Dealing with a compulsive talker

compulsive talker

I glanced out our kitchen window a week ago Saturday and froze.  A van with two people in the front.

For a second, I wondered if it were  Jehovah’s Witnesses making a call , then I recognized who was in the van.

A friend was playing taxi for someone I refuse to get sucked into a conversation with at this point in my life.  Friend wanted me to come out to just say “Hi.”

At the risk of you thinking less of me I’ll tell you what happened next…

I was in the middle of doing an estimate and refused to comply.  Told my wife I was not going outside.

Wife went out.  That was her choice. 😉

I’ve made that mistake three times.

The first time was understandable.

The second and third times, I had given him the benefit of doubt, thinking maybe I had misjudged him.

Not any more.

He talks non-stop about anything and everything.  Mindless flittering from one topic to the next.  If  you let him, he will suck the life force right out of you.

I’m joking, but not really.

(It was at least 40 minutes later before the wife was back)

As I thought about that recent encounter, I spent several minutes last night looking for  tips on how to handle a compulsive talker in a nice way. There is not a lot of good information.


I did come across this  article by Charles Shahar

Here’s a portion of it:

      “A comfortable conversation has a certain flow. Both parties are focused on each other. There is an active give-and-take. This dynamic exchange brings pleasure to the participants. They are energized by the experience. When they leave, they will seem livelier than before the conversation. They may look back at the encounter with fondness, and will respond favorably to the other person when they meet them again.

A conversation with a compulsively talkative person has a different flow. All of the attention is aimed in one direction: you are doing the listening, they are doing the talking. They seem to have an infinite capacity for spouting forth words. You will find that you are getting tired, your body is sagging, you feel restless, or you feel tightness in the pit of your stomach. They are draining your energy. You are doling out tons of attention, you are working hard for them, and they are reveling in the limelight. This is what they live for. are conversing with a human leech…. When the conversation is over you will feel depleted, spent. They took your juice. It may take hours to recover it….

Compulsive talking is an indication that you are dealing with a neurotically needy person. The reason they speak obsessively is to hold your attention. They are desperate to this end, and fear that if they stop talking, you will lose interest and leave. They rely on your sense of courtesy, on your desire not to appear offensive by interrupting or cutting them off. In fact, they will take advantage of someone who lets them continue unabated.

Needy people will tell you all about their problems. They will spare no details. They don’t care whether you are interested or not. In fact, they are completely insensitive to your feelings or desires. The important thing for them is the juice– your attention. It is like a drug for them.

They are addicted to your attention. ….. When you start to cut off the juice, they get anxious….

A device needy people use to get attention is to tell long-winded stories. These are a perfect foil because people have to listen for their duration. The needy person will embellish his story, use long-winding sentences, go off on tangents, and focus on details — all with the aim of trapping the attention of his audience. The stories themselves are often boring and indulgent….”


So dear reader, do you have any tips?

My default response has been  to avoid these situations as much as possible now.

The inner poverty that fuels that sort of behavior is not a simple fix.

I can’t for the life of me imagine Jesus sitting there listening to someone ramble on and on, but to come right out and  address it, seems so tacky and unkind.


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18 Responses to Dealing with a compulsive talker

  1. Sorry I giggled. I totally STEER clear of these types.
    You’re no help 😉 I know how to do that trick..I’m looking to increase my bag of people skills. DM

  2. emjayandthem says:

    I work with someone like that and I do my best to avoid him. He’s an energy vampire. Within minutes of seeing him or being on the phone he will launch into his latest health issues, in excruciating detail (totally TMI), tell me all about his relationship status and whatever anxiety he’s drummed up of late. It’s totally draining and one-sided. Over time, I’ve learned his stuff (imagined or otherwise) is not mine to own. And no, he never asks any questions of me or my life.

    This person is also my boss.

    thank GOD we work out of 2 different offices and I rarely have to see him. At least on the phone he can’t see me roll my eyes or watch me hit the MUTE button while I silently scream!!

    🙂 I count the blessings like the one above for saving my sanity!!

    Lord have mercy. That would be a tough row to how as they say in some circles 😉 DM

  3. micey says:

    Oh boy. Did this take place while I was visiting? I hope I’m not one of those people. I don’t think I am. I hope someone would say something to me. But would I even hear it? Somebody told me I was nosey once. It hurt my feelings. But in the end, it also was a catalyst to examine myself and discover that I was, in fact, nosey. It changed my behavior. I’m glad he accused me. Sometimes being direct can help a person change for the better. Maybe your friend doesn’t realize his flaw?
    Took place a week before you got here. I think he does know, (In fact I’m convinced of it, due to the fact he has been asked to not come back to @ least one place I know for this very problem…ie he didn’t stop talking) DM

  4. shoreacres says:

    Here’s something interesting that’s just occurred to me. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had the experience of being around a compulsive talker. Honestly – it could be twenty years. Part of that’s due to the fact that I now work in solitude, and live alone. I think I just found another reason to appreciate both!

