leadership soft skills - listening skills help people focus and stop rambling
leadership soft skills - listening skills help people focus and stop rambling
leadership soft skills - listening skills help people focus and stop rambling

Help For Those Who Talk Too Much

Seven Points To Help You Stop Yourself, and Others, From Rambling At Work

Rambling: talking at greater length, and less to the point, than is wanted.

As someone who has learned the hard way how not to ramble, and who has successfully coached people trying to do the same, I sympathize deeply if you are a rambler or work with one. By talking too much, or without enough focus, you convince others you aren't interested in what they might say. To them you appear to prefer one-way listening, where they listen to you exclusively rather than sharing a back and forth exchange.

Most people will retaliate not only by being irritated and paying less attention to you, but by becoming less willing to share their own ideas and information. And with good reason: besides the wear and tear on morale it causes, time is money. Rambling can substantially multiply the time it takes to gather information and make decisions.


This section was written by Bruce Wilson, a Seattle-based consultant who helps business professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs improve their return on personal effort at work.

There are many causes of rambling ranging from excitement, nervousness and loneliness to just plain geekyness (see the panel below and to the right). But regardless of the cause, rambling can be alleviated. Here are seven points that should help you help yourself or someone else overcome a rambling habit.

One. If you think you ramble sometimes, you are probably right.

Two. Use the one minute tool (inspired by Robin Ryan's excellent book, 60 Seconds & You're Hired): if you have more to say than you can say in a minute, limit yourself to one minute and use that time to give an overview of the most important points you would make if you talked longer. Then stop and ask your listener to help you decide what to prioritize and how much more detail to go into. For each point and sub-point you add, start by speaking for just one minute, asking for more feedback as you go on to clarify which issues you need to address, and taking a moment before speaking to focus what you will say.

Three. Sit down with a friend or co-worker who is willing to help you practice using the one minute tool. Use a timer with an alarm if you can: the visual and audio feedback will help a lot.

Four. Realize that listening carefully is often more powerful than saying a lot. So learn as much as you can about becoming a better listener. Effectiveness in leadership, sales, negotiation, and even job interviews are all strongly related to effective listening. To improve your effectiveness across the board make it your standard operating procedure to speak only briefly before listening. Being listened to often helps people solve some of their own problems. In addition, we all like being listened to and tend to reciprocate by trusting and listening more carefully to the people who listen to us. See the businessLISTENING.com topic "Listening Strategy and Skills" for more about becoming a better listener.

Five. If you find yourself fighting not to talk too much at work, make an effort to get the bug out of your system outside of work. Spend more of your free time talking with friends, or join a club or some other organization where you can log more talk time.

Six. If you know someone who rambles, don't assume they know it themselves. Sadly, even if they do know, they probably don't know how to stop, or they would have already. You can help. Approach them respectfully and non-judgmentally and try to say something as close as possible to the following: "Sometimes when you talk for more than a minute or two without stopping, I feel frustrated. I need more focus." [Or, "I need to move along faster."] "Can you try to talk for only a minute or so at a time, then ask me what I want to hear about before you go on?" If you don't have their attention yet, ask them how important it is to them, and to their organization, that they be clearly understood. When you think you have their attention, discuss the one minute tool with them.

Seven. Everyone rambles once in a while. Anyone can learn not to ramble given sufficient effort. Budget your patience and your honesty generously, both for yourself and others. Recognize small successes and learn from any setbacks you have along the way.


Causes of rambling. People talk for too long and without enough focus for a number of reasons. For example, they might be:

  • excited, nervous, or frustrated about the subject matter;
  • uncertain about what to say, saying everything they can think of;
  • embarrassed, trying to cover for not knowing what to say;
  • cautious, not wanting to appear shallow as if they don't have much to say;
  • lonely and/or seeking friendly social contact;
  • proud, focusing on how they sound rather than what they say; and
  • thinking out loud.

Most of these motives suggest a desire to be helpful and make a good impression. "Thinking out loud" can even be quite beneficial, when used at appropriate times.



So go for it! And please let us know if you wind up with a success story to inspire others.


For further reading. Although written specifically for job seekers, Robin Ryan, 60 Seconds & You're Hired (Penguin USA, 2000) (>Amazon.com), makes an excellent case for speaking briefly and to the point (and does so succinctly).

This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit WilsonStrategies.com.


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