The phone rings. Caller ID flashes. I ask myself if I can give up another hour of my life listening to the predictable monologue that has no content and no end. I can't bring myself to answer. This happens often. The caller is a very nice lady, but she's a verbal-expression junkie. She doesn't want to email. She doesn't want to text. She wants to talk, and talk, and talk. I don't have the time or patience for these talkathons. My arm gets stiff from holding the phone in the same position, my ear hurts from having the phone pressed against it, and my brain eventually zones out. It's a defense mechanism that kicks in when it's reaching static overload.
She is just one of legions. I'm beginning to suspect that compulsive talking is reaching epidemic proportions. It's always been around, for sure. We've all known a few, but lately, it seems it's become ubiquitous. During any meal in a restaurant, I find myself sitting near another table where one diner talks nonstop. No matter if there's two at the table or a dozen. There's one constant transmitter dominating the conversation. Just today, I was standing in line at my bank. There were three tellers on duty, but really only two because a man who was delivering a monologue on the history of Macedonia rendered one of them inoperable. I'm serious. The history of Macedonia. The teller clearly wanted to end the misery, but didn't know how to do it politely. Meanwhile the line was growing longer, though I'm sure the King of Audio didn't care. For these types, the whole rest of the world falls away once they get going. All that existed for him at that moment was the perpetual motion of his mouth. The teller was reduced to nothing more than an ear. Those of us in line were extras on his stage.
The teller's inability to handle the situation, of course, worked to the blabbermouth's advantage. The poor teller clearly didn't want to be rude to a customer, but at the same time, he was eyeing the growing line of patrons who were not amused. I've watched the scene play out numerous times in grocery and drug-store lines as well.
There are techniques for managing these types. Many professionals who deal with people in the course of their work, such as doctors and teachers, have mastered them as a matter of survival. They are adept at firmly interrupting, taking control, and wrapping up the interchange. It's not as easy for many of us. For low-level employees like the bank teller and grocery-store clerks, being that assertive could result in a reprimand or even dismissal by their employer. Then there are the many who are too softhearted to chance hurting anyone's feelings.
It's also suggested that you try to get the problem talker to give an abbreviated version of whatever they're saying. Because their goal is to keep talking for as long as possible, they tend to include all details, relevant or not. I've tried it with several extreme talkers and have had no success. While they relate an incident that is seemingly endless, I've tried to fast forward by saying something like, "How did it turn out?" Or, "So what was the result?" In every case, the talkers paused for just a second, looked at me blankly, then picked up right where they left off. They weren't letting me off that easy.
You can attempt to set a time limit at the beginning of their onslaught by saying something such as "I only have 10 minutes." I've had very limited success with this one as well. The queen of hyper talkers in my life, the one who makes the others look like deaf mutes, will pepper her verbal carpet-bombing with "I know you have to get off of the phone" but continues to talk. This same tactic is used in many public meetings as well as both houses of the U.S. Congress. It's helpful, but there are still some who will continue talking after the timer has buzzed. In city-council meetings, I've fantasized about duct tape and the vows of silence taken by medieval monks.
In 1993 James McCroskey and Virginia Richmond of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, constructed a scale to identify the talkaholics among us. A score of 40 or above separates true compulsive talkers from the merely loquacious. Using this scale, a study done in 1995 found that roughly 5% of the population falls into the category of compulsive. Given the current glut of super-talkers, I'm wondering if perhaps that percentage hasn't risen since then.
There are explanations as to why compulsive talkers are compulsive talkers. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is thought to be a common cause. Another theory is it's a way in which these people reduce their stress and anxiety. From my own experience, I see attention seeking is a factor. Many of the problem talkers in my life appear to crave it. When they stop talking, they cease to be the center of the listener's attention. They must keep the chatter going. Content is optional.
Ironically, this compulsion can defeat itself. Talkers often frustrate their need to talk by losing people to talk to. People avoid them. Those who can't avoid them, tune them out. Many talk addicts are aware that they talk too much but are unable to stop and don't perceive it as a problem. Unfortunately, their problem is an even bigger problem for the rest of us.