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The Boundary Hunter, Issue #003 -- Compulsive Talking – How to Stop It in Twenty Minutes or Less
June 01, 2008

Compulsive Talking – How to Stop It in Twenty Minutes or Less

Compulsive talking happens when someone simply cannot get into rapport with others.

It doesn’t matter what is going on with those around them or even whether anyone is listening to them. They just talk about whatever they want…as long as they want.

At a party these people are considered to be boring…and other guests simply excuse themselves and move on to other groups.

But for a minister or counselor or spiritual director…it is not that easy. Someone has asked to meet with you. And as a professional listener…you can’t just get up and go for a cup of coffee and leave them alone

When they arrive they simply cannot stop talking to you.

They move from one point to another quickly. Perhaps they add many details that do not help you understand where they are going. Their train of thought seems to be speeding north …south…east…and west all at once.

Many people do this because they are nervous and not sure where to begin…or end. They may even comment “I’m not making any sense…am I?” But on they go “In other words…”

It is like a verbal slide show on fast forward.

And as a good hearted and empathetic minister…chances are that you will try and keep up with them following everything they are saying.

You have to find a way to help them slow down so they make sense to themselves and to you. And it’s not difficult to do.

I discovered this technique when a friend of mine asked me to help teach her runaway horse to stop.

Every time she put tension on the reins…a signal to slow down or stop…the horse would bolt forward. And the more she tried to rein him back the faster he went. All right I said. I see the problem…it’ll take about twenty minutes to solve.

First I rode the horse in a fenced schooling ring about 30 by 90 feet. If he wanted to run off he wouldn’t get very far.

After I closed my hands on the reins to slow him down...sure enough he bolted and ran around the schooling ring. I decided to let him run as much as he wanted. But…he had to run in a very tight circle. Each time he bolted I would turn him and encourage him to run in that tight circle…something that’s very uncomfortable for a horse to do.

He soon began to slow down…but without my asking him to…so I encouraged him to keep running on the circle.

Then I reined him in by putting tension on the reins and he stopped. And was well rewarded with pats on the neck and warm praise. He now relearned that tensed reins meant stop.

Next I took him out in the field to see if he would run off when I signaled him to stop. Sure enough he bolted. But I immediately turned him onto a tight circle and encouraged him to keep running. Then I asked him to stop again and he did.

He began to understand that increased rein tension means stop and not run on. And in just about twenty minutes we were having a nice walk around the field with many requests to stop and stand still. His owner was amazed.

As I did this I was remembering a client of mine who was a compulsive talker. I couldn’t wait to meet with her again. I now knew how to help her get her thoughts together using the same method.

I would just keep turning her around as she tried to rattle off an entire thesaurus in twenty minutes.

To turn a compulsive talker around means to keep bringing them back to a point they previously mentioned…instead of going forward and trying to keep up with them.

It's easy. Here’s how to do it…

First you must listen carelessly -- not carefully and attentively.

You listen as if you were skimming a catalogue for those things that interest you and bypassing the rest.

As the person runs on talking compulsively…you spot something of interest and dwell on it at your leisure as the person continues to ply you with words. You pay no attention to what comes after what interests you.

Then…at your leisure you interrupt. And bring her backwards to the point that interests you. You’ve turned her in a circle.

Then you ask her whatever you like about what interests you. You can ask for examples or more information. You only focus on what captures your attention and ignore the rest.

You compulsive talker will stop and respond to your question or request for information. And then bolt off again. No problem.

Pick something else that she said that’s curious or interesting…the farther back in the monologue the better. And turn her again. And you must be genuinely interested in what you circle her back to address. She’ll respond and then bolt off again. No problem.

After you circle her a few times…her speech will become noticeably less pressured and she’ll slow down staying longer on a given thread of thought.

Instead of you trying to be in rapport with her fast forward way of communicating...soon she will be in rapport with your more reflective style. Then you and she can explore meaningfully whatever the issue is that brought her to see you.

This is useful when people are confused or anxious. It is meant to help them get their thoughts together.

It is a form of therapeutic paradox. Your client is being very expansive in a general way by talking about many things.

You want her to be expansive in particular focused ways and you bring her back to expand on things she merely skimmed over.

You are now helping her to communicate more productively.

This technique should not be used when people are speaking and interacting with you in a normal way. It would not help them at all. It would probably annoy them.


In another issue we’ll think about ministers who have to meet with people who give way too little information. How do you get them to talk so you don’t have to guess what’s on their mind?


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