    But I’ve come up against compulsive talkers in the past, and occasionally was forced by circumstance to deal with them. I’m not saying this technique always works, but I have found it helpful. If you make yourself listen until you find something you can latch onto — like a mention of a city, or a television show, or who knows what — STOP the person right there. Tell them to be quiet (nicely, of course) and say something like: “Wait. What? Philadelphia? You’ve actually been there? Gosh, I wish I could have taken a trip there myself. What was the best thing about it?” What it does is stop the stream of talk, making them actually think about something they’re saying. I’d say at least half the time, focusing on a concrete topic helps to break that stream of blather.
    I’m going to try this trick the next time I find myself trapped with a talker then report back here… 😉 DM

  5. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Wow. This is something I struggle with. I have tried “redirecting the conversation”, as shoreacres suggested, but my experience with compulsive talkers is that they will interrupt and continue their monologue (or start a whole new rant). It’s like a stream of consciousness, flooding straight from their brain, out their mouth, and to our ears.

    They do suck the life out of you (I have said exactly that, after finally escaping). Unfortunately, being a ‘people pleaser’ makes it harder to exert myself.

    Isn’t it about boundaries? Standing up for our time, energy, focus, and sense of worth? Conversations are a give and take between two people. A subtle dance of communication. A compulsive talker is monopolizing us for their own needs.

    I don’t have an answer. But if you find one, will you PLEASE pass it along – my MIL is a compulsive talker. : O
    Dang, that would be touch having a MIL with this issue. That can be a challenging enough relationship as it is, even when both parties understand boundaries, etc. I do have another tip I picked up this past weekend from a friend who has a masters degree in counseling..need to share that here on this comment thread…DM

  6. Bill says:

    I have a neighbor like that! Any conversation with him (which is really just him talking to me) goes on for 15 minutes or more, rambling all over the place. It’s maddening. I had a friend who would just walk away, even if the guy was in the middle of a sentence. My other friend was the opposite–hard to drag a word out of him. But I can’t do that. It just seems rude to me. So I admit to finding ways to avoid him. It’s tough since he’s a good person who’s helped me out a lot. He just can’t stop talking. I’d never heard the expression “compulsive talker” before, but it fits him.

    Sorry I don’t have any better advice. 🙂
    15 minutes I can do….it’s the 30 minute to 2 hours or more that suck me dry. I’m thinking of putting a 10 minute “cap” on all talkers I encounter. After 10 minutes, if it’s one of “those conversations,” I will remove myself from it…one way or the other…;-) DM

  7. compulsive listener says:

    My fiancee talks compulsively. After years of frustration, I only just put my finger on the issue (when I googled compulsive talking) this morning. Some thoughts:

    This article

    • compulsive listener says:

      oops… accidentally posted before I finished. The author of the article linked to above suggests compulsive talking can be driven by two different sources. The obvious one is narcissism. But the LCSW who wrote the article says that many nonstop talkers are driven by their very low tolerance for the feelings that emerge in response to the subject being talked about. My fiancee is in this latter camp.

      My initial thought is that either way, the best response is containment. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that in the former case you’re dealing with a self-indulgent person, and the objective is to cut off the attention supply graciously… mostly for our own benefit, but secondarily because we don’t want to enable the behavior. With the second type of compulsive talker, we’re dealing with a person who really is in need of special care. They really do need attention, just not the type of attention they’re trying to get.

      I would think those types are drawn towards especially nice people, good active listeners, well-mannered people, etc. If you’re one of those people, I think the situation calls on you to step up to the plate and be strong, assertive, proactive in containing them. Stop being Mr. nice guy, and develop your ability to be like a brick wall toward them.

      The second type poses a much higher challenge. They aren’t in love with themselves. They’re thin-skinned. With these types, if you can be more than a brick wall, it would be very kind and good to do so. They are well-meaning but out of control. They desperately need someone to skillfully take the reigns of the conversation and direct it in a more appropriate way, all the while making it clear that you stand squarely beside them.

      • NeverHeard says:

        You just described my life with a compulsive talker. Help! My partner and I (of 18 years) are on the verge of breaking up because of this. My heart is breaking, but I just can’t handle it any more. I never feel heard.

      • DM says:

        I hear you! That sounds like a borderline emotionally abusive relationship. One-sided relationships like that will literally suck the life out of you. Have you ever been to see some kind of relationship counselor (either by yourself or as a couple) Would highly recommend that as a place to start.

  8. NeverHeard says:

    Thank you for the advice, I have my first appointment tomorrow with a counselor.

  9. CW says:

    I have an older sister who has had this problem forever! She has been evaluated and treated with drugs for manic depression, OCD (also pulls her hair and digs at her skin). She is now 71 and is becoming forgetful so definitely repeats the same things over and over. She has a heart of gold and is a great Christian but everyone around her still goes bonkers when she “gets on a tear” and jumps from subject to subject. I am a professional speaker, communications expert and very good listener. However, when she will not listen I still get frustrated and find my own anxiety rising. I just want to shout SHUT UP for 2 minutes and LISTEN!!! I have had to restrict how many times a month I can speak with her and have not physically visited in years because I would feel trapped and she would insist I stay with her. Do you think these people realize how costly this habit is to important relationships?

  10. alisa says:

    Hi there, I have just been with a person who has verbal diarrhea and after listening closely found out that his voice was never listened to. I feel that because of that he is needy and is overcompensating for this. He was a PK ( preachers kid ) bullied and left alone most of the time. Nice guy but I have learned that I finally get it. Thanks for the information.

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