By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
We all know someone who will just not shut up. “He’s always talking!” “I can’t get a word in!” Some people talk, and talk, and talk, seemingly not bothered by the concept of listening. These compulsive talkers can be irritating, exhausting, and boring – so what happens if you’re married to someone who talks all the time? Or are you the person who can’t keep quiet – what is your habit doing to your relationship?
Many people are sociable and talkative but some go beyond the bounds of social acceptability. Compulsive talkers cause the listener to react with impatience, or irritation. Compulsive talkers may even be damaging your health.
How Much Talking Is " Normal"?
Scientists led by Dr. Matthias Mehl from the University of Arizona set out in 2007 to find out how much women and men talk.
They did so to find out if the popular belief that women talk more than men is true.
They looked at 396 people, 210 of whom were women and 186 were men. They attached a device to them which counted the number of words spoken each day. The result? Women talk an average 16,215 words per day and men talk 15, 669 words per day. In other words, women only talk 3% to 4 more than men.
People who score beyond two standard deviations above the mean on the scale are labeled as “talkaholics,” according to James C. McCroskey & Virginia P. Richmond in a Communication Research Reports study, 1993.
And Bostrom, Grant, Davis, & Einerson in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Dublin, Ireland, 1990 said that compulsive “talkers” are people who “literally talk "nonstop," and only give way when another interactant begins talking, and their talking is perceived by others as a problem.”
Why Do Some People Talk So Much? And Is It Unhealthy?
There are many possible reasons why you, your partner, or someone at work talks compulsively. Maybe people talk to be seen as better leaders, more influential and better informed. McCroskey and Richmond (1995) suggests that our culture rewards talkativeness, and Daly, McCroskey, and Richmond (1976) discovered that a person’s amount of talk was “highly correlated with judgments of leadership and influence in a small group.”
Strong talkers are seen as being more influential, which may suggest that compulsive talkers are anxiously seeking to be leaders or influencers. This is not a particularly healthy habit to cultivate, as it is linked with anxiety and stress.
Anxiety Causes Compulsive Talking….
The most common cause of any compulsive behavior, experts say, is anxiety. When talking is compulsive the behavior is not particularly welcomed by the speaker, and is instead due to anxiety about something in his or her life.
The root of the anxiety which causes excessive talking varies between individuals but it is often due to feelings of social inadequacy and poor self-esteem.
…And Compulsive Talking Causes Anxiety
Excessive talking about problems can create emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety, according to a 2007 study from the University of Missouri, Columbia.
This “co-rumination” is when someone frequently and obsessively discusses the same problem or issue. It’s typical among teens but adults get it too, particularly when faced with a stressful situation like problems at work or a relationship breakdown.
Dwelling on issues and constantly talking about them can cause people to develop negative thinking patterns, experts say – particularly girls and women who are more prone to depression.
Compulsive Talking Creates Poor Communication
On the other hand a compulsive talker may lack social skills and judgement, according to research by Wiemann & Knapp in 1975 - those who “"talk too much" may simply be those whose knowledge of their own communicative culture is deficient.”
Unfortunately this can cause significant problems in a relationship.
Communication is always a two-way street.
Communication between two people is meant to promote understanding but if one person does not listen, understanding is difficult. If you are a compulsive talker it pays to remember that listening is a much more powerful tool than talking.
Listening strengthens your influence. It shows the other person that because you are willing to hear them you have the right to offer your own opinion. Research in 1989 from the University of Kansas shows “significant positive relationships between listening and other social cognitive and communicative abilities.”
Medical Problems Associated with Compulsive Talking
Compulsive talking is also bad for your physical health, according to experts. It can impair your breathing.
A 2000 study from the National Center for Neurogenic Communication Disorders and Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, The University of Arizona suggests that continuous speaking causes problems with hyperventilation, reducing brain oxygenation which can have a profound effect on concentration and overall health.
Talking too much can also damage your voice. Various vocal problems like vocal cord hemorrhages and polyps are caused by talking too much or too loudly – a 2007 study from Route du Bout du Monde in Switzerland found that 53 percent of teachers suffered from intermittent voice problems at one point in their career (probably the ones that talked the most.)
Here’s what you need to know when someone speaks more than they should.
Compulsive Talkers: What You Can Do
If you are trapped into "conversations" with someone who talks too much, start by listening but not for long.
Think about why the person may be talking too much - nerves, anxiety? - and then ask them if they would mind if you interrupted.
Say something that shows you hear what they are saying and add some comment or experience of your own.
If someone continues to talk, stop the conversation. Say you have to work, or you need to be somewhere.
You have the right to protect your boundaries.
Or you could always use the recently-developed "SpeechJammer" – a device developed in 2012 by researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan that can actually stop a person talking in mid-sentence.
The device projects back to the speaker "their own utterances at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds" so they become confused, can't finish their sentence and just shut up.
The researchers say there is no physical discomfort involved, but there could be ethical or legal implications to the device.