How to deal with a compulsive talker

Most people have encountered some individuals who speak more than others do. The volume, speed and/or duration of their orations leave the perplexed listener at a loss as to how to handle the incessant talker.

As interesting as the excessive talker’s recitations may be, most listeners are left feeling excluded and insignificant when confronted with the barrage of words. The monologue feels non-interactive and isolating. The listener, deprived of the right to any significant input, often wonders as to his/her role in the conversation.

Most commonly, excessive talking may be a symptom of Attention Deficit Disorder, or a sign of anxiety or insecurity of the speaker.

Researcher David Rabiner states, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that occurs in academic, occupational, or social settings. Problems with hyperactivity can include excessive fidgetiness and squirminess, excessive talking, and being constantly on the go.”

According to 4% of the adult population suffers from ADHD, which often includes a history of earlier academic difficulties, fewer occupational achievements, frequent job changes, driving violations, and self-reported psychological maladjustments.

Anxiety is another common possible causation of incessant speaking. The individual is anxious to maintain contact and may be uncomfortable with pauses or responding to the input of others.

Insecurity also may lead the compulsive talker to demand the uninterrupted attention of another coupled with fears about his/her competency as an equal conversant.

The listeners to an excessive talker often find themselves wondering about their contribution to the relationship. Since healthy sharing of ideas, opinions and experiences usually requires mutuality, encountering a one-sided monologue feels excluding and distressing.

Also, to establish a mutually rewarding verbal exchange, most people need to experience “Emotional Contagion,” which is defined by Elaine Hatfield, as:  “The tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and, consequently, to converge emotionally.” The incessant talker does not require this mutuality and thus leaves the listener pondering about his/her part in this dyad.

The compulsive talker dominates the conversation seeking the listener’s agreement to feel validated. Repeatedly, the speaker may ask, “Do you know what I mean?” A “Yes” suffices since a full sentence is not welcomed and will be interrupted.

It is no wonder that many people avoid an excessive talker. They do not understand the nature of this one-sided relationship, and may feel used, unimportant, unequal and deprived of a mutually rewarding sharing.

In the presence of an incessant talker,

  • Understand that the talker does not intend to offend or exclude you. He/she seeks your agreement and approval.
  • Assume that in the absence of the talker’s early educational, vocational or habit challenges, anxiety or insecurity are the likely causes of his/her compulsive talking.
  • Abstain from negotiating an equitable exchange. You may claim your turn for a short while only.
  • If this relationship has benefits to you, accept its limitations and be a compassionate friend.


December 4, 2011


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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