Dealing With Overtalkers: Those You Love, Those at Work & Those You Just Don’t Want to Talk With

Blog Roadmap

  • What Is Overtalking? Why Does It Bother Us So?
  • What Makes a Good Healthy Conversation?
  • Getting Your Overtalker To Respect the Ground Rules
  • Managing Overtalkers over the Phone
  • Managing Overtalkers Face to Face

So your phone rings and on instinct you foolishly pick it up. It’s Bill, the night security guard you met while hiking, the guy who just loves to talk your ear off!

Suddenly you’re filled with dread. Bill never pauses to catch a breath, and he always seems to call at the very worst times. So what do you do now? The guy breathes through his pores so you can never get a word in edgewise. Even a few minutes with him can seem like hours! And as much as you attempt to multitask while on the phone with him, it only encourages Bill to talk even longer!

So is there any way out of this other than hanging up on him or avoiding his calls? And what about the people you actually want to talk to? Like your chatty aunt Martha. You’d love to catch up with her but talking to her is like sipping from a fire hose! Before you know it, she’s gushing about her grand kids, prattling over the neighbor’s dog and giving you deep, intimate details about her xylophone lessons. And slowly as you drown in the overspill, you grow more and more resentful because she’s sucking the life out of you!

We’ve all been there. Suddenly we’re held captive by someone who has no boundaries. No appreciation of your time. And so like a dinosaur stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits, we feel trapped, helpless and unable to escape.

The good news is there’s hope. This blog is all about how to deal with your friends, colleagues and even the strangers who for some reason can’t stop overtalking.

The problem for most of us is that we don’t want to be mean. So we either ignore their calls or dread their very presence. But in most cases there are better options. Options where you can enjoy their company and preserve the relationship. It’s all about how we can politely disengage. Or how we can talk on our own terms and only when we actually feel like talking! Rarely does it ever need to get nasty.

What Is Overtalking? Why Does It Bother Us So?
For the most part, overtalking has little to do with how much you’re

For example, if the conversation has no give and take, you can bet there’s overtalking. Overtalking can also occur when one person wants to talk and the other person doesn’t. Often, the trouble starts when someone feels they aren’t free to disengage. This is why even one minute with an overtalker feels like forever! We suddenly become very conscious of our time because the conversation is one sided, or we feel our needs or opinions are being ignored. And after we’re done, there’s a part of us that feels cheated. Like the person we just spoke to has zapped the life out of us.

What Makes a Good Healthy Conversation
Many overtalkers have no idea what it means to have a good conversation. A good conversation has a measure of give and take. It involves both sides talking and listening. It allows someone to respond to what is being said. Everyone feels included and everyone can get a word in edgewise. A healthy conversation is one which allows people to have options. Each person is free to change the subject, free to speak or listen, and even free to end the conversation, without ever having to justify why they need to go. 

Most of us know this instinctively. We’ve all talked with a close friend for hours and lost track of the time. The time didn’t seem to matter because the conversation flowed freely. And everyone followed the unspoken ground rules.

Getting Your Overtalker To Respect the Ground Rules
Most of us don’t want to lecture an overtalker on the art of conversation; especially if it’s a boss, a misguided aunt or a distant acquaintance. So here are nifty ways to get them to respect your time, both face to face and over the phone.

The Phone

Returning Their Calls When Time Is Most Precious To Them

Most overtalkers can control themselves when they have some skin in the game. The problem is they often call when they have lots of free time to kill (even when it’s obvious you don’t).

So become a student of their schedule. Pay close attention to when they call and the reasons they give to get off the phone. You can even get clues from them by asking about their day, the big things in their week and what they do on their free time.

Usually the caller has a set routine and reaches out to you only at specific times or on certain days of the week. For example, they’ll call when they’re doing boring house chores, or during a long road trip, or while picking up their kids from school, etc.

Create a Hard Stop: Call When You Know They Have To Go Soon
For a wonderful conversation with guaranteed time limits, screen your calls so that the overtalker gets your voicemail. Then return their call:

  • 10 minutes before they go to church
  • 10 minutes before their favorite TV show
  • 10 minutes before they’re at their kid’s school parking lot
  • 10 minutes before their spouse comes home for dinner

Avoid picking up the phone when you know they’re:

  • Doing the weekly chores
  • Just started the 40 minute drive to daycare
  • Waiting for the bus to go to work
  • At their boring all night security job
  • Washing their bi-weekly load at the laundromat

HELP! What If I Pick Up the Phone By Mistake?
Answer with, “Is that you John? Listen this is not a good time. Can I call you back later tomorrow or later in the week? Talk to you soon!” (Then call them during the times above, or when you have a lot less to do.)

