How do you get someone to listen?
May 18, 2009 9:18 AM   Subscribe

Why am I constantly be dismissed in conversation?

In the last few months I've found myself in situations where people are just ignoring, or explicitly dismissing my opinion out of hand (you are too young, you don't get it, you are weird - or worse, the knowing glance and the roll of the eyes), and basically working around me. Each time, I feel totally powerless, frustrated and generally angry.

What I don't know how do is to give my opinion enough force in the conversation that this stops or at the individual(s) have to at least give it a fair shake - but doing that without becoming a screaming lunatic.

Don't get me wrong - I'm a generally a introverted soft spoken person. I don't generally want to beat people into my point of view, and am totally willing to follow the crowd if thats how it ends up. But in these groups (all different), there are these strong figures who are suddenly ignoring every word that I say and I'm struggling with the need to attack them to be heard. I'm not sure what to do.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Try being confident. Also, 'soft-spoken' does not get you anywhere unless you manage to put some amount of gravity behind your words. And don't go along with the group if you can do it reasonably tactfully and it's worth it. Grow some gonads.

Introversion doesn't enter into the problem. I'm introverted, and at the same time, I am definitely NOT soft-spoken and generally am pretty good at garnering respect.
posted by kldickson at 9:24 AM on May 18, 2009

You can call people on all of these. If someone says "you're too young," challenge them to explain how your age invalidates your point. If they say "you don't get it," challenge them to explain
"it" to you. If someone rolls their eyes, say "rolling your eyes is not a counter-argument. Don't give me the eye roll, respond to my point."

Unfortunately, none of that will really change anybody's attitude towards you if they're not disposed to respect you. Then again, standing up for yourself can help earn respect. You can also earn respect by having established a track record of being right or helpful. If you argue a point but never push it to the point where it is seen to be right or wrong, you never establish that track record.
posted by adamrice at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with friendly debate, or with wanting to be treated with respect. But are you sure you're not one of those people who just gets nervous if they're not constantly the center of attention?
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2009

Without knowing anything about you (age, gender, occupation, specific scenarios rather than generalizations of times you are dismissed) I don't see how anyone can answer this question.

Other than to say, if all of your statements are as broad and all encompassing generalizations as this question then perhaps that is why they are dismissed.

But in all seriousness, I suggest you message an admin to add more details to this post. There's no way to help you without knowing what is going on.

I think mistake number one is just taking as a fact that everything you say is dismissed 100% of the time. To drill down further requires more data. I mean, people don't just say "you're weird" out of nowhere... IF that has in fact been said, then perhaps knowing the context and meaning would be helpful.
posted by arniec at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2009

Two possibilities:

1.) Your opinion is bullshit and everyone recognizes it as such. You are too young, you don't get it, and you are weird. This happens to everyone, particularly when you're either out matched in wits or experience. That doesn't mean that it is a permanent status though.

2.) The people who you interact with are all assholes who don't listen to anyone, let alone you. You can try and be more stern or assertive and that certainly can work, but generally these types are insecure and wrap themselves in unmovable opinions to compensate.

Reality may be a little of both.

How do you deal with it? Well, without examples or context it's hard to say what to do.

I do know that if I feel someone is being dismissive of my views I press them on it. Why exactly do they fill my view is invalid? Just ask next time it happens. And you better damn sure believe that if someone rolls their eyes at me they will have some 'splaining to do.

Further, rhetoric is an acquired skill. You can start here.
posted by wfrgms at 9:36 AM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound like a weird suggestion, but the guys above have already given you good answers as far as immediate responses, so this is just a general self-improvement idea to think about. Have you ever considered attending an improv comedy class / club? There may be one near you, especially if there is a college nearby.

It seems like something that would be barely relevant here, but oddly enough, it's the best way I've ever found to build confidence and learn to think on your feet. Once you get past the initial squicked-out feeling of crowd exposure (and maybe pass out a few times), you will start to become more aware of the subtle power balances that make up conversations. Also, it will sharpen your wit, which for many people earns respect over time.
posted by jake at 10:01 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You say "constantly," but I don't know what that means. These sorts of interactions are pretty much always highly contextualized. Who's involved (their relative social, chronological or hierarchical position)? What are you talking about? What are the unspoken discourse rules of the groups you're interacting in? All of these (and a lot more) play into the sorts of situations you're describing here, and I can't get a read on your situation without them.

Or, what arniec said.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2009

Your description is a little vague, so I'm not sure exactly what your situation is. Take my advice with a grain of salt, and if it doesn't apply, please feel free to ignore it. But your description does remind me of the times when I've been thrust in a new social group or new workplace. I'm like you -- I don't want to have to bully people into listening to me. The coping method that has worked best for me at times like this like this is to act like a novice and project the attitude, "I want to learn from you!" This means ...

