It started out as a great dinner aboard a cruise ship even though all six of us gathered around the table had never met. I take that back: There were alliances. My husband and I. We’d met the other married couple briefly the evening before. And the other two women who joined us were traveling together with a group from Australia.
“Mind if we join you,” Carly said, as they sat down with us. We welcomed them to the table, introduced ourselves all around, traded basic information, and then the amusement began.
Carly talked non-stop through a four-course, two-hour dinner. We learned about such things as her daughter’s divorce, her daughter’s job in Singapore, her utility expenses, the cost of education in the various countries where she’s lived, solutions to poor education in the world, compulsory voting in Australia, the tours she taken, diets that work.
The waiter delivered and picked up her shrimp cocktail appetizer untouched, delivered and retrieved her arugula salad still intact, delivered and removed her lamb entré with only two bites missing, delivered and removed her crème brulee untouched. She did manage to sip the hot tea between sentences.
My husband later called it amazement. The other couple simply looked stupefied and weary, until they left the table with this line: “We’re sorry to interrupt, but we’re going to have to leave now. We’re going back to our room to practice our Tango lessons.”
I called the dinner scene “amusement” earlier because I was already tired from a 12-hour tour day and was perfectly willing to sit quietly and let her have the floor. I became intrigued to see how long she could talk non-stop (seemingly without realizing that no one else was participating in the conversation).
But YOU may not be similarly amused when this happens to ruin your own party, and guests leave because they’re bored to death. Nor do you want these motor-mouths in your business meetings to sidetrack discussions.
Should you want to stop motor-mouths, here are six tips:
- Shift gears with a transitional phrase: When the person pauses, even slightly, be ready to change the topic with an appropriate transitional word or phrase: “Incidentally, that reminds . . . .” “You make a good point about X. I’m also concerned that …” “Let me add a point here…” “On the other hand, that’s not always the case. I’m thinking of what happened last week when…” “That’s one way to look at it. The other side is that…” Of course, when you break in with such transitions, do so confidently with a strong voice and engage others with your eye contact to bring them into the conversation as well.
- Call the motor-mouth’s name: Motor-mouths become more aware of others trying to enter the conversation when they hear their name called. Examples: “Jordan, let me jump in here with another advantage I see to the client….” “Carlos, what you’re saying reminds me of a couple of things we need to discuss while the group is together….”
- Toss the conversational ball to someone else: Stop motor-mouths on behalf of others in the group. That is, when you see one person dominating, save the day by intercepting the conversational ball and tossing it to someone else. “I understand your point, Kari. What do some of the rest of you think about how to spend the funds—good idea or not?” “Sounds like you’ve had a lot of great experience, Mike. Anybody else had a great vacation this year?”
- Ask a closed question: Asking an open question like “why did you” or “how did you” do something just spurs the motor-mouth into high gear. Instead, asked closed questions—those that can be answered in a word or two. Closed questions tend to bring them to agreement and closure.
- Use body language to turn off the flow: Break eye contact. Put on that expressionless face. Point your feet and body toward the door.
- Have a frank discussion: If all else fails and the motor-mouth continues to ruin your social events or meetings, a heart-to-heart talk is in order.
Let me know how you’ve been successful in stopping motor-mouths from sabotaging your parties or meetings. Comment in the box below.