For Work Colleagues
Call or schedule a call 10 minutes before your colleague’s next meeting. (To see their schedule, use the calendar function to plan a meeting and then hit cancel.)

Keeping Phone Calls Short and Concise

Enjoy Their Conversation but Set a Time Limit.
Immediately at the start, say you can only talk for ten minutes.  Do this as soon as you know who it is. If you don’t, it gets much tougher later on. Half way through, remind them you must go in 5 minutes.  Once their time is up, in an apologetic voice say. Sorry, but as I said, I have to go. We’ll have to catch up  at church/at Tuesday’s meeting/at the party… Bye.”  If the caller asks why you have to go, repeat slightly more firmly. “I have to go. Bye.” Then hang up. (Why you have to go is your own business. They must respect your right to end the conversation.)

Paraphrase and Summarize To Keep Phone Calls on Track.
If you’re speaking to someone on the phone who seems to want to chat or stray from the point, say something such as, “So what I hear you saying is…” or “So the key points are…” or “Is (insert summary) a fair summary of what you were saying?”  Don’t be chatty. Just keep them focused and then end the call.

Close Each Inbound Phone Call with a Summary of Whatever Action You and the Caller Have Agreed To Take.
While this will only take seconds in most cases, it can save you a lot of time by avoiding errors and the need to double-check.  For instance, after a conversation during which you arranged a meeting with a client, you might say, “Good. I’ll meet with you at your office at (insert location) at 10 a.m. tomorrow and we’ll go over the samples together.

Breaking Contact While on the Phone

It’s always good to have some nifty ways to end a conversation. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Seize the Pause. For those who take a pause, immediately use it to disengage.
  • Tell them how Jesus met you in the shower.
  • Say “let’s put a bookmark on that and we can take this up in our next conversation.
  • Ask for magic words so you can end the conversation without being rude. “Jon, I’ve said three times I have to go. Are there any magic words I can say for next time so I can get off the phone without being rude or hurting your feelings?” (Listen carefully and use these words next time.)
  • Signal the Conversation Is about To End
    On the phone, you can’t depend on visual hints so, you’ll just have to be more verbal.  Explain you have to go now, have errands to do, or don’t like being on the phone this long etc.  For some overtalkers, you can just stop responding and give one word answers to indicate your interest in waning. With others, you will need to be more assertive. There’s no need to lie to get off the phone. Honest ways to end the call include:
  • “I need to use the bathroom.”
  • ” I need to go.”
  • “Let’s talk sometime soon, take care/goodbye.”
  • “It was wonderful talking, and…”
  • “I talked way too long yesterday… let’s catch up later”
  • “I am way behind on laundry.”
  • “I need to study.”
  • “I need some quiet time.”
  • “I need to get ready for my big day.”
  • “I’m walking the dog.”
  • “I need to exercise.”
  • “My ear hurts.”

Steer The Caller To Emailing You, Texting, Meeting Face to Face Or Calling at a More Convenient Time.

After 5 minutes tell your caller “Susan, I got a lot of things going on but we may need to talk further on this. Why not email me or my associate Jon with the things we didn’t cover and we’ll touch base soon after that.” Or give your caller a better time to call. “Our weekly conference call is coming up this Wednesday, let’s discuss it then with the group. Talk to you soon. Bye.

Meet The Caller In Person.

If they like to linger, sandwich them into a schedule where they can only stay for a short time. Or see them face to face for an activity you both like, such as taking a walk during lunch. Many overtalkers are likeable, good people. But it’s up to you to set the boundaries so you can enjoy being with them.

For Heavy Overtalkers: Break Their Momentum and Take the Conversation to a Close.

Don’t wait for them to take a breath as it may never happen! Interrupt with “Excuse me I have to put you on hold for a minute.” Count to twenty or thirty. Rearrange your desk, stretch your arms, or walk out in the hall. But when you return, make sure you’re the first one to talk.

