What’s With “Talking Over”?

talking on the phone

We’ve all had this happen on the phone – the other person talks over us as we start or finish a thought. Doesn’t it make you crazy? Speaking for myself … it gets under my skin very quickly.

Why does talking over happen? What does it mean and how can we still create an effective conversation?

Here are four ways talking over occurs … and the solutions:

  1. Time Delays – This was very common years ago, especially during long distance calls. One person would speak but the sound of their words would not travel over the phone line in real-time. I encountered this same situation when I first used VOIP  (Voice over Internet Protocol) for long distance calls. And it can still happen from time to time due to geography, cellular access, etc. Solution: Count before you speak. For example, the other person finishes speaking and you count to 5 before you answer. (It could be 3 or 7, depending on the circumstances.) Once you know you have the right number, share it with the other person so you can both eliminate talking over each other.
  2. Not Able To Listen – I had this happen recently on a call. While the conversation started well, something happened and suddenly the adviser was talking over me constantly. Perhaps someone walked into her office and distracted her? Or she looked at the time and realized she was running late for a meeting? So she started rushing to finish the call, anticipating what I wanted to say and answering before I could say it. There can be a lot of reasons why someone isn’t able to listen and this definitely creates ineffective conversations. Solution: Add more silence to the call after they’ve finished speaking. This is the phone equivalent of putting a finger to your lips and saying, “Shhhh.” In that silence, they often recognize that you need space to speak. An alternative is to say, “It sounds like this isn’t the best time to discuss this with you. Shall we choose another time to speak?” Again, this can help them recognize that they weren’t listening.
  3. Uncomfortable on the Phone – This is a relatively new situation that can happen when we are on the phone speaking with someone who rarely has phone conversations; their primary methods of communication are text or email. With both text or email, there are pauses in the conversation, time to consider what to say and how to say it. The immediacy of a phone conversation becomes a completely unfamiliar and foreign rhythm, resulting in both awkward silences and talking over. Solution: Slow down. Speak slower and create more silence within the conversation, letting the other person know they have plenty of time to think before they speak.
  4. On Teleconference Calls – We’ve all been part of teleconference calls that feel like a complete waste of time because people are always talking over each other. We often decide not to contribute to the conversation simply to avoid the tangle of voices. Solution: Every teleconference call needs a facilitator. If no one is accepting this responsibility, take it on yourself. Make sure you know the names of everyone participating and call on them individually to get their feedback and hear their question.

Remember … the person talking over could be you. When you hear this happening, take responsibility and get the conversation back on track by simply saying, “Please go ahead,” or “After you,” or “Sorry, you go ahead.” When people are excited about something, have a lot to contribute and perhaps are running out of time,  they can all start talking over.


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