Browbeating the blabbermouths

In everyday conversation, it's remarkable how many people can't tell the difference between "rapt" and "trapped."

They'll yammer on and on, believing they have our undivided attention, when in fact we are secretly practicing the skill known as "yawning with our mouths closed."

It's not just that these people are boring. They're so self-absorbed that they think they're fascinating, or their topic so enraptures them that they assume it must be equally interesting to the world at large. They feel justified in "sharing" with the rest of us, so we won't be deprived of this information/opinion/enlightenment.

We've all been trapped in such conversations. In the workplace, a co-worker (or, worse, a boss) corners you in a corridor and forces you to listen to gory descriptions of his recent surgery. Or, a client spends an entire business lunch reliving the detailed itinerary of an exotic vacation you yourself could never afford. Or, you're seated at a dinner party next to a blowhard so breathtakingly boring that you want to spit in his plate.

Fortunately, you needn't suffer in silence any longer. You can use special communication techniques to derail runaway yakkers. Try the following:

Direct confrontation. If a co-worker insists on telling you the plot of last night's TV sitcom, say, "I thought only idiots watched that show."

Distraction. Sometimes, all you need is to divert the person's attention. For example, if a colleague won't shut up, try interrupting with, "You've got a smudge on your face." When he wipes his cheek and keeps talking, say, "No, on the other side." When he wipes his hand on that side, say, "Oh, no, you made it worse." Soon, he'll stop chattering and go find a mirror.

Appeal to the senses. You can create a diversion by saying, "Is it cold in here?" Or, "What's that smell?" Or, "Look! A bear!"

Physical cues. Roll your eyes. Clear your throat repeatedly. Look at your wristwatch. If none of those cues work, then get physical with the talker. Give him a little "goose" in the ribs with your finger. Seven or eight times. Or, a friendly slap on the shoulder. Harder each time, until he goes away. Actual strangling is considered bad manners.

Disagree endlessly. When a colleague wants to complain about working conditions, say, "I like it that way." Every time.

Agree endlessly. Some people just love to argue. If you agree with everything they say, you take the legs right out from under them. If your agreement causes problems later, you can always deny it.

Verbal judo. Use the yakker's own momentum to throw them off-balance. Some examples:
If a colleague insists on telling you about last night's dream, pretend to listen, then, no matter how outlandish the description, say, "I had a dream just like that."

If the person keeps talking about illness/poor health/surgery, take it farther by "topping" them. Tell them their malady is "nothing compared to dengue fever." Offer to compare scars. Try, "Want to see my boil?" Soon, even the sickest gabber will find the strength to scurry away.

If a genealogy nut tries to tell you about past generations in her family, pretend to consider the names, then say, "I thought my ancestors killed all your ancestors. Guess we missed some."

If a co-worker complains about his ex-wife, say, "I know just what you mean. She's been the same way, ever since we started dating."

Using these techniques can rescue you from many excruciating conversations, and in most cases can actually lengthen your life.

Remember, though: If you find people using such techniques on you, then it's time to shut up. Before they start goosing you.

No comments: