What to Do When Your Boss Won’t Stop Talking

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On Friday, the Harvard Business Review ran an interesting article by Joe McCormack on a common problem: what to do when your boss talks, and talks, and talks. It’s obviously a tricky situation given the power dynamics involved, but McCormack offers some useful advice on how to rein in an over-talker.

His tips are geared specifically toward dealing with loquacious bosses, but can also be applied to other people who love hearing themselves speak. McCormack’s key insight is that there are a lot of ways to nudge bosses (or anyone) away from over-talking without entering the uncomfortable territory of having a direct conversation about their talkiness.

It’s worth pointing out that in some cases, with the right sort of relationships, it is possible to be pretty direct. But Ii’s easier to do so, McCormack writes, when you can offer an important, tangible benefit to less gum-flapping:

When Mitch Golub, the president of Cars.com, realized his team couldn’t stand working for a top client because meetings and calls dragged on so long, he decided the situation was so critical he had to raise the topic of brevity to maintain the partnership. He took the straightforward approach and said, “You’re an important client, but we are having trouble getting people on our team to work with you.” Golub shared a number of examples of how the client’s lack of focus was preventing his employees from delivering results. Afterward, the client thanked him — and did cut to the chase more. Golub is glad he took the risk. “Today, our relationship has never been better,” he says.

Most of the time, though, you need to beat around the bush a bit. “Regardless of whether you feel you can be brutally honest,” writes McCormack, “you can explain and model the many benefits executives gain when they embrace brevity — a new business essential in an attention-starved economy.”

For example, you could point out that these days, people face so many distractions that it’s simply hard for long meetings or conference calls to be productive ones, or you could cite evidence that there isn’t always a link between the length of meetings and what they accomplish. And to make sure bosses don’t slide back into their old, long-winded habits, McCormack writes, try to impose constraints on calls or meetings beforehand — he mentions citing a “hard stop” time right at the beginning of a conference call, for instance.

It’s an interesting, useful article, and you should check it out.