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Overtalkers: Boars, Boors, and Bores
A Choice Example
Today I witnessed the most spectacular example of overtalking that I have ever heard. Overtalking, defined casually, is talking without regard for the contributions of others in the conversation. Going on and on and interrupting are the overtalker's M.O. The practices of an overtalker resulting in several outcomes for their victims, er, listeners: a) frustration; b) boredom; and c) wasted time. Overtalking is the practice of conversational steamrolling. Overtalkers, in my book, are those who proceed forcefully through conversations, offering anecdotes and advice, drollness and drivel alike, in varying doses, but uniformly, without any regard for the desire of others to participate in the conversation.
Overtalkers exhibit several behaviors:
- Either exuberance, bile, or disdain for their subjects (pun intended, and just pray you get the exuberant ones);
- Fidgetiness while someone else is talking, while they formulate their next volley;
- Inability to absorb information from conversations, primarily because they talk and don't listen; and
- Sociableness. They like to have listeners.
I have met these types in many settings: business meetings, fraternity parties, and the living rooms of my friends' parents. That last one is tricky. Most recently, my run-in was with a new friend of ours. Sadly, he may be relegated to the status of "social requirement" rather than "friend." He could not let a word in edgewise, and he didn't seem to have the ability to wait for others to finish. He's interesting at least, but then again, so were the other five people in our group, and not only would I have liked to hear from them, I also might have liked to comment now or then myself. Not being one to enjoy acting like a steamroller myself (see Tactics, below), I simply clammed up and drank up all of his wine.
This is a rant, to be sure—a vent. I just had to offer up the following choice example of social ineptitude (and some ideas, in hindsight). Before dinner, the overtalker in the spotlight here had mercifully stopped talking for a moment. In the blink of an eye, another clever guest jumped in with an interesting tidbit. Without blinking, our overtalker jumped loudly back in, to share what he was sure would be a well-received accounting of his IQ (not related to anything, and, sheesh, really!), with total disregard for the fact that his dinner guest was taking a long-awaited turn at contributing. When she didn't pause—bless her—and no one turned to acknowledge his interruption, he snorted and loudly complained how hurt he was that no one wanted to hear his story. I snorted, and nearly did a spit take; and that the most I had been allowed to contribute to the conversation in some time.
In Contrast: Civilized Conversation
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Tactics for Surviving an Evening with an Overtalker
Approaches for surviving a conversation with an overtalker must necessarily vary with your own personality. If you, too, are capable of conversational steamrolling, then go ahead, play chicken with the overtalker, and don't be surprised if the other people involved in your conversation simply vacate the arena.
I do recommend leaving. It's the most expedient approach. While you're leaving, convince a young child to say something like, "Gee, Mom, does he ever shut up?" Kids say the darndest things.
If you must stay and participate, then don't ignore the niceties. Take one of the following approaches:
- Be the asphalt. Don't even try to resist the steamroller. While you're busy not talking, help yourself to another glass of bubbly and enjoy the steamroller's share of the caviar.
- Be the seagull. Flap around the conversation, join the other victims in laughing when you can, amuse yourself with other antics when you must, and when you get a chance, squawk a little.
- Be a hawk. Soar thoughtfully overhead, observing the behavior and looking for the right opportunity. When your conversational prey exposes himself, dive in an make a deadly move. Interject the perfect comment, and it will not only give the others in the group a moment's silence, or laughter, but it will provide a junction point in which a brave soul can begin a digression. This will amuse the other victims, most likely, but probably won't ingratiate you to the overtalker so much. Who cares? He's already moved on with the next overwhelming torrent of words, full speed.
None of these is particularly comfortable. The best conversations involve give and take. My conversational style of choice is to be able to speak when it makes sense, and listen to everyone who's around. Learning to be a good conversationalist is a fine study, and easy to research informally. Many interesting books have been written on the topic, and examples are all around us.