What MAFS (and a psychologist) taught us about dealing with ‘over-talkers’

Married At First Sight bride Hayley Vernon is a prime example of someone who struggles to let people have the floor, so to speak. Psychologist Briony Leo gives her professional opinion on how to cut through the noise (literally) and make sure your voice, and your feelings, are heard.

We all know an over-talker – that person who can’t let you get a word in edgeways, leaving you frustrated and unheard even in everyday conversations.

If you’re familiar with over-talkers, then you may have felt seen by last night’s episode of Married At First Sight, in which a commitment ceremony turned tense after controversial bride Hayley Vernon repeatedly spoke over her husband, David, as well as the experts.

The turbulent couple ended up airing a whole lot of dirty laundry as they argued over a joke Hayley made about her husband’s wage and his hang-ups with her former drug addiction.

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After watching the couple bicker for a while with Hayley dominating the conversation, expert John asked to take the floor to offer some advice, at which point Hayley interrupted, “Can I just say something really quickly?”

“No, you cannot!” John replied, causing a collective gasp of shock around the nation.

While we all love the drama of MAFS, the communication issues on display last night demonstrated that petty arguments over money were underlying a bigger issue that a lot of us can relate to: how to actually deal with an over-talker in a way that ensures nobody’s emotions are minimised or sidelined.

So, we turned to psychologist Briony Leo for some insight into what’s really going on when you can’t open your mouth without being cut off.

Try to empathise

According to Briony, the first place to start is by considering what’s causing an over-talker to actually over-talk.

“Yes, they might just really like talking, but it is also likely that they are used to not really being heard – and so they’ve developed a habit of trying to get their point across by hammering it home,” explains Briony.

Communication goes both ways – listening and talking are equally important, and people need to be able to fit into both roles.

“When we think about being ‘heard’, it is a two way street – the person needs to have good enough communication skills to get things across directly, and the person they are talking to also needs to show they are listening,” she says.

Hayley and David’s conversation on Married at First Sight last night is a clear example of this. As Hayley has explained, her past has involved some pretty traumatic stuff, so it’s natural that she is trying to “hammer home” her perspective in the argument.

“When we look at someone like Hayley, it is clear that she is anxious for her side of the story to be heard – but she is going about it all the wrong way and ends up with not being heard at all,” explains Briony.

So how do you deal with an over-talker?

If you think someone is frequently minimising your feelings and cutting you off in conversations, you don’t just have to let them run their course.

Briony has a few tips for encouraging more productive conversations and discussions with over-talkers, and it all starts with being direct.

“Take them aside and ask directly – what do you really want to say? What is important for me to hear from you right now?” she suggests.

“Remember, over-talking is often a sign of anxiety and insecurity, and being able to validate and reassure the individual is likely going to calm them down and help them focus on what it is they want to communicate.”

Get to the point

According to Briony, getting straight to the point and addressing the issue directly is key.

“Say something like, ‘I noticed that when there is a lot of pressure, you really try to get your point across- but at the same time it is hard for me to speak, or for others to speak – what’s that about?’ she recommends.

“Often over-talkers are so caught up in the moment that they might not realise they are blocking others from the conversation.”

So, next time you’re faced with an over-talker, remember to consider where they’re coming from, and directly ask what they need you to hear – and don’t forget to play the roles of listener and speaker equally yourself.

I never thought I’d say it, but I guess I’ve actually learned a valuable life lesson about healthy communication through this MAFS’ couple. Take that, reality TV naysayers.

Briony Leo is a Melbourne psychologist who works with couples, individuals and addictions. She is interested in helping people have good relationships and improve their wellbeing through better understanding of psychology, as well as ongoing behavioural changes.