You know the conundrum: You’ve listened as someone has droned on and on about a recent ski trip or conversation with their partner or point of political tension, and you’re basically running out of “yeah, totallys”—but you also don’t want to risk coming off as rude. Maybe the talker is a friend who you suspect would take offense to a quick exit from the conversation, or perhaps you’re physically stuck with the person on a plane or while waiting in a line. In any case, learning how to deal with an overtalker is as much about your perspective and response as it is about their seemingly endless monologue.
While your initial reaction might be one of annoyance or utter exasperation, it may be helpful to take a beat and consider why this person seems to be talking so much, says Deborah Tannen, PhD, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. (Because, no, it isn’t always an outsized ego at play.) “It’s important to keep in mind that some people ‘overtalk’ because they're nervous, and the more they find themselves doing so, the more nervous they become,” says Dr. Tannen.
Similarly, a person with social anxiety may feel the need to fill all silences with words, or worry that you won’t start talking when they stop (and so continue to speak). Or, if the person appears to be rambling, speaking quickly, or increasing the volume of their voice as they pick up steam, what you perceive as overtalking could actually be a sign of pressured or hyperverbal speech, which are sometimes symptoms of mental-health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and generalized anxiety. In these cases, the person may not even realize what’s happening until you gently pipe up (more on that below).