantly make choices based on the reinforcement they receive for whichever choices they make, it should then be possible to “uncover lawful relations in people’s communicative exchanges in conversations” (p. 259). In other words, do people monopolize conversations because we let them do so? And could we change the reinforcers we provide to them so that they’ll make the choice to stop talking?

Ordinarily, organisms — including ourselves — will match their behavior to the available reinforcers. If they persist in behavior that fails to get reinforced, this is called “undermatching.” You might instead “overmatch,” or keep responding at a greater rate than would be expected in favor of the choice that produces the desired result.

Earlier researchers used this approach to analyzing how what people said in an experimental setting would change according to whether they were reinforced (agreed with) by their conversation partners. The data from this study didn’t consistently follow predictions of the matching principle.

With human speech, not only verbal but nonverbal behavior can enter into the equation. You can show agreement by nodding as well as by saying you agree, and this might alter how the person speaking to you then behaves. When your conversation partner is exceptionally long-winded, you might hope that looking away, shuffling your feet, or heading toward the door (if possible) would send out signals to stop talking. However, you may be inadvertently keeping the reinforcement going in other ways that you don’t realize.

The international collaborative team in this study tested their model on a set of 9 native German speakers who were paired with 2 research “confederates,” purportedly other participants, but who were actually part of the experimental design. The confederates were young adult women who looked very similar, and the conversation was led by a “moderator” who was actually the experimenter (a male). The verbal behavior of the actual participants was compared based on whether the confederates agreed with their statements, and whether they looked at them or not while offering their supportive responses.


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Contrary to their prediction, the amount of speech uttered by the participant had no relationship to whether the confederates provided reinforcement (i.e. agreement) with or without an accompanying eye gaze. All that mattered in predicting the length of the participants’ responses was the length of the confederate’s utterances. The participants were more sensitive to how much the confederates talked, but not whether they offered agreement.

As the authors stated, “the participant was trying to draw the more taciturn confederate into the conversation, perhaps out of courtesy” (p. 273). This situation represents the opposite of what happens when you’re wishing someone would speak less, not more. Whether you offer agreement just to get the conversation over with, or avert your eyes from the other person’s gaze, seems to matter less than how long you actually end up speaking.

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Perhaps it’s occurred to you that this experimental setup, in addition to being somewhat artificial, involved two and not three people. When you’re trying to extricate yourself from a single conversation partner, the dynamics may differ. Also, because the confederates were following a script in terms of what they could and could not say (i.e. they could only offer approval or not), the situation further differs from real life. You may feel that if you’re the quiet one in a group of three, no one will notice if you contribute to the conversation or not, as long as the other two are doing all the talking.

Given these factors, there still appears to be value in this carefully controlled approach to studying people’s talk, or “verbal behavior.” Because you undoubtedly want people such as bosses and beloved family members to like you, it’s improbable that you would do anything but agree with them. Fortunately, the results of this behaviorally based study say that this won’t make any difference in altering how much they speak. Nor should you try to interrupt a lengthy monologue. The Simon-Baum study showed that people will talk less when they sense that others in the conversation are being unusually quiet. Resisting the urge to interrupt, even to offer agreement, may be the best way to signal that it’s time for the other person to quit.

As I noted in a previous post, being able to go with the conversational flow is an important way to keep your relationships working well. If you want to stop the other person’s flow, you can signal your desire to end the conversation by ending your contributions to it. You can still have a fulfilling relationship with verbose friends and relatives, but one that will involve a more equitable balance of that flow.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2017


Simon, C., & Baum, W. M. (2017). Allocation of speech in conversation. Journal Of The Experimental Analysis Of Behavior, 107(2), 258-278. doi:10.1002/jeab.249

How to Deal With People Who Just Won't Stop Talking (2024)


How to Deal With People Who Just Won't Stop Talking? ›

Let them know upfront, you can have some talk time but then you have to get some rest or spend time reading,” says Dr. Tashiro. “Tell them you'll have to shift focus. It might seem rude, but it's incredibly reasonable.

How to deal with people that never stop talking? ›

Let them know upfront, you can have some talk time but then you have to get some rest or spend time reading,” says Dr. Tashiro. “Tell them you'll have to shift focus. It might seem rude, but it's incredibly reasonable.

How to deal with overly talkative people? ›

How to Deal With People Who Talk Too Much. Put a limit on it: Let them know you are only available to talk for a set amount of time, such as 15 or 20 minutes. It may help to remind them as the time gets closer to the end that there are only a couple of minutes left.

What is nonstop talking a symptom of? ›

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

“It's common to see compulsive talking in people with ADHD,” stated Atherton. “There's a feeling you do not have the ability to stop talking.” She noted that poor impulse control is an aspect of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder which can cause excessive talking.

Why do some people never stop talking? ›

Reasons for over-talking can be primarily intrinsic. Some people are naturally talkative, devotedly self-absorbed, or oblivious to the imbalance between talking and listening. But other reasons are primarily situational and can be identified and managed.

What does psychology say about a talkative person? ›

What is the psychology of people who talk too much? Psychologists believe that people who talk too much may be doing so because they are trying to compensate for feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem. They may also be trying to seek attention or approval from others.

How to set boundaries with someone who talks too much? ›

Right at the start of your conversation, express your boundary. Set a clear time limit on the interaction by saying something like, “There's something else I have to attend to at the top of the hour,” or “I want to warn you in advance that I can only talk for 10 minutes.”

How to tell someone they talk too much without being rude? ›

How to Tell Someone They Talk Too Much
  1. 1 Set some boundaries ahead of time.
  2. 2 Try a few visual cues first.
  3. 3 Bring up the topic in private.
  4. 4 Interrupt as politely as you can.
  5. 5 Say you need to cut the conversation short.
  6. 6 Address the issue in a clear, neutral way.
  7. 7 Try humor if you know the person well.

Why do some people never shut up? ›

There's not necessarily a right or wrong way to be, but some people love talking. They might like expressing themselves with a lot of details, or they might like proving their point with a lot of examples. Others simply enjoy arguing.

How to tell someone they talk too much? ›

Start the conversation with something like this: “I'm curious about something. Frequently when we're talking, you'll elaborate on a point three or more times. I notice it happening often enough that I started wondering about it. Please know that I love our conversations.

Why do I get overwhelmed when people talk too much? ›

You see, highly sensitive minds are often unable to absorb too much conversation, movement, and stimuli all at once. The combination can cause feelings of overwhelm, and we are unable to ground ourselves until we are able to retreat — even if only momentarily — and regroup.

What does incessant talking mean? ›

: in an unceasing manner : without interruption or relief : continually. talking incessantly. … still lived at home with his mother, who pestered him incessantly to get married … Walter Karp.

How to deal with someone who dominates the conversation? ›

4 Ways to Shut Down a Conversation Dominator
  1. Let the Conversation DOMINATOR know you (or others) need some of the spotlight. ...
  2. Stand up for yourself when a Conversation Dominator interrupts you. ...
  3. Become a Conversation Dominator yourself. ...
  4. Disengage from the conversation.

Why do people monopolize conversations? ›

Many people view conversations as simply a way to state their own opinion or tell their own story, and they feel no obligation to listen to the other person, writes King. This makes for an unrewarding experience for the other person, who feels unimportant and unheard.

How to deal with people who dominate conversations? ›

4 Ways to Shut Down a Conversation Dominator
  1. Let the Conversation DOMINATOR know you (or others) need some of the spotlight. ...
  2. Stand up for yourself when a Conversation Dominator interrupts you. ...
  3. Become a Conversation Dominator yourself. ...
  4. Disengage from the conversation.

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