Shut Up and Listen! Video with Dyana Valentine

Dyana ValentineWelcome to my Work/Life Balance-Client Relations Video series. Today’s question is: How do you deal with people who won’t stop talking, especially when they’re your clients?

I’ll answer below and in this video:

Shut Up and Listen! from Dyana Valentine on Vimeo.

Give us your answer in the comments and tell us what work/life balance and client relations questions you struggle with and I’ll answer them in future videos. Here goes…

I went wild with this question because it really rang my bell! We sit on one end of the phone and roll our eyes and groan when someone is droning on and we check the lava-slow clock with a “Will I ever get this time back?” internal groan. Okay, put on your seatbelt for some appreciative inquiry and tough love.

I want you to ask yourself why they are talking? When I start to get antsy or feel my clients are ranting and rambling, it usually comes down to three main reasons:

1. They don’t feel heard or understood.
: repeating the same message (even in different ways), listing ideas, comments or requests verbally that they previously communicated in writing. Getting really quiet (on the phone) or disconnecting from the conversation (in person). You might hear comments like, “Oh, well you know what you are doing,” “I guess you know how to handle it best, what do I know?,” or “I guess I’ll have to see it first to see if it will work for me.”

Tools: when you get the sense that you aren’t grokking your client, stop yourself for a moment and acknowledge it. Try saying, “I think I’ve got it now (even if you feel you got it before), you want x, y and z.” Be sure to use their language FIRST and if need be, reframe it in your language or professional jargon, so your client gets how your ideas and theirs connect. Wait. Ask them if you have understood them and continue with an action plan or integration of their requests into the work you are doing. They will breathe a sigh of relief and you will know that’s what caused the verbal diarrhea in the first place.

2. They may be lonely and they feel comfortable enough to seek that kind of connection with you.
: often talking off-topic, drifting to personal reports in odd moments in the conversation or nervously saying things like, “I know this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but…” or, “This is probably too much information, but…” or discussing personal stories that are inappropriate (you have to be the judge of how to define this.)

N.B.: I don’t mean a quick check in or simple how-are-yous. I also don’t mean those times when having a genuine, mutual, positive social connection supports the professional relationship and ability for both client and provider to take risks together and do good work. Both of these situations have terrific benefits and I would never discourage them.

Tools: it’s boundary or bail time. Here are some indirect ways to set clean working boundaries on conversations with clients who you suspect might be in this category.

  • Set a timeframe on your phone conversations and communicate the talking points before the call.
  • Introduce the agenda at the start of the call or meeting and be sure to include consequences if those points are not covered, such as extended deadlines.
  • A more direct approach is to call it out loud and proud and say, “I notice that in our conversations, we seem to get off the topic of our work into personal matters. I appreciate what you are going through, but in order to be of service to you and the work, I am going to keep us on the work at hand. Are you available for that?”
  • If this doesn’t work or you aren’t able to make progress, it may be time to pull back, limit your conversations, communicate via e-mail only for a while and see if it dissipates.
  • If that doesn’t work, look back at how your relationship started and see if you can identify signs that could help you screen out future clients; move on and wish your current client well.

3. They are auditory learners (like I am). This means we talk (and listen) in order to think, learn, decide and make sense out of what we are saying.
Signs: repeating prior conversations that you’ve had with them, saying, “Just let me riff here a minute,” or “I need to think out loud for a moment.” Auditory learners may be heard talking through eight ways to do something before deciding on one or choosing more than one. Some auditory learners have a tough time understanding written correspondence or information that is only provided in written, chart or visual forms.

Tools: if you get a sense that you have a client who is an auditory learner, consider taking notes while they talk, then summarizing what you heard (even in your own order or words). Check in often during a conversation to make sure you are following them. If they (*achem* we) are running long on a riff, make arrangements to interrupt (just say, “May I interrupt for a moment?”) in service to really getting what they are saying.

When you have an idea why they are talking so much, ask yourself what you can do to not only listen but hear what your client needs? Try these strategies out and please report back. Let me know what worked for you and chime in with your bright ideas.

How do YOU deal with talkers? How do you listen best? Leave a comment and/or question in the comments below.

And you can learn how to go from self-starter to self-finisher and find cool tools to grow your business on!

