He's the aural assailant who traps you near the party punch bowl. Or the vassal of verbosity you avoid at the office. Or the conversational cretin who sits next to you on the plane, bending your ear at 38,000 feet.
You'd love to tell them all to shut up. But such directness has yet to find its way into the Communication Age. So, instead, you wait it out as the interminable talker drones on.
Soon your brain takes a trip to Bali and your vocabulary skids into listless uh-huhs, oh yeahs, reallys and hmms.
And by the time all's done -- and said -- you realize you never mingled at the party, made that important phone call to a client or read the best-seller you'd hoped to finish during your flight.
You have become yet one more victim of one of the millions of problem talkers in America.
But help is on its way for both talkers and besieged listeners. Psychologists now are taking a more serious look at excessive talking and the impact of speech patterns.
"It's just now becoming a legitimate area of psychology and sociology," says Gerald Goodman, an associate professor of psychology at UCLA. "People are screwing up their lives because they don't pay enough attention to the way they talk. They destroy serenity."
While excessive talkers can be described in acerbic tones, Goodman groups them gently under the rubric "conversation crowders" in his paperback scheduled for release this month.
Co-authored with Glenn Esterly, "The Talk Book: The Intimate Science of Communicating in Close Relationships" (Ballantine, $4.95) provides a detailed and practical guide to understanding the nuances of talking. Goodman calls it a "road map" for navigating the hairpin curves of conversation.
"Chronic crowders are compulsive stealers of conversational space," he writes, adding that they take premature turns in most conversations and "knock the pins out from others" whenever they want attention.
Crowders not only detract from conversation but in extreme cases can ruin marriages and alienate friends. It's the less dramatic cases, however, that are grating ears coast to coast:
Such as the California insurance agent who dares not go near the coffee urn at the same time as a jabbering colleague. The entire office has dubbed him "Cliffy" behind his back -- a reference to the pedantic character in television's "Cheers."
Or the Connecticut office manager who has stopped greeting a friend with "How you doing?" because of the verbal outpouring that always ensued.
For all their aggravating traits, crowders are essentially sympathetic characters, psychologists say.
Hogging conversation is "rarely done with forethought or malice," Goodman writes. "Typically, chronic crowders aren't calculating people; they aren't trying to be rude; most honestly don't realize they're cutting off others."
Interminable talkers are "totally unconscious of the boring impact they have," says Stephen Bank, an adjunct professor of psychology at Wesleyan University. To combat the problem, Bank began conducting nationwide seminars on the art of listening -- a quality often linked to nonstop gabbing.
"The compulsive talker seems insensitive to the cues of listening," says Bank, whose clients include sales representatives, educators and physicians. "Corporate managers frequently report chronic talkers as a problem."
Bank attributes much of the problem to the fast-paced world. People don't have time for blowhards. "We want fast food, sound bites and the bottom line first," he says.
Chronic talking mostly is a male domain. Experts cite studies showing men are much more likely to butt into conversations and dictate pace, context and topic.
For those reasons, among others, the all-women student body of Mills College successfully fought the admission of men into their California school.
Regardless of gender, spotting the compulsive talker is easy. Knowing why they do it is more difficult.
Some talkers gush endlessly because they feel sheer quantity of speech is synonymous with quality, explains Bank. "They don't feel like they're being taken seriously," he says. "It often reflects an underlying insecurity from not having been listened to when they were younger."
Still others use a wall of words to hide their fear of abandonment and emotional contact. Repetitious war stories and nostalgic recollections by the elderly often are desperate attempts to "connect" with others. They want to be known as they were, not as they are.
Whatever the underlying reasons, excessive talkers are viewed too negatively by society, experts say. Such attitudes often stem from a listener's frustration with the talker, who appears self-centered.
The dilemma of the vexed listener is that the rabid talker often is too nice to shun, but too boring to befriend. One friendly Florida restaurant owner, for example, has a reputation for descending on his regular customers. On one occasion, he asked a couple what was new in their lives. When the pair said they were getting married, moving overseas and embarking on new careers, his response was, "That's nice."
He immediately began a half-hour monologue about the latest city sewer referendum -- his own pet project.
"He probably was overwhelmed with his own feelings," explains Bonnie Jacobson, director of the New York Institute for Psychological Change. "Maybe jealously or inadequacy."Jacobson, who has devised a recovery plan for chronic talkers, says they first must recognize they have a problem.
After that, she advises that they isolate and put aside the anxiety that's driving the talk, then try to click into the other person's thinking. From there, the talker can develop empathy and build a bridge to real dialogue.
Support groups for problem talkers have formed, including one in Los Angeles for motor mouths and another for slow talkers who can't get a word in edgewise.
For something so basic, the mechanics of talking are deceptively complex. Experts say compulsive talkers are too quickly dismissed by society as colossal bores. But keeping mum only makes them feel shut out and disconnected.
"One of the worst things a person can do is remain silent," says Bank "Interrupting compulsive talkers is not rude; it's helping them."
Controlling the Flow
Sure everyone now and then lapses into an occasional monologue, but experts say problem talkers are habitual offenders. No matter where they go, they talk too much and get on people's nerves. Even worse, they have no idea of their reputations.
So now, take a minute to ask yourself:
Do people always seem eager to leave the room when I begin to talk?
When I talk, are the listeners regularly looking or turning away? Do they rub their fingers across the bridge of their noses? (Such subtle, and unconscious, gestures can indicate you're boring them.)
How many questions do I ask during a normal conversation? (Excessive talkers often have difficulty showing interest in others.)
How often do I interrupt people? (Compulsive talkers are poor listeners.)
Is there someone I can ask for honest feedback of my speaking habits? (Be prepared to listen.)
Controlling a compulsive talker:
Working or socializing with a blatherer can be pure torture. Most people falsely assume the best strategy is to feign interest while plotting their escape. This grin-and-bear-it approach might work but it wastes your time, is rarely enjoyable and does nothing to solve the problem.
Here are a few things you can do to regain control of the conversation:
Don't remain silent. This feeds the anxiety of talkers and encourages them to continue.
Slow down the conversation. Make a conscious effort to lessen the pace of your own speech. This may help the compulsive talker relax.
Interrupt. Talkers need constant yet polite reminders that conversation is a two-way street. Try these lines:
"Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"Could you slow down a bit please, I'm trying to grasp what you're saying."
"I need to interrupt you; I'm having a hard time getting my point across."
"May I have some equal time here?"
Don't be embarrassed to ask the talker to summarize his ideas in a short sentence or two.
Never attack. Excessive talkers often are insecure people hiding behind a wall of words. Despite appearances, they actually can feel vulnerable.