Why some coworkers ramble, and what to do about it

How many times have you come across coworkers who don’t come to the point ever or do so in a very long-winded manner? Here's how you can deal with it

Bhavna Dalal
Updated: Oct 26, 2020 11:17:58 AM UTC
Effective communication is a two-way streetImage: Shutterstock

Raj asked Neha, “By when do you think you will be able to finish the deliverables for the Medcon project?” Neha went into a long conversation giving the background on the reasons it could get delayed, the dependencies, her mother’s illness, and so on until finally, she gave him some idea of the completion date. It left Raj quite exasperated. Neha, on the other hand, thought she was explaining the context, something Raj thought he didn't need.

How many times have you come across coworkers who don’t come to the point or do so in a very long-winded manner?

As an executive coach to senior leaders globally, I come across many people wanting to improve their communication skills. They often admit that they have received feedback to be more clear and concise in their messaging. Having a sub-par communication style can lead to many issues and can even impact relationships negatively. Not being succinct and clear is one of the significant areas of improvement that you can work on to become a better communicatora fundamental leadership skill.

There are two sides to this problem: the listener and the talker.

It is a natural reaction to get impatient with employees who do not get to the point quickly. After all, there are so many things to finish in a day and only so much energy to complete the tasks at hand. How can you best handle dealing with this without sounding rude? The skill lies in smoothly steering the conversation where it needs to go while staying open to hear relevant information. Understanding why people ramble will help both sides.

The Talker

Here are a few reasons why people babble and prattle:

  • They may be anxious or nervous. People tend to use unnecessary words to cover up feelings of nervousness. This habit makes them feel like they are contributing, but they are not.
  • Some people are used to being prepared for most work meetings but have not structured their thoughts in advance; they then struggle. Ad hoc meetings can throw them off completely and they find themselves rambling.
  • People use different senses as their predominant learning mechanism. A person who is an auditory learner tends to rely on speaking and listening as their primary way of learning. Many auditory learners tend to think things out loud as they are speaking. They get lost in details and fail to see the big picture.
  • Many others lack the empathy to notice the frustration the listener may be experiencing and are too interested in their story than anyone else’s.

If you are someone who runs on in their speech, try thinking which which of the above reasons are making you do it and try to address them.

The Listener

For the audience to the vocal saunterers, you can do the following to deal with them better.

  • When conversations start becoming a monologue, get comfortable in learning to break in gently and politely. Make your interruption respectful and straightforward. While it is not very easy for most of us, I often urge my clients to get comfortable with specific phrases such as: “Sorry to interrupt, in the interest of time, can we please skip to the present status?”
  • Understand their emotional state of mind. Are they nervous? Can you say something to make them feel more confident? Check your body language, is your impatience making things worse for them? Build rapport to put them at ease.
  • Maybe you think you already know what someone wants to say or what they are saying is unnecessary? Is it possible that it is perhaps your listening skills that need to improve? I notice that my clients need to learn to engage in active listening from deep curiosity, adopting a mindset of 'what can I ask to get to the crux of the issue'? Practice asking open-ended questions followed by closed-ended ones.
  • Investigate what the talker needs. Are they seeking guidance, reassurance or validation? A good leader will recognise how to get to the bottom of the core issue quickly. Make sure you are as evident in your ask as possible. Sometimes it is as simple as asking, “What do you need?”
  • Are you more task-oriented versus people-oriented? It is worth remembering that being too task-oriented makes you ineffective as a leader. The key is traversing just the right path between being task and people-oriented. Spend time to investigate what matters to them, understand their goals, and care about their well-being.

Effective communication is a two-way street. Yes, it is annoying when people don’t come to the point quickly. You should certainly relay the feedback in an appropriate manner, if suitable, but also recognise what this behavior in others triggers within you. This might be a fantastic opportunity to become a better listener and investigator.

The writer is founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners, a Leadership Development company based in Bangalore, India

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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