Home > Ideas and Philosophy > Passive-Aggressive Techniques to Handle People Who Love to Talk

Passive-Aggressive Techniques to Handle People Who Love to Talk

Some people just love to talk; when you’re not in the mood to entertain such people, it can be very annoying.  In reflecting on how one could possibly deal with such annoyances, I’ve thought of some passive-aggressive techniques that can potentially help cope with such stress, among other things.

Here are some things that I think can be done to deal with people who love to talk when you’re not in the mood for them.

1. Maintain tension by going straight to business.

Some people employ small talk to lighten the mood before the start of a difficult meeting, as doing so helps to lessen the tension.  Be curt in your replies.  Don’t volunteer to share anything from your end or provide comments.  Be dismissive with comments like “Yes, that’s nice; can we start now?” or something to that effect.  This will obviously heighten the tension, but at least you make the point that you don’t want to waste any more time – just get straight to the business at hand.

2. Ask the person to repeat himself.

Some people have a bad habit of asking a question, and then following it up with long-winding side-comments or opinions, so much so that it’s easy to forget that he’s actually asking something from you.  If he really wanted to hear your opinion then he’d shut up as soon as the question is asked to give you the chance to answer, but it seems like he just loves to hear himself speak, or something.

Call him out: “Sorry, your question is very long and I actually lost the thought of what you wanted to ask.  Can you please restate your question in a straight-forward and concise way?”  And if you’re in the mood to risk starting a fight, then follow-up with “With all that you said, were you now able to answer your own question?”

On a side-note: I think there are a few TV journalists who are guilty of this.  When they interview someone, they ask long-winding questions; it seems they’re more interested to hear their own opinions than get the answer of the person they’re interviewing.  I wish these people would just shut up and let their interviewee answer their questions, which is the point of them being interviewed in the first place.

3. Explicitly plead for time to speak.

It’s hard to speak your mind whenever you find yourself in a group discussion with a number of people with dominant personalities.  Typically these people have a tendency to talk over others who aren’t as dominant as they are.  Sometimes it can be entertaining to watch dominant people attempt to talk over each other, especially if each party has a conflicting opinion about something.

If the discussion is happening in person then you can try to plead for time to speak by raising your hand to call attention that you want a chance to speak.  If this is happening online, then you can put a message in the chat window asking “Let me know when I can talk.”  For either case, two things could happen: Either they eventually stop talking and give you a chance to speak, or they ignore you and continue talking anyway, thereby making it obvious that they’re arrogant enough not to care to hear anyone else out; you win in either outcome.

If this is happening in a 1:1 discussion, then let the person talk and talk – and just wait it out.  Don’t even bother to attempt to interject.  When he asks why you haven’t responded yet, or he finally bothers to ask you what you think about what he said, then reply with “I was just waiting for you to finish speaking; can I talk now?”  If you’re in the mood to risk starting a fight, then also comment that “It looks like you were enjoying your monologue, so I didn’t want to stop you.”

4. Subtly fight interruptions.

I absolutely loathe being interrupted when I’m speaking.  Interrupting someone is one of the easiest ways to give offense because it shows you don’t respect the person enough to let him finish speaking.

Frankly, I don’t care who you are.  If you interrupt me while I’m still speaking then I automatically think you’re a JERK.  Interrupting someone who’s still talking sends the message that what you have to say is more important.  Perhaps it might be, but that’s not a reason to cut-off people who also have as much right to share what’s on their mind as you do.  Unless of course you interrupt because you just like to hear yourself talk; in this case you’re a bigger JERK than I originally thought.

When interrupted, you can respond in a few ways.  It helps if you know for a fact that the person you’re speaking to have a tendency to interrupt, so you can prepare in advance.

Approach #1: Answer the interruption – but don’t go back to answering the original question anymore.  This requires some planning: When you begin to reply, immediately state that you have a multi-part answer, and start to give it that way, i.e. “Number 1, blah, blah, blah; Number 2, blah, blah, blah,” etc.  When you’re about to start with the “Number 3” response, then get interrupted, then answer the interruption – but don’t go back to what you were going to say about “Number 3” or anything else thereafter.  Intentionally leave the original question hanging with a partial answer.  If the person was actually paying attention to you, then he’ll notice the awkwardness in the partial answer as a result of his interruption. Resume answering the original question only if you’re asked to do so, otherwise don’t go back to it anymore.

