Overtalking: What is it and why do we do it?

Often articles on ‘talking too much’ focus on the listener; the long suffering ear at the end of the overtalker. This creates the impression that the listener is the one hard done by and the talker is the one who needs to change. But it definitely takes two to tango! And it certainly takes behavioural change at both ends of the communication spectrum to support an overtalker. It is also important to remember, there is gold scattered in the chatter and there is potential to reign in the meanderings to something more cohesive, disciplined and focused. Some of us just need more help than others…

Overtalking tends to be due to anxiety or hyperactivity. This frenetic pattern of communication is usually triggered by a sense of inadequacy that is often so deep-seated and habitual that an individual has little awareness they are overtalking or that it is driven by low self-belief.

Anxiety is usually due to a lack of self confidence, heightened self consciousness and a discomfort in social situations. This social tension triggers a stress response, also referred to a ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenalin and cortisol levels go up, heart rate and breathing increase. Blood is diverted into the muscles and away from the brain. The body thinks it's time to defend or run, not time to stop and think. Thus it leaves an individual in a greater sense of overwhelm and distraction; a sense the brain is not as sharp as it needs to be to articulate intelligibly and concisely. The more self conscious an overtalker becomes, the more anxious they may feel and the less able they are to regulate their stress response. It becomes a vicious cycle which can lead to greater periods of shutting down in some instances and overtalking in others. Quite an exhausting and debilitating experience.

Hyperactivity, in its extreme, is associated with the mental health condition Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But more generally occurs when people are feeling excited, nervous, or particularly happy and thus will chatter at a level that others find annoying and excessive. While an individual may come across as confident and socially adept, low-level anxiety still tends to sit below the surface.

Arrogance is also arguably a trigger for excessive talking when social understanding and awareness are low. An individual can be so self-focused they do not consider the audience they are interacting with. There is often a sense of ‘knowing best’ and needing to impart this knowledge in great detail to others. Arrogant over-speak can be curtailed by greater social awareness, increased self awareness and the application of a coaching approach whereby the over-speaker enables others to put their ideas forward first and respects what others have to say even if they have a differing opinion.

So how exactly does this excessive talking tend to manifest?...

Overtalkers tend to overshare on a particular point of their interest and provide detail and repetition that is of little interest or value to the listener. The overtalker tends not to pick up on the social cues that the listener has had enough and is tuning out.

Overtalkers may interrupt or talk over someone else as if they just can’t wait a moment longer to share their point. This leaves others feeling unheard and dismissed, giving the impression the overtalker is only interested in themselves.

Somewhat surprisingly overtalkers are often shy and introverted types. Introverts can be quite confused or offended when told they talk too much. What is actually occurring is that while they may not talk a lot in general and not at all in certain situations, when they are feeling comfortable and talkative they don’t shut up!

Overtalking can also be a valuable process of thinking out loud as a creative way to explore ideas and thoughts. Talking through options and bouncing ideas off others. The challenge is, not everyone thinks this way and can become overwhelmed by the constant stream of verbal sharing.

Overtalking may merely be an impulsive oversharing of whatever is top of mind at the time. It is a way of connecting with others; of making the effort to be social and not getting the balance quite right.

Most of us are guilty of excessive talking from time-to-time. It becomes overtalking when it occurs practically all the time!

Just being talkative means someone who is outgoing often has something to say or share, but they keep their responses relatively short and to the point so the listener feels engaged and interested rather than overwhelmed and drained. The socially appropriate talker seems to innately know when to interject and when to sit back and listen. They tend to be more relaxed in the conversation while the overtalker tends to be more anxious, talking fast and loud.

And for the record, both men and women overtalk!

Chronic talking can come from a personal sense of inadequacy and a need to overly justify or explain things as compensation. This can be highly frustrating for the person on the receiving end who may have just wanted a quick chat and really didn’t need a blow-by-blow breakdown of every detail. The overtalker needs to read the cues of engagement and apply discipline to stop over sharing.

So what can you do if you’re an overtalker? Here are some tips (I suggest you take a highlighter and mark the tips that most resonate and build them into your day):

  1. Start to be more mindful and aware of when you are overtalking.

  2. Look for patterns of occurrence: is it with particular people or types of people; certain circumstances or environments; times of day; your energy levels; emotional state and so on. Perhaps keep a diary so you can draw out the patterns over time to raise your awareness and thus your ability to prepare yourself in advance and catch yourself in the moment.

  3. Let others support you by calling you out when you’re in full swing or provide candid feedback afterwards.

  4. It’s okay to share and even vent, but start to be mindful of when you’re repeating the same story over again and stop yourself. Have a few questions prepared in advance or some generic questions for every occasion so that you can switch the conversation to the other person and use this as a trigger to stop yourself talking.

  5. Be aware of what you are thinking about when someone is sharing something with you. The overtalker will often want to jump in with a story about themselves. For example, if a colleague is sharing about their sick dog be mindful of not jumping to share a story about every sick dog you’ve ever owned. Instead respond with a question: “How are you coping?” “Are you okay?” Or a reflection: “He sounds like a beautiful dog. I’m sorry to hear he’s not okay.”

  6. Meditate to quiet the mind and practice focus.

  7. Exercise to manage stress and energy levels

  8. Get enough sleep to manage fatigue

  9. Drink enough water to keep hydrated, limit light headedness and keep the mind sharp.

  10. Eat a balanced diet at regular intervals to keep blood-sugar levels constant to avoid energy dips and distractedness throughout the day.

  11. Take notes as others talk to keep the attention on what they are saying rather than what you are thinking.

  12. Prepare talking points and stick to them in more formal settings.

  13. Get comfortable with silence. Take your time to respond. Get curious and interested in what the other person is talking about. Look to contribute to their conversation before turning the attention to your own agenda.

  14. An overtalker may feel they are not being listened to or heard. Thus the repetition and the continued talking as they seek to get their point across. If this feels like you then you need to look at ways of eliciting the acknowledgement you need. This could be as simple as asking: “Is that clear?” or “what are your thoughts on what I’ve just shared.” It might also require bold proclamations: “I’m not feeling heard.” or “I’m struggling to get cut-through.”

  15. Interesting versus useful – Ask yourself either before you share something or as you are speaking: Is this what they asked for? Is it necessary? Is it adding value? Is it relevant? What is my intent is sharing this? What is my intent in sharing this level of detail? Am I just getting caught up in an interesting story or is this actually of use?

  16. Reflect back over a conversation to check for relevancy and repetition. It could be helpful to record audio of a couple of conversations to play back and take notes. Check for questions asked, reflective listening, cutting people off etc.

  17. Breathe and pause…

The listener also has a duty of care in dealing with overtalkers. Listeners can often be passively aggressive or dismissive of the overtalker. An overtalker tends to take up more of people’s time than others do and more time than is required. Conversations can also be more complicated and frustrating, going off on tangents because the overtalker is bringing in too much information for what is needed. Listeners need to be more understanding and proactive in providing candid feedback and ongoing support to enable a change in habits.

Given an overtalker often has limited awareness of their impact, it may be helpful to communicate which bits of what they shared was helpful and relevant and which bits weren’t and how much was just repetition.

If we could all take a little time to support ourselves and support each other in improved ways of interacting, the world would be happier and less fraught, relationships would be more impactful and we’d all get a hellava lot more work done!

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