Body+Soul writer Shona Hendley gets to the bottom of why you’ve just told a stranger your complete life story.
Verbal diarrhoea is the constant, continuous flow of talk that just never seems to cease. We’ve probably all had it, or at least been on the receiving (or tuning out) end of it before.
For me, it is a go-to when I am nervous or when there are awkward silences because sharing some random fact about my life, despite it often being way too personal, seems the preferred option to the forced smiles and frequent time checking alternative.
But why is it that some of us get the verbal runs more than others and more importantly, what we can do to put a stop to them?
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Body + Soul spoke with psychologist, Meredith Fuller to find out.
“There are two main reasons for people experiencing verbal diarrhoea,” she says.
“People who have interpersonal anxiety [cough, cough, me] may be frightened of silence or at least uncomfortable with it. This can lead to verbal diarrhoea,” she says.
Sometimes it is also because a person would prefer not to be asked anything themselves, so filling the silence seems the best option.
2. Being very extroverted
“People who are extroverted often don’t have much internal reflection, meaning that they process things externally,” says Fuller. This can result in a person’s internal dialogue, becoming external.
She also says that although it may appear like it, verbal diarrhoea is not about power or control. In fact, it is often the opposite which is why those with heightened levels of anxiety can often have some of the most severe episodes.
Other factors that may cause a case of verbal dysentery include, who the chatterbox is in the company of and how these people make them feel.
“Sometimes when people are around others they know really well and are comfortable, the diarrhoea can stop because they are more at ease. But it can also work in reverse too, particularly if they are excited to see them and this nervous excitement takes over,” Fuller says.
In addition, some people who are considered the life of the party or the leader of a particular social or friendship group can naturally fall into this talkative role.
And unfortunately for those of us who may be prone to this condition, Fuller says it can be a problem.
“If you are experiencing verbal diarrhoea, you aren’t listening to other people. A good conversationalist will pass the conversation around,” she says.
Some other side effects that arise, according to Fuller, can include:
- Being viewed by others as a turn off and not someone they want to be around
- Being seen as a poor listener
- Appearing to lack empathy
- Having poor communication skills
While it is possible to have an episode of verbal diarrhoea (just like the other type of diarrhoea), without it being a major issue, it can also become a problem if it happens too frequently.
If you’re not sure how much, is too much, Fuller suggests considering asking yourself the following questions:
1. Simply, ask yourself and/or others.
“Usually you will know if you are talking too much and asking some friends or colleagues you trust can provide you with a definitive answer.
2. Can you stop midstream (conversation that is)?
If the answer is no, that can be a sign you have a problem.
3. When you are talking are people actively engaged?
Hint: If eyes are glazing over, there are no “uh-huhs” or verbal cues, their attention is more on the table next to you, or their watch, the answer is no.
Thankfully, Fuller says that there are steps you can take to put a stop to even the most severe case of verbal diarrhoea.
- If you notice those glazed eyes or other signs that those in your company are not engaged, stop.
- Time yourself talking. “Any more than 3-4 minutes straight is too long!”
- Check the other person or people’s body language. If they are crossing arms or moving away from you, press pause on the chat.
- If you notice you are talking too much, acknowledge it and apologise and ask them a question. “Check in with others around you,” she says.
But it’s not all bad news if you, like me, are a bit more prone to having a loose tongue.
“It can be a good thing as well,” Fuller says.
“If it is an awkward situation like a party or waiting for a meeting to start, verbal diarrhoea can make you and others around you relax in an uncomfortable situation.”
“Just remember to share the space!”
*Please note throughout this article I tried to use friendlier alternatives for the really gross term that is diarrhoea, but it seems there are none.
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.