Immediately seize control of the conversation without taking a breath or asking if they’re on the line. One way to do this is to summarize the problem or course of action. For example “Hi John, so I understand you really need to talk to an attorney. Here’s what I suggest…Well I have to go now but his number is blah blah blah. We’ll talk later. Bye.” Or “Hi John. Look, now is a bad time. I have to go but we’ll talk later. Good-bye.” Still can’t get them off the phone? Then put them on hold again!

For those who really go on and on. Interrupt by saying their name a few times. Example: “John, John, John, can you hear me John? We’ll have to take this up a little later. I have to go now/don’t like being on the phone this long/have errands to do, We’ll catch up on things later. Talk to you soon.

Also try the broken record technique. In a flat monotone voice: “John I have to go. John I have to go. Sorry John but I have to go. Can you hear that I have to go? I have to go. We’ll talk soon John, bye.

Dealing With Overtalkers Face To Face

Overtalkers at The Gym

Breaking Contact
Go to the treadmill, spinning room, etc., or put on headphones.
Pick up your phone and say “Sorry I need to make a phone call” smile and slowly walk away as you quietly leave a to do list on your voicemail or answering machine. When done, choose a place far away from them. Hint for Women: Virtually all straight men are deathly afraid of the aerobics room.

Continuing the Conversation on Your Own Terms
When you don’t mind talking but have things to do, tell them, I’m on a tight schedule, so you can join me as I do the rest of my workout if you like, but I must keep going. Then move towards your next machine. If they want to stop their workout and trail you, you can enjoy their company and still finish your routine. Usually, they will go back to their own routine. But either way, it’s a win win.

Changing the Topic with Conspiracy Theorists
Some people only want to talk about one thing all the time! Often they’ll go away if you can show them you’re aggressively uninterested.

So when they tell you their exciting theory on why the Earth is flat or that no one really dies from Covid, kindly reply with “I’m sorry but I have nothing to add to this line of conversation.” (then ask about their kids, talk sports, etc.) If they persist, use the broken record technique to rephrase it in an almost identical way. Be sure to sound boring, bland and monotonous and not like you’re getting angry. For example when the person just needs to add one more thing, immediately follow with “Sorry but I don’t have anything to add here so we’ll have to take this up some other time.” “Sorry I have nothing to add here. Talk to you later sir.”

Overtalkers at Work

  • Show Them You’re Too Busy To Talk. For example. Say “I can only talk for a few minutes.” Or “I’m really busy now can we talk a little later.” Or let them know exactly what they’re interrupting. Example: “I was just going over the numbers for next year’s budget. But if this critical, I can give you a few minutes.” Or “Do you mind if I continue typing as I really have work to do.” You may also put a sticky note on your computer, your door or cubical that says “Project Due/Far Behind/Can’t Talk Unless Urgent.” If the person engages you anyway, refer to the sticky note/explain you have a deadline and tell them “Sorry, but we’ll just have to take it up later.
  • Break Contact. Now is the time to excuse yourself to get coffee, return the file, make photocopies, go to the bathroom, get more food at the buffet, etc. Make sure you physically move away and distance yourself while you’re talking. Don’t let them re-engage you with something they forgot to say and certainly don’t ask for more details. Leave. For extreme overtalkers: In one fluid motion, practice moving away from them while speaking, all without taking a breath, so they can’t get a word in edgewise. Example: As you rise from your chair and turn away from them, say “Well, I’ve got to return the file/go to the bathroom/make a photocopy.” Smile as you take two steps back and head for the door. If they’re still there when you return, immediately open up the door for them to leave and say, “Good to see you again. We’ll talk soon. Bye.
  • For People Who Linger in Your Office or Cubical
    When your drop-in visitors won’t leave, move overtalkers toward the door by standing and walking out with them. Some people recommend uncomfortable chairs. Consider even removing your chairs.

How Can I Tell My Friend She Talks Too Loud?
Say to Her: I’m interested in what you’re saying. But I start to blank out when you talk so loud. If I need you to talk lower, is there a way I can tell you so without hurting your feelings?” Most people will say just tell them so, or that you can give them a hand signal if they need to turn down the volume. Either way, you’ve set the ground rules so it will be easier next time.


Say to her in a very nice way “I’m so sorry, but you probably don’t realize your voice is carrying over loudly.” Then just smile, and continue the conversation in a volume that is acceptable.

Help for the Overtalker (Other Resources)

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