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5 Ways To Gracefully Rein In A Client Who Won’t Stop Talking
Photographers often share one common burden with practicing psychologists:
Sometimes you need to get information from someone, but you just….can’t.
The problem isn’t that the person clams up and won’t talk.
Rather, it’s that they won’t STOP talking.
Oh, you’re hearing plenty of words – it’s like a verbal monsoon. But none of it is relevant to what you actually want to know. And there seems to be no stopping them.
I got an email recently from a photographer who had met with a representative of a company to discuss a recruitment campaign. He reports:
“He talked soooooo much, changing from one subject to another, never letting me say anything, especially when I was trying to reframe the topic, that I never got any info. Only: “Make me an offer by the end of the week.”
It seems impolite and unprofessional to interrupt. So you just stand there, words raining upon you, until you slosh home with no information.
But no information can sometimes mean no job (how are you supposed to know what kind of an offer to give?), and sometimes just passing on the job altogether is not an option.
Here are five things to try while you’re standing there being talked at:
1) Raise your hand a little, palm towards them but hand angled downward, and say: “Hang on, let me summarize what I’ve heard so far to make sure I understand.”
It feels impolite to interrupt, but consider that it may also be impolite to just waste their time when you know you’re going to have to come back with more questions. In that case, a calm interruption is totally appropriate.
Pair your interruption with a physical movement – like a nonthreatening raise of the hand as described above, or if it’s gender/culturally/situationally appropriate, touch three fingers (briefly, lightly) on the top of their arm or elbow.
Some people are skilled at simply talking louder and faster when someone tries to verbally interrupt, but they may respond to a gesture that gently says “pause, please.”
Keep your facial expression warm and your body language relaxed (even if you feel stressed).
Once you have their attention, you can reflect back to them what you heard, and redirect the conversation to the parameters you need to know about.
For example, if the person is giving you scattershot information about the ad campaign, you can say “Hang on, let me summarize what I’ve heard so far to make sure I understand. You want this product to appeal to young athletes, but more than one kind of athlete. It sounds like you’re looking for someone to come in for two days, once to work with the soccer players and once to work with the basketball players – does that sound right to you?”
This veers the conversation away from extraneous details and back to, say, the number of hours they expect from you.
2) Give yourself an “out” for interrupting again:
“Wait, I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m with you. Let me ask you three quick questions so I’m sure I have all the information I need. The first question is: ________________“
There are two parts to this.
First, if someone keeps changing subjects and throwing topics wildly all over the place, sometimes you simply have to apologize and let them know you’re not with them.
Whatever the reason for their chattiness (ego, haste, fear), people usually want their audience to be “with them” and tracking what they’re saying. So “I’m not sure I’m with you” is a foolproof way to get them to stem the verbal tide.
Second, once you’ve got their attention, pivot to saying you have three quick questions for them.
“Let me ask you three quick questions” are the magic words for getting testimonials, but it also helps here.
By letting them know you have a specific number of questions, you give yourself license to redirect or interrupt them a couple more times. You’re letting them know in advance that you’re going to need the floor so you can get all three questions asked.
If you ask your first question and they keep yammering on like a human freight train, you can say, almost jokingly, “wait, I still have two more questions” or “wait, sorry, the next/last thing I need to know is _____.”
That way they can’t think of you as rude for interrupting – you good and warned them that you were going to need more information, and they’ll realize that they hadn’t been letting you get that information.
3) Crack a joke.
Jokes are a socially acceptable excuse for an interruption, because they depend on the real-time context of what they just said:
Bride: So I want to make sure we get some shots of Johnny and Susie playing together because my husband-to-be’s grandmother lives all the way in Altoona and we only see her once a year –
You: (smiling, laughing a little) Yes, we want to make sure we keep the in-laws happy! :: casual laugh ::
Then if she laughs too, you can take advantage of that brief pause and jump in with a follow up question.
This is my go-to way to deal with hypertalkers. The key is to laugh at your own joke, because even if it’s a bad joke they’ll feel like they need to offer at least an obligatory chuckle, and that’s when you jump in. Bam.
4) Redirect them with your energy.
If someone is speaking loudly, sometimes adopting a “loud” and joking tone yourself can help you interact with them, or interrupt them with a joke. That way your interruption feels casual and friendly rather than unprofessional.
But sometimes, people whip themselves up in an energy vortex and you almost fear you’re going to get stuck in a shouting match to be heard.
In these cases, do the exact opposite – quiet down.
Relax your shoulders, breathe slowly, and when you speak, speak calmly with a low, even tone.
Have you ever watched a good elementary school teacher calm down a class of wiggling kids? They usually lower their voices and lean in – and the kids do, too.
Sometimes people will sense the huge contrast between the way they’re speaking/acting and the way you are, and it makes them calm down too.
Speaking at a frenetic pace might seem like a positive thing to them (look at me! I’m so smart and in charge!) until you contrast it with low, even words, and then they see they’re coming off as “out of control” and not powerful. It’s a non-confrontational way to pull them back.
5) See if you can figure out what need the nonstop talking is filling – and fulfill that need some other way.
Some people use constant talking as a way to feel powerful or ‘in charge’ – after all, you can’t negotiate with them if they’re the only one talking. If you suspect this is an ego or power play, you can still make them feel ‘in charge’ with your responses:
“It sounds like this project is really important to the success of your team, and I want to get you the images you need so that Company Talksalot can make this campaign a huge success. Is it okay if I ask a couple of questions to make sure you get exactly that?”
If it’s a mother or bride you’re dealing with, you can adapt:
“It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into what you want here, and I can already see that your wedding day is going to be superb. I’d like to ask a couple of questions so I can make sure you also get what you need from the photography.”
Show them that you’re on their team and have the same goals they do (a profitable 4th quarter, a successful wedding, an eye-catching home), and the information you’re asking for serves them in getting there.
On the other hand, some people keep talking because they don’t know what they want but they’re afraid of looking stupid, so they fill the air to try and seem confident.
In these cases I’d use tip #4 heavily, and bring your energy down to speak calmly. Believe it or not, clients often look to you for cues about how the meeting is going, and how it should be going. Setting a relaxed tone gives them permission to feel and be relaxed, too.
I’d also do lots of reflective listening so they feel increasingly confident that they’re doing a good job explaining themselves and that you ‘get’ them.
If all else fails, abandon ship – but follow up with an email.
If you tried tips #1-5 and you still didn’t get everything you needed, your last resort is to simply wait out the meeting and then send a follow-up email. People can’t keep talking over email and there is eventually an upper limit to what they will type.
Your email might say something like:
“I heard you say you wanted _____, _____, and _____. Based on that, I’d recommend that we do __________ so that you are sure to get ________. Does that sound right to you?
If you weren’t able to really capture what they wanted, simply offering a written proposal based on what you did get will force them to make any suggestions/corrections/adjustments in writing, and that way you can give them a better quote.
Now it’s time for ME to stop talking – what do you think? Found any successful little tricks in dealing with talkative clients?
Would love to hear!
Want more help finding the right words to woo clients – this time as you write for your website and blog? Be sure to check out Irresistible Words!