How do I deal with motormouths?
June 16, 2010 11:29 PM   Subscribe

I think I am a decent conversationalist and try to be a good listener. Sometimes I will run into someone who consistently talks up a blue streak, making it hard to get a word in edgewise. And even when I can, I'm often more inclined to ask questions than to speak in rapid-fire paragraphs of my own. The problem is that this doesn't give the other person much of a feeling for my own personality and ideas. In first-date or professional settings they may not be left with much of an impression of me at all. I don't really dislike people like this but I wish I could connect with them better. What should I do? Try to match their loquaciousness? Keep doing what I'm doing? Something else?

A related problem is when I'm talking with two people who are like this, and then it is even more difficult to get a word in edgewise, and I am quickly forgotten. How can I stay a good listener while actively participating in a group full of people who aren't?
posted by rwatson to Human Relations (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I find that people like this don't remember the personalities and ideas of others; they remember how talking with the other person made them feel. Many motormouths (aka people too inconsiderate to hold a proper conversation) I've met don't even seem to listen to the words I squeeze in because they're too busy waiting for their turn to talk again.

Talking more isn't really going to solve this. Avoiding these people is one option, and the other is making them feel fascinating. They'll think of you fondly.
posted by sallybrown at 11:52 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Really, these people don't want to be left with an impression of you. They're not involved in a conversation; it's a monologue, and you're the audience . And when you're in that situation with two non-stop talkers, you're seeing the conversational equivalent of two goats butting heads. They'll get louder and louder and more animated until one of them backs down and lets the other dominate.

If it's a professional occasion, you might just have to be politely persistent. If you've got something you need to say, wait for them to finish a sentence or take a breath, then just dart in quickly and start talking, as confidently as you can, and at the same volume they were using. If they interrupt, wait for the next little pause and try the same thing again. It might take three or four attempts, but eventually they'll realise they need to shut up and listen. With luck you'll be able to slot in a couple of sentences at that point. Repeat as required ad nauseum.

On the other hand, if the stakes are lower and you want to completely break their flow, just look away as if you've completely lost interest. At some point they'll catch on and stop talking. They'll probably think you're an asshole of course, but sometimes that's what you want.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:57 AM on June 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a colleague who has tendencies in this direction. Last week he was holding forth to me as we walked towards an elevator. He got in and failed to notice that I had stopped to pick up a book and not made it in time for the closing doors. As the elevator moved away I could hear him still making his point without noticing he was without an audience. So you could try that!

I look on the problem as a little bit like landing a large fish: if really you want to hold a two way conversation with motormouths then you need to let them exhaust themselves a bit first: give them 10-20 minutes to monopolise a topic of their choice before reeling them in to a balanced conversation.

Consider also what motivates people to do this: sometimes it is because they don't have many other people around to listen to what they are saying, sometimes it is because they are very excited about something and sometimes it is because they are nervous.
posted by rongorongo at 3:40 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

In first date settings, this person is telling you not to go on a second date.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:57 AM on June 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

You've described my brothers-in-law to a "T"; they also labor under know-it-all-ism, flaming arrogance and male answer syndrome.

Please, don't spend your valuable time with these types. They don't deserve your company, or your ideas. Find people who are willing to be "good listeners" to you.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:46 AM on June 17, 2010

Avoiding these people is one option, and the other is making them feel fascinating. They'll think of you fondly.

It hasn't been my experience that they think of me fondly. More like, not at all.

Maybe I should avoid these people for better conversationalists. However, sometimes dealing with these people is unavoidable and I feel like there should be some way to get through to them. They must have some sort of connection with other people, right? I think this even more when their motormouthiness might be a result of temporary nervousness or excitement.
posted by rwatson at 8:09 AM on June 17, 2010

I came in to say something along the lines of what rongorongo said: sometimes it is because they are very excited about something.

I may be in the minority here, but I tend to gravitate toward motormouths in my personal life -- I appreciate the thought they've given and energy they bring to discussing the topic at hand.

I've found a couple of techniques that help me "own" my part of the conversation. YMMV.

First, I truly think about what the other person is saying and I (try to!) ask compelling, insightful questions. I know you say above that you do ask questions but that it "doesn't give the other person much of a feeling for my own personality and ideas." I've actually found the opposite to be true -- as Claude Levi-Strauss said, "The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions." Anyone who is actually thinking about what's coming out of their mouth will appreciate the fact that you are also engaged in thinking about what they're saying.

Secondly, I'm not afraid to interrupt. I know, I know, our mothers taught us that interrupting is rude. But I also think carrying on a monologue is rude (even though I may love the person and be fascinated by what they're saying) so I just say screw it, and dive in whenever I want.

I know it can be frustrating, but being more assertive is the only way to hold your own in these types of situations.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a friend like that, a really masterfully skillful motormouth. If he's on the phone, he's unbeatable. I really, really try to respond to something or make a point, but he's so good with his flow that it's as if he's not breathing or has an extra lung somewhere; but it's more than that - it's his intonation and emphasis, in all the right places, just as you think he's making a point and a natural rhythm of conversation would be to take a brief pause, he dramatically raises his intonation with a new point so that it's impossible to interrupt such an "important" moment and he's off and running again, and he can keep it up like a high-wire act for an hour straight. If there were some kind of Olympics in motormouthing, he'd be a legendary gold-medallist champion for the ages.

The thing is, though that he's a very smart guy and I actually like interacting with him. And it's possible to do so in person, because I can use facial expressions and gestures as I finally get in a point. On the phone, there are no such tools, so sometimes if I really have to do something, I just put the phone down on the table or wherever, do my thing, he keeps talking without realizing that nobody is listening, and I can pick it up again as if nothing happened. I once went to the grocery store and came back half an hour later and picked up the phone again without missing a beat.

In person, the trick is to steer the conversation in the direction you're interested in. If the person is interesting and smart, as my motormouth friend is, there's no problem - let them talk, I like it. The other trick is to have something of value to contribute - which will happen with a subject that's of interest to you - and in my experience, the motormouth will then also be engaged in what you are saying.

Bottom line on how to deal with a motormouth: 1)avoid the phone as much as possible 2)be ruthless in picking the subject of conversation 3)contribute stuff the motormouth and you are both interested in.
posted by VikingSword at 10:05 AM on June 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

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