8 thoughts on “Shut Up and Listen! Video with Dyana Valentine

  1. Jacquie O'Keeffe

    I really enjoyed this video. We actually have a client that won’t stop talking. My husband (and business partner) is actually talking to him right now!!! He finally had to tell him that we were running out of cell phone minutes. So now he calls after 7pm to talk, but that’s another story… All the things you brought up are right on! I found your mention of auditory learning to be particularly interesting. This is something I hadn’t considered in dealing with clients who may communicate differently than me. I generally prefer things written (which would explain why my husband spends a lot of time on the phone and I spend a lot of time emailing and creating to-do lists). I also liked your techniques for getting a client focused back onto the agenda, and repeating important points to assure a client that you understand them. This is really good. I hadn’t considered that that may be why they keep repeating and using up cell minutes. I’m going to have my husband watch your video, as soon as he gets off the phone… Thanks! Jacquie

    1. Dyana Valentine

      Thanks, Jacquie. Your site is chockfulla goodness (click on her name folks), very thoughtful and gorgeous work! Your story is wonderful–everything is there: the “We’ve tried everything” vibe, and the dangers of being indirect (cell mins/great, I’ll call after 7p (whole other boundary!). I’m impressed that you and your husband have found a way to use your styles to compliment each other and your work–great sign of a strong going venture. Keep it up and let me know what changes with your talky client!

  2. Dyana Valentine

    Hey, All: here are some comments left on other sites about this article that I think might be useful:
    1. i actually think i have some auditory learning attributes, and that never occurred to me. so helpful to delineate reasons why people go on, since the strategies for interacting are different with each one.
    2. Dyana, I usualy use the ‘got run to the bathroom’ and sneak out the back door. How avoidant is that??
    3. Excellent video and blog, sis! I usually just ride out the conversation, no matter how off-topic. I’m going to try out the “boundaries or bail” technique, though.

    What do you think?

  3. Doug

    Great question and some really well thought through suggestions.

    I’ve been thinking about this for a bit while watching the video, and for me I can best describe how I deal with this by looking at me compared to my wife (Lee-Anne). We are opposites in many ways – in her lingo I am for example a “journey” lens and she is a “destination” lens. Meaning, she likes getting things accomplished, she has a clear path, straight as an arrow, to a jointly established goal .. she likes to “arrive” and tick off the output. For me, I like going through the process, taking the by-roads and lanes as they appear, and eventually getting to the end goal. Becoming close with my client is really important to me personally and business wise.

    So, when she deals with a client she sets very strict agendas, clear timelines, and clear goals. If someone goes on, she firmly but kindly brings them back on course, and if need be, shuts the conversation/meeting down. Lee-Anne has many clients and is quite deliberate in her work.

    For myself, I find that I work best for myself, and my client, through becoming good friends actually. That requires a lot of time. I enjoy the getting to know you as I see it as trust building, so long chats aren’t that bad. Unlike Lee-Anne though I work with very few clients – usually no more than 1 or 2, from big bureaucracies (the UN currently), who, i find, need a lot more upfront time.

    Anyways, thanks for the post and the video, really interesting!

  4. Pingback: How do you deal with talkers? — Dyana Valentine

  5. Nicola

    This is a really interesting question. I find this crops up for me in workshops. Almost without fail there will be one attendee who needs to talk much more than others. These attendees often have big issues that they need to work on but the workshop isn’t really the right forum to do that. The conundrum for me is how to let them speak without dominating the workshop or making other attendees feel uncomfortable, and also to give the person some room to speak but within certain limits.

    I find the hardest thing is to find the right moment to interrupt them, especially as they can often be emotional. Sometimes I’ve asked the group questions where relevant, “has anyone else experienced this?”. If the talking relates to the workshop, I’ll sometimes say, “we’ll be doing an exercise shortly that I think will help you with this”.

    It’s getting a balance between letting the person be heard (which I think is important) but also giving others in the group time to be heard as well. It can be a fine line!

    This is a really great video, Dyana. And some great advice that I will be using myself when I need it next!

  6. Dyana Valentine

    Doug: great points about getting to know our (speaker/consultant) styles and laying those next to our values to determine what’s reasonable for us–a talker is not always a bad thing, for sure.

    Nicola: you are so right about the fine line between domination and leadership. I’m glad you brought it up and are thinking about it so considerately. I find that having some scripts available in my mind help tremendously. I have found that an interruption, even if it’s blunt and in the middle of a sentence, is completely fair if it resonates with the purpose of the workshop and your values. For example, if you have a squeaky wheel in a workshop who is also emotional, make your cut off early in the story and acknowledge what you see/feel AND generalize it, so it’s about the whole room such as, “this seems to be hitting a really sensitive spot. This work does that. I appreciate you sharing (paraphrase their story briefly). This is a great time to take a moment and reflect what’s coming up for you in your notes (for everyone).” That puts the comment in context, nips a long share in the bud and allows everyone to be involved in that moment. Try it out or share your ideas when you design them.