A typical conversation with my boss usually goes a little like this:
Me: “Hi, I have a quick question about the report you asked me to write.”
Him: “Sure, let me just send this email. I’ve been working on this all day and just finished—can you believe it? I’m just so exhausted; we have so much going on as we get ready for the summer trade shows. And to add to it all, I’m trying to sell my house, which is an absolute nightmare. And….”
And it doesn’t end.
As much as I try to nod along in feigned interest, what I’m really wondering is how I got caught up in an hour-long conversation when I had one simple question to ask.
Instead of getting in, getting my answer, and getting my work done, I get stuck in a roundabout conversation that ends up covering everything from what my boss did over the weekend to his never-ending to-do list (which, frankly, would be much shorter if he didn’t talk so much).
Dealing with a boss who talks too much can be a sticky situation. On one hand, getting the info you need—and quickly—will help you do your job better, which will help him do his job better. But blatantly pointing out his less-than-helpful tendency to over-talk won’t exactly get you on his list of favorite employees.
As I’ve adjusted to my talkative manager, I’ve learned some tips that make day-to-day life much easier. Try these four so you can get what you need—and still keep the peace.
1. Email When Possible
Obviously, email isn’t the ideal vehicle for complicated instructions or a coaching session with a lot of back-and-forth questions and answers. But emailing relatively simple questions and updates (e.g., “Who would be a good resource for help with some sales numbers?” or “Can you send me a list of customer contacts for testimonials?”) can save you a lot of wasted time.
Instead of enduring a long, rambling conversation (that may or may not actually end in an answer to your issue), you can sort through your manager’s musings in an email—and you run a much lower risk of your boss getting to the end of a winding thought and asking, “What was your question again?”
2. Preface the Conversation With a Time Limit
To stress that you don’t have time for a long, drawn-out talk, mention a set time constraint at the beginning of the conversation. You could, for example, strategically stop by your manager’s office on your way to a meeting; then, let her know immediately that you only have 10 minutes, but you were hoping she had time for a quick question.
Or, catch your boss when you know he’s on his way to a meeting (office stalking is usually pretty easy with shared team calendars) and ask if you can walk and talk as he heads to the conference room
Knowing that you only have a limited amount of time will help your manager get to the point—rather than assuming he or she can take all the time in the world to answer your question.
3. Use Smart Body Language
When you’ve been listening to your boss for a little too long, you can use some clever body language to convey that you need to get to the point—quickly.
To encourage this before the conversation even starts, when you pop by your manager’s office, remain standing. This will convey that you’re in somewhat of a hurry—rather than settling in to your manager’s extra chair, which can signal that you have plenty of time to chat.
If you’re already engaged in conversation and it grows long or off track, shifting in your seat or uncrossing and re-crossing your legs can signal that you’ve lost some interest in the topic and need to switch gears.
Or, closing your notebook or laptop can signal that you’re preparing to leave and the conversation needs to wind down—which can help you segue back to the reason why you came to your boss’ office in the first place (e.g., “Before I go, can you confirm that the design is on the right track?”).
4. Interrupt (Just a Little)
Interrupting your boss probably sounds like a terrible idea. But hear me out: Done sparingly—and respectfully—it can be an effective tool to focus a winding conversation. Simply listening and nodding, on the other hand, can encourage him or her to continue jumping from subject to subject.
Say, for example, you went to your manager for some advice about how to approach writing a press release—and now, he’s on a tangent, listing all the meetings he’s supposed to attend this week.
When he comes to the end of a thought (and before he can move on to another, even less related subject), interrupt: “Jim? Sorry to interrupt, but you mentioned earlier that it’d be a good idea to first contact a sales rep internally to get some background information. I’ve done that—what should my next step be?”
By actively bringing the conversation back to the original topic, this can actually make your boss more aware of how off track he has gotten and help him re-focus.
A talkative boss can be a great conversation partner for lunch or after-work drinks. But he or she can be more of a hindrance when you’re on a deadline and need to get your work done. While you may not be able to put a complete stop to this tendency, you can better manage it with these few simple tricks.
Tell us! How do you deal with a boss who talks too much?
Photo of man talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
As a full-time manager at a tech company, Avery is constantly finding (and writing about!) new ways to better encourage, lead, and motivate her team. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to live music, attempting to sew, and discovering dive bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. One day, she hopes to publish a memoir, adopt a Great Dane puppy, and find the perfect shade of red lipstick.More from this Author