Monday, June 3, 2013

Chain-talking - Hazardous to Communication Health!

Do you ever find yourself stuck in a “conversation” with someone who is technically delivering a monologue? Have you ever tried to join a conversation or discussion that is being hijacked by one speaker? I call those individuals Chain-talkers and they can be hazardous to healthy communication.  Chain-talkers are people who talk nonstop with absolutely no awareness of whether listeners have any interest in what he or she is saying? People who somehow don’t need to take a breath and move so quickly between sentences that you can’t find a place to interrupt. Raise your hand if you know what I'm talking about.

The other day I attended a full-day symposium on communication. There was an interesting keynote address by a marketing/communication VP for a major organization. I very much appreciated her message since she spoke about how important it is for companies to lead with their value - a message I try to always express in my workshops and with my clients. She also spoke about the importance of story and how communication is enhanced by the telling of interesting personal, relatable stories. One of her final tidbits was advice on keeping your message brief.

 After her presentation, there was a break and several people crowded around her to ask an additional question or express their appreciation for her message. Because I really appreciated her message and respected her organization, I joined that group. As I approached, I saw that there was a gentleman engaging the speaker in a story or anecdote. I stood among seven other people waiting for an opportunity to connect with the speaker. Two minutes went by. The man continued to ramble on. Another two to three minutes went by. The speaker began to exhibit body language cues that would indicate to most people that she was anxious to move on. Her body and feet were pointing away from this gentleman. She broke eye-contact with the man and made eye-contact with me and several other people waiting. He jabbered on. She touched his elbow in a way that indicated that she was amused but ready to end the connection. And still the man spoke on.

The other audience members waiting began exhibiting body language cues of their own – deep sighs, eye-rolling, sharing furtive exasperated glances. The irony  of this happening at a  symposium for communication experts was not lost. And the fact that one of the last things the speaker talked about was brevity was beyond ironic. SO… I took a deep breath, engaged my diaphragm which enabled my “big girl” powerful voice, extended my hand, stuck it into the crowd and said “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation.” There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone waiting. The tension had been broken. The chain-talker was forced to stop and acknowledge the interruption. The speaker was relieved and engaged with me thus breaking the chain that was binding her to him and two of the women who’d been waiting gave me a relieved thumbs up.

Afterwards, those two women, a gentleman and I spoke about the incident. The two women posited that it was a male/female thing. That because he was a man, the women were less willing to break in and/or because he was a man, he was less sensitive and aware of how he was inconveniencing the other people waiting. And because he was a man he was less likely to be able to pick up on the nonverbal cues the speaker was displaying.
 I’m not  sure that this was 100% a gender issue. I have met chain-talkers of both genders. In my experience, chain –talkers fall into 3 different categories; The Narcissist, the Fact-ician, and the Oversharer.

 We all have met narcissists, people who feel like every word coming out of their mouth is brilliant - funny, informative, intelligent (fill in the blank) and that everyone is excited and interested in hearing that brilliance. They have most likely used up the patience of their nearest and dearest and are therefore eager to find a new set of ears to enthrall with their monologues.

The Fact-ician chain-talker, is a person who happens to love facts, data and research and has the unique ability to retain all the information that he or she knows on a given topic. They know most people are not like them and are fuzzy about facts and details and they therefore feel that it is their obligation to dump all of that data on whomever happens to ask the simplest question.

The third type of chain-talker, the Oversharer, is similar to the Factician except that instead of facts and data, the Oversharer shares personal information and minute descriptive details that have no interest to the listener and no relation to the topic they are speaking about. They overshare because they feel that they will not be fully trusted or understood unless the listener knows every last detail about them.

Although these three types Chain-talk for different reasons, they all share an inability to pick up on non-verbal cues and gauge the interest level of their listener.

When you find yourself being shut out because of a chain-talker, feel free to do as I did – put on your best Barry White voice and interrupt them, steering the attention and conversation in another direction. No need to wait for a breath or a pause because there probably won’t be one.

And if, like the speaker, you find yourself directly trapped by a chain-talker, here’s what you can do: (frankly, I’m surprised our marketing/communication VP did not do this) Smile brightly at Mr. or Ms. Chaintalker and say: “I’d love to continue this but in the interest of time, I need to move on.” Or “This sounds like a great story but there are other people waiting. Maybe you can email me the punchline”  Or “WHAT PART OF MY TIPS ON BREVITY DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND??” (Okay maybe not that)

I'd love to hear your thoughts and questions. If you’re wondering how to cure yourself or others from Chain-talking… stay tuned. That’s for another post.

BONUS: For those of you who have read my book, Standing Ovation Presentation or taken my Discover Your ActorType Quiz, which ActorTypes do you think produce the Narcissist, the Factician and the Oversharer?  The first three people to post the correct answer get a complimentary 30 minute phone consultation!


  1. This was a great post!I will use this. People tend to want to tell me their stories and I love to hear them. I really do! But sometimes having a way to break the chain-talking at inappropriate times with class is a great skill to have. Thanks!


  2. Chain talker. I married and divorced one and I always felt it was an extreme measure for attention. He would get upset if you interrupted him and over shared to the point of being embarrassing for me. I'd have to say he was a villain simply because he trapped people and tortured them! Actually he fits the Super hero category more. The need for attention.

  3. LOVE your comment! (Sorry it took me so long to respond!) So true, sometimes it is the only way they have learned to get attention. You're right, they feel like Villain's to the listeners but they are usually too clueless about how their chain-talking tortures people to be doing it on purpose. Thanks again for your feedback!

  4. Worked with an Oversharer for 6 years.Torture. When she started to drag me into her personal drama, I firmly requested no oversharing of personal info. Once she was ignored I was called the villain and she resigned. Fortunately for me, all those who knew her and had to endure her oversharing did not believe I was the villain.


Thanks so much for your comment!!