How to Deal With a Long-Winded Work Colleague

When we’re constantly on the receiving end of emails, text messages, and countless other interruptions, we eventually reach a saturation point and can’t take in much more information. Unsurprisingly, the best way to stand out and grab someone’s attention is to be as brief and simple as possible. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues don’t always understand this.

We’ve all been there: you’re on a tight deadline and need a simple yes-or-no answer from a co-worker, but you get a twenty minute diatribe instead. Excessive talkers are interested in showing off what they know, rather than engaging in effective communication by providing essential insights to their conversation partner. Long-winded colleagues may seem like a minor annoyance, but they hinder productivity by monopolising your time. While you may not want to appear rude or damage your working relationship, addressing a coworker’s verbosity can actually improve your rapport by moving from one-sided monologues to real conversations. Here are some tips for handling long-winded coworkers politely and professionally:

See If There’s a Pattern

Take note of when your culprit tends to dominate the conversation. Does it tend to happen more when there’s no formal agenda for a meeting? Or when you ask open-ended instead of yes-or-no questions? See if you can distinguish a pattern so you can change the conversation accordingly. When you approach your coworker, you can start with a white lie about having another meeting to get to, or even set an alarm to go off after a few minutes.

Learn How to Exit The Conversation

Determine whether a diplomatic or direct approach would be best. For someone you’re not as close to, you’ll want to err on the side of diplomatic, such as summarizing the key points they have made in their conversation and asking them a non-open ended question to wrap up.  However, some excessive talkers might not be able to pick up on subtle cues and a more direct approach may be necessary. You might need to interrupt the person if they won’t let you get a word in edgewise. Try raising your hand slightly and saying, “I’m sorry, I have to stop you there!” While you may be reluctant to interrupt someone, remember that you are responsible for how you spend your time at work, and you can’t hand that control over to someone else. If the person ignores your attempt to end the conversation firmly repeat yourself and make your exit.

Lead By Example

Setting limits and expectations is a great way to prevent an excessive talker from monopolizing the conversation. Personally commit to being brief by making - and sticking to - tight agendas for your meetings, and keep your own communications short and sweet. Also, be specific when asking coworkers to keep things brief. Try asking for a one-minute overview or for the three most important things about a given topic. If you have an especially good relationship with the person, or if they report to you, have a conversation with them about the importance of brevity. Tell them you’re worried that their lack of brevity is impacting them professionally, and offer to work with them on communicating more concisely.