A good conversation is all about the back-and-forth; both parties listening and responding. If you’re with someone who tends to ramble on and on, however, that dialogue turns into a monologue. Here are a few tips for dealing with a Chatty Kathy or Mr. Chatterbox.
Helping someone to stop rambling isn’t always easy, but there’s only so much you can listen to before you can’t take it anymore. Notice how I said helping, however. As easy as it is to pigeonhole every rambler as someone who cares only about themselves, there’s a good chance they’re not even aware of it. Or maybe they are aware of it and would actually like some help to get better at keeping things short and sweet. So try to keep that in mind as you attempt to get the conversation back on track.
Stop Them Before They Get Started
If you know the person as a rambler, cut them off before it happens. If possible, get them to summarize, and more specifically get them to summarize how they feel about whatever the topic is. Have them go straight to their point instead of leading into their thought with supplementary information that’s not essential to the discussion.
Questions are a great thing to do in any conversation, and asking questions also let you steer the conversation in any direction you like. When you notice them begin to ramble, redirect them to another topic or issue related to what you were talking about. It re-enters you into the conversation and adjusts their train of thought just enough to stop their rambling.
Lastly, if you know them well enough, tell them they ramble. Remember, they may not actually know that they do it and may welcome some help. Be polite and explain that they have a tendency to say more than they need to. Express that you totally get them and that there’s no need for them to over-explain things.
Listen, Understand, and Interrupt Politely
If you can’t stop them right from the start—or you don’t know them well enough to try yet—you’ll have to prepare to shut them down. Listening may be the last thing you want to do when you’re wondering if someone will ever stop talking, but it’s pretty essential for this method to work. It’s important that you’re actually listening too—even if it’s far more pleasant to zone out and pretend you’re on a beach somewhere. Ignoring them can actually make it worse because they feel like they have to keep explaining or reiterating something in order for you to understand it, so do whatever you can to stay engaged. Show that you’re listening with visual and minor verbal cues, and do your best to understand what point they are trying to get across.
When you’re ready and a good moment arises, Diane Barth at Psychology Today suggests you interrupt them in the most polite way possible:
They might say, “No, no, I’m talking too much, you go ahead.” (Don’t get caught up in denying this truth out of politeness; it will just distract you both.) If they say, “Let me just finish this thought,” respond gently with something like, “Oh, I thought you had finished. Can I tell you what I heard you say?” …When you interrupt, be ready to say something about what you hear them saying. Don’t go for a deep psychological explanation. Something simple and to the point, but if possible, something that reflects something positive about them.
It will be tough because interrupting someone is inherently rude by nature, but sometimes it’s the best option. If you play your cards right, you can show that you really hear what they’re saying and finally get a word in. When you’ve shown them that you understand their point, sharing a comparable feeling or memory will also show empathy and help suffocate their talkative fire.
Remove Their Audience
Some ramblers enjoy the attention that comes from people listening to them. They could be attention hogs, or even people that just don’t get enough attention in general, and they can be trickier. When all else fails, you need to take away the attention they’re getting. If you’re in a group, one Quora user suggests a somewhat rude, but effective way to handle the attention seeking ramblers:
…start a new topic/conversation with someone else in the round who feels equally annoyed by the ‘entertainer’. Nothing makes a rambler feel more awkward than losing his/her audience so refuse to be audience and be a communicating dialogue-partner with someone else.
If it’s just a one on one conversation and you’ve had enough, explain that there’s something you need to do and duck out. You can even put a time limit on the conversation right from the start so you know exactly when it’s time to go. Your time is valuable and not everyone is going to respect it. Sometimes you just have to say “sorry, I need to go.”
People get excited about things and some people don’t have someone to share things with. Maybe you’re the only one they know that will actually listen to them. You don’t have to be a pushover, but they’re only human. However you try to help a rambler stop, be kind, and remember that everybody rambles every once in a while.