We have all been in situations with people who seem to be talking at us instead of with us. They just open their mouths, take aim, and commence to rapidly moving their lips. It doesn't matter that we don't (or have the chance to) interact or interject, they just keep on going...and going...and going...never letting up or inviting us to join in on the conversation they are having with themselves at our expense.
Often times they are oblivious to the signals that we are sending which can alert them to the fact that we are uncomfortable with this unilateral conversation that we are imprisoned by. Obvious signs like the fact that they've been talking for the past 10 minutes and we have not said a word, or that our eyes are beginning to gloss over, or the fact that we are repeatedly yawning. These subtle hints don't seem to register with them.
If you find yourself in the shadow of a talking head there are some strategies you can use to alter the situation.
Before sharing some effective strategies on how to deal with talking heads, it's important that you understand some things about them. Talking heads tend to have brains; that's why they are so talkative. The real problem with talking heads is that they are too "heady" and usually lack emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.
Talking heads are not perceptive; if they were they would not be talking heads. Being perceptive requires you to seek out and filter information that you can use for your own benefit. Talking heads only seek to be heard; not understood. They bypass every opportunity to engage in a sincere, meaningful exchange of information which may lead to genuine bonding.
They are more concerned with sending information than they are with receiving it from others. In short, they like to hear themselves talk about themselves. Should the conversation deviate from their main topic of interest (themselves) they will find a way to magically segue back to it.
People who are interested in meaningful conversation not only invite, but require the participation of others. A talking head considers the participation of others during conversation an interruption in their stream of consciousness or dogged attempt to share every thought that pops into their mind.
Short-circuiting a talking head is not a task for the shy, reserved, or faint of heart. If you find your ears being held hostage by a talking head, what you may want to do is simply address the situation head on, with diplomacy.
Tell them that while you can appreciate how enthusiastic whatever topic is up for discussion (usually dominated by them), that you don't feel as though your point of view has been heard, and you would like to spend some time discussing it.
This calls attention to the situation and forces them to be quiet so that you can balance the conversation.
If the person is someone that you see on a regular basis and you have not brought the situation to their attention in the past, be honest, direct, and diplomatic.
Tell them that you really enjoy listening to their point of view, but you would like them to make a better effort at listening to improve your relationship for the future. This puts the onus of relationship building directly on their shoulders and serves as a call to action to cease talking head behavior.
Studies show that 7 out of 10 people who are accused of dominating conversations don't recognize it. It's like having bad breath: the person who has it is simply not as aware of it as the person they are talking to might be.
We all like to express things about ourselves and share personal information, but in order to ensure a proper balance - and eliminate talking head syndrome - we can employ the 60/40 rule. That's listening 60% of the time, and talking 40% of the time. If you go slightly over, then it's still 50/50.
You can also use the 60/40 rule as a ploy when dealing with a talking head who can't be rehabilitated. When they are in their "flow," ask them questions such as, "Do you want to know my point of view on that?" "Do you want my thoughts on...?" Eventually, they will realize that no, they don't know because they haven't shut up long enough to find out.
Talking heads exist in all areas of life. They can not be escaped in social settings or avoided in the workplace. Some may even reside with you in your own home. Hopefully this article will help you do a better job of dealing with them.
Gian Fiero is a speaker and author who lectures throughout the country.