What do I do when someone won’t stop talking?

The Squeaky Wheel

There’s one in every group: the reliably chatty and frequently incredibly annoying person who just. won’t. stop. talking.

AKA: The Squeaky Wheel. 🛞

This is the person who always has “just one more thing!” to add or one more question when everyone else just wants the call to be over. They have thoughts, and they’re going to share them, whether other people want them to or not. And usually, those thoughts are very, very long. In fact, Succinct is a town we drove past, and we’re speeding along the road to Nowhereville. 🚗

➕ On the plus side, sometimes The Squeaky Wheel provides a necessary role: they can be depended upon to fill the silence. What we want as facilitators is engagement, not silence. We sometimes need a Squeaky Wheel because they’re the person who breaks the seal on conversation. That’s good!

But if all that talking isn’t serving the objectives of the call, it can derail a meeting fast. So how do you oil that squeak and get things back on track? 🚂

1️⃣ The Power of the “Ahem”

Remote is so tricky because non-verbal communication isn’t available to us like it is in offline spaces. We can’t just lean-in to communicate that we’re waiting for them to finish or stand up to signal that we’re moving on, and it can be so incredibly awkward to verbally interrupt The Squeaky Wheel to get them to wrap up. This is a situation in which a well-placed “ahem” can do wonders. Clear your throat to get their attention, simply unmute, or move in your chair so that your box has motion on screen. With any luck, the person speaking will respond to your implicit communication and stop.

😩 But what happens if they just keep on going?

2️⃣ Lean into Objectives

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to unmute and interrupt The Squeaky Wheel to get things back on track. You can do this tactfully by leaning heavily on the meeting’s objectives to circle back to the intended focus of the conversation. This might sound like: 👂 ”That’s really interesting. We’re here to talk about X, so we’re going to have to move on.” Nine times out of ten, your Squeaky Wheel will read between the lines and realize their contributions should be kept a little tighter.

But what if the person dominating the conversation is the same person who called the meeting in the first place? 🙀 

Well, first – yikes. In this case, it’s probably going to be harder for you to interrupt, and The Squeaky Wheel is going to find it much harder to let go of their point, desired outcome, or vision for the meeting. There are complicated power dynamics at play. Yet again, however, you can diffuse the situation by focusing on the objectives of the call. This might sound like, 👂 ”The objective of the call was to get group feedback on this topic. Do we want to have a conversation about it, or are you just putting your ideas across for us to listen right now?”

This is, admittedly, scary. Even if you don’t feel comfortable interrupting in the moment, you should absolutely speak to The Squeaky Wheel after the call. Chances are that if they’re taking up so much space in a meeting you’re facilitating, then they’re doing it lot. You can try saying: 👂 ”It’s really important that you make one point and then step back in remote conversations because it’s super hard to process someone talking for extended periods of time.” This approach makes the case that the quality of the meeting is suffering because of the Squeaky Wheel; it puts the onus on the over-talker to make changes to their approach.

🙉 But what if you’ve tried the “ahem” and circling back to objectives and post-call coaching, and The Squeaky Wheel is still dominating meetings with endless monologues?

3️⃣ Sharp Elbows

It’s time to boldly interrupt and shut it down. This should sound like, 👂 “Do you want to summarize that point, and we can wrap up and move on?” This approach should be a play of last resort. Having sharp elbows is a short-term strategy, and one should use them very sparingly!

A Squeaky Wheel can irk a facilitator like few other challenges. May these techniques provide you with oil to soothe the squeak and keep your conversations flowing! 🛞

I’m guessing you’re here because you want to get better at leading groups, improve your meeting culture, and maybe even organise some great events.

Well, you’re in the right place!

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