How To Manage An Employee Who Rambles



Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.

1. How to manage an employee who rambles

I have an employee who has a serious problem going into far too much detail in nearly every work conversation. The other people in the meeting can’t even get a word in to interrupt her.

I’ve tried giving her feedback about listening more, asking questions instead of talking, and writing outlines of key points. I’ve also given her some information about being “socially intelligent” that I got at a leadership retreat. Nothing has changed. At this point, I know she’s lost job opportunities of this. I’ve tried to give her some leadership roles, but it’s really challenging because she will end up steamrolling the meetings she’s in.

I want to give her some final feedback because I know she won’t get promoted into a management role without figuring this out. How direct should I be?

Very direct. It sounds like you’ve tried to coach her around the edges of the problem but haven’t directly told her that the wordiness is a problem and is holding her back. Without knowing that, she may not have the right framework for receiving the feedback you’ve been giving her, and she may be thinking of that feedback as helpful suggestions rather than crucial changes she needs to make.

It would be a kindness to be direct with her — as in, “You have a habit of supplying far too much detail and making it tough for others in the conversation to get a word in. It’s holding you back from opportunities I know you’d like, like X and Y, so it’s crucial that you work on this and make the sort of changes we’ve talked about in the past. To give you a sense of where you should be aiming, I’d like to see you cut the amount of talking you’re doing in work discussions down to about 30% of its current level. That’s a big cut, obviously, but it’s essential to be able to advance here.”

2. Should you tell an interviewee she has something in her teeth?

Our team interviewed a candidate today who had a large clump of lipstick on her teeth. No one brought it up. We talked for about an hour and it was a pretty good interview. But I kept imagining her discovering the lipstick blob afterwards and being embarrassed after the fact. I think none of us told her because she was young and we didn’t want to make her nervous, but I know I would have wanted to know if I were her. What would you have done?

Was there any opportunity to say something to her privately (not in front of an entire panel of interviewers), and was there a way she could have fixed it privately (like on a bathroom break)? If so, you could have discreetly said something to her, ideally just at the start of that break so she could immediately fix it in private. If not, though, it’s a lot harder. I suppose in that case you could have suggested a break but if it was only an hour-long interview, that’s difficult to do. So ultimately, I think it’s okay that you didn’t say anything. Not ideal, but it sounds like maybe it was unavoidable for it to play out that way.

3. New hire is constantly disappearing

We recently hired someone who is in his third week on the job. He is very junior and needs a lot of training. This is not unexpected. He is, however, constantly disappearing for 10-30 minutes at a time. It’s hard to get anything done when it takes him so long to turn around very simple review comments. I’ll casually walk around the office to see if he’s simply chatting with coworkers or getting some water but he’s nowhere.

I don’t know how to address this as it’s different than an employee who is always late or leaving early. I’ve made comments (via email) such as, “I’m not sure where you’ve disappeared to, but stop by when you’re back.”

You need to be more direct. You’re relying on him to pick up on your hints, but it’s not working. You need to say, “I’ve noticed that you’re regularly away from your desk for 10-30 minutes at a time and I’m unable to find you. I need you to be more reliably at your desk, meaning that you’re there the vast majority of the time unless you’re at lunch, getting water, or in the bathroom. Can you do that?”

Do be prepared for the possibility that he has a medical need for really long bathroom breaks — but if that’s the case, he needs to talk to you about what sort of accommodations he needs, awkward as that might feel.

4. I’m going to be away for my intern’s whole first week

I have recently hired a new intern, John who is scheduled to start his first day in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve just received news of a death in the family, and the funeral is scheduled the same week that John is starting. I will need to be out that entire week, as the funeral is in another country (where my partner is from and where most of my partner’s family still remains).

What do I do with regard to John? Do I try to push back his start date by a week? Do I have him start even though I won’t be there and see if someone else on my team can act as his “welcoming committee”? I’m concerned that if I keep his start date the same, he could have a poor first impression/experience, with limited direction or resources if he has questions, and a sense that he isn’t a valued member of the team. I’m also concerned that others on my team might feel put upon, since I’m really the only one on the team who does what I do and they probably wouldn’t have much work to give him. However, I’m afraid that if I push his start date back, he’ll be out of a week’s pay, and perhaps he is counting on that to cover living and other expenses for the semester.

Why not give him the choice? You could explain the situation and say something like, “Would you like to push your start date back by one week, to (date)? Or alternatively, if you’d rather not do that, we can stick to your original start date, with the caveat that the first week will be a bit slow since I won’t be there and you won’t get as much guidance that week as you will once I’m back. Either option is absolutely fine — is there one you’d prefer over the other?”

You may find he doesn’t care about the missed pay, or that he cares very much. But rather than making the choice for him, let him make it!

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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An open minded personality.. fun to be with, because of my positive vibes. God fearing, for without God I am nothing.. Moved with compassion when dealing with you, not selfish or self-centered...

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