The Friendship Doctor

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5 Tips for Handling an Incessant Talker

When you're totally bored, don't feign interest

Have you ever sat down for lunch with a friend who talks non-stop---without giving you the slightest chance to get a word in edgewise? You begin to feel like you turned on a TV set, helplessly trying to interact with a very boring re-run.

Your friend tells you every trite detail of what has transpired since the last time you were together and then, without skipping a breath, reaches further back into the past and tells you stories you've already heard. Your friend's speech is pressured and feels unrelenting.

If you like the person well-enough to want to remain friends, here are five tips for making that lunch easier to digest:

1) Try interrupting periodically

Don't feel shy about changing the topic, or directly asking your friend to slow down or stop for a minute so you can have a turn to speak. Given the situation, it isn't rude or impolite. If you're lucky, you may startle the heck out of your friend, disrupt a pattern of one-way conversation, and seize an opportunity to speak and be heard.

2) Be cautious about inadvertently encouraging more of the same

When you're totally bored, don't feign interest by asking questions or giving the yakker other types of positive feedback, perhaps in the form of head nods or ah-ha's. If you look disinterested or glance at your watch, the talker may slow down.

3) Don't label or call the person names

Yes, your friend is probably self-centered, narcissistic and insecure---but if you mention this, the person will only become more defensive, and it may exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. Remember, you're at lunch, not at therapy or a coaching session and you have the right to expect reciprocity.

4) Identify "not being able to get a word in" as a problem for YOU

If you are truly a good friend, tell your friend bluntly---but kindly---that you are feeling frustrated when you get together. Tell your friend that you need and want more give and take in your conversations. If you're lucky and your friendship is solid, the person may have a glimmer of self-insight.

5) If you can't change your friend's behavior, you may have to change your relationship

If your friend continues to drone on each time you get together, which is the most likely outcome, you either have to accept the person as-is---or downgrade the relationship: The incessant talker may actually be more tolerable and entertaining in small doses; or else, the intensity of the person's chatter might be diluted proportionately if you get together within a group of common friends instead of in a twosome.

If you do decide to call it quits, you'll recoup time to nurture other friendships with people with whom you can have more meaningful and balanced conversations. One more tip, don't' worry. The friend who talks too much will probably find someone else to listen. When someone talks incessantly, there's always a new audience within easy reach---friends, family, or colleagues.


What successful strategies have you used to handle an incessant talker?

 

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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