Approach #2: Ignore the interruption outright by acting as if it never happened; continue talking anyway, finishing what you wanted to say.  This will send the message that you can also play the other person’s game: What you have to say is more important than any interruption he makes.

Approach #3: Call him out: “You’re being rude – Please don’t interrupt me, I wasn’t finished with what I wanted to say!”

Speaking for myself, I hate people who interrupt to the point that I try to avoid talking to them as much as possible.  It’s better to prevent the annoyance from occurring than have to deal with it when it’s there.

5. Use talkative people to your advantage.

I’ve seen this work in a group discussion involving many people who love to talk.  A question is posed to me.  Someone who loves to talk knows the answer, and so speaks up and answers the question instead.  This is probably the only scenario where I don’t mind keeping quiet.  If someone knows the answer and is excited enough to provide it then I don’t stop him; he saves me the effort and trouble of answering.  Alternatively, you can ask the talkative person who knows the answer what he thinks of the question, and so he takes care of doing your job.

6. Apply non-verbal aggression.

If the discussion is happening in person then consciously use body language to show disinterest and / or disdain.  Look bored or look like your mind is somewhere else; give the feeling that you’re just providing the minimum amount of attention required at that meeting.  Sit like you’re ready to get up and go at any time.  Or sit back with arms crossed (signaling defensiveness and resistance) and a tense expression on your face.

Your options are limited when the discussion happens online, but you have options nevertheless.  Voice inflection can set the tone you want to convey.  Saying “I’m just waiting for you to finish speaking; can I talk now?” with a hint of annoyance that’s not too much such that you can plausibly deny it, should work.  It takes a bit of practice, but if you find yourself in an annoying situation often enough, then you’ll be able to master it.

For either scenario, you can also apply the minimum amount of attention required by doing something else, which ironically can actually be something productive, if you want.  For example, you can reply to e-mails while someone enjoys hearing himself speak; if he’s copied, then later on he’ll see that you weren’t paying full attention to him because while he was talking, you were busy doing something else, which happens to be work.  It will be a harsher slap in the face if you post stuff on social media, and he happens to see your activity coinciding at the time when he was busy talking.  And for what it’s worth, you could also use the time to take a break and just let your mind wander elsewhere – but not too far off since you still need to apply a minimum amount of attention; you might actually get some interesting, useful, and creative ideas during the time you’ve zoned out.

7. Either tell the person to shut up – or make him.

If all else fails, then do to them what they’re doing to you.  Explicitly state that you’re interrupting / stopping them; talk over them if necessary.  But if you do this, then be sure you actually have something good to say to make it worthwhile for them to shut up.  “I’m sorry but I’m stopping you there because what you’re saying is not going to work / it’s against our overall objectives, etc.”  If necessary, then also call them out: “Your arguments are long-winding; you’re not going straight to the point.”

Most of the discussions I have happen online these days.  If (1) this scenario applies to you, (2) the mute function is available for you to use, and (3) you’re in the mood to risk starting a fight, then mute the other person.  “I put you on mute because I need to say something, so listen up.”  Alternatively, if you don’t feel like doing that, and you’re annoyed as hell with the other person who keeps on talking, then just drop from the call.

If the discussion is happening in person then explicitly state that you want to talk; if that’s not likely to happen then excuse yourself and walk out.

Our time is limited, and for this reason we should go straight to the point.  If that means explicitly asking someone to shut up – or making them shut up – then that’s what needs to be done.

At the end of the day we all want and deserve some respect.  If supposed discussions with people turn into monologues on their part because they enjoy hearing themselves (and no one else) speak, then you’re not getting the respect you deserve, which is a chance to share what’s on your mind.  It’s also a waste of time on your end; if it’s all the same anyway, then “discussions” would best be handled via e-mail instead where responses can be asynchronous (i.e. read and reply as time permits – or not).  Be good to yourself by asking for and getting some respect.

These techniques will give some measure of coping; at the very least it will send the message that you neither have the time nor the patience to tolerate annoyances, and in this day and age no one has any time for that.

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Categories: Ideas and Philosophy

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