- Try to observe the norms of the group and figure out why they exist
- Listen more than you talk
- Ask honest questions (ie, "I don't know what that means. Can you explain it to me?")
- Give the group's methods an honest try, even if you don't agree with them

It might help you to imagine that the heavyweights of the group -- the ones who are being so dismissive -- are actually Nobel Prize-winning professors, and you're a student hoping to get them to teach you. So, if you have a suggestion, the exchange might go like this:

YOU: "Would it work to use the widget?
PROF: "No, the widget obviously won't work."
*a day passes*
YOU: "Hey, I've been reading up on that widget. I found out X Y and Z, which seems to indicate that it would work for the task. But I know I must be missing something -- would you mind explaining the widget limitations to me?"

If you're not used to this approach, it can feel demeaning (especially if you're of the same age or older than the others in the group). But I actually like taking this posture. It allows you to (1) treat others with respect, (2) get better treatment from others, and (3) earn your way up the status ladder.

Remember, you don't have to do this forever -- as you learn the social norms of the group, you'll be better equipped to persuade people to do things your way. And if you represent yourself as a novice instead of demanding to be treated as an equal, you may find that people treat you kindly (they may even find it flattering that you want their help). The best thing about the novice role is that it has a path for advancement -- as you learn, people will find it only natural that you grow out of the novice role and become a respected "professor" yourself.
posted by ourobouros at 10:23 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm making an assumption that this is happening with different groups of people--sometimes you're at a bar with friends, sometimes it's at work, whatever. Assuming that this is true, I think that you need to accept that the problem isn't the people you're talking to, but is triggered by something in your presentation.

Do you overexplain or get hung up on small details? Do you find yourself getting sidetracked, telling stories that are tangential to your main point? Do you use talking as a way of thinking about what you're saying? It's been my general experience that this sort of thing is a huge turn-off to people and gets them dismissed before they've even made their point. It might be worth asking a trusted friend if you tend to ramble or something similar, and then adjust your speech patterns accordingly.
posted by MeghanC at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, let me acknowledge you for your restraint. It would be so easy to attack other people, in your situation. But every group has its omega, and it sounds to me as if you're often in that role. What this means to me is that you habitually get into groups where you're the junior member in some important respect: age, knowledge, assertiveness, or interpersonal skills. Plus, chances are, in each group where you're suffering, there are some key shared values, represented in the points of view of the group's leaders, that you don't wholeheartedly subscribe to, and so this makes it impossible for you to get promoted. Outlander values (as judged by the group) could be what they mean by "weird." If any of the above is true, tactics probably won't help much, but it's a good opportunity to learn humility. I would consider either accepting your junior role, understanding that you're not perfectly tuned for the groups you're in, or else finding alternative groups that you're better suited to and that will grant you more status. One other thing: The typos in your post could be a sign of chronic anxiety. If you express a lot of anxiety when you're interacting in a group, that could be a problem, too. Omegas are always anxious.
posted by markcmyers at 12:38 PM on May 18, 2009

Kind of reminds me of The Big Lebowski ("Shut the fuck up, Donnie!"). Are these loud-mouthed people who feel threatened by the slightest disagreement to their opinions? Is it always the same few people who do this to you? Do the others in the group(s) back them up, or just ignore them? Do they do this to other people, or just you? These are important in determining why this might be happening?
posted by ishotjr at 12:45 PM on May 18, 2009

Can you detail a specific instance or two of this for us?
posted by Gainesvillain at 2:10 PM on May 18, 2009

Language is a dance. An interplay of words & rhythms and subtle gestures.

If you're out of sync with those around you, you'll never be able to 'cut in' at the right time.

If you're in sync with those around you, cutting in & taking the lead will be as natural as anything you can imagine.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:23 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You already got advice regarding content, so here are a few suggestions for delivery.

Pay attention to your posture; practice standing straight but relaxed with your weight on both feet. Hold your head up high, meet people's eyes. Try what effect speaking with a slightly lower voice, a little more slowly and/or louder has. Listen attentively when others speak but don't nod too much. Don't fidget. Never lose your cool.
posted by sively at 4:29 PM on May 18, 2009

It's hard to tell whether you need to improve your game or find a better audience. So it's best to take advice that isn't dependent on either side being correct. The tact I'd take is to only pipe up if it feels right natural. If It feels like you have to climb some invisible social fence in order to be heard, then it might be better to just relax and listen. Those fences aren't arbitrary hurdles that need to be trounced on. They are there for a reason. If people aren't receptive to what you have to say, should you even be speaking your mind? Or if you don't have enough confidence in your ideas, should you really go out on a limb with a group and speak your mind?

Also, another thing I learned is that if you have a larger audience, your message has to have a broader appeal for it to fly.
posted by philosophistry at 8:00 PM on May 18, 2009

It's hard to know without more information. On the one hand, I know a person who everyone dismisses because she really is illogical, irrational, and has really ignorant uniformed opinions that she seems to put out there because she's insecure and places a lot of pride in being intelligent and wordly. Everyone, as far as I've come to find out, thinks this about her and so they don't like to encourage her to keep talking about stuff. Harsh, but true. For all I know, you might be in her position.

The advice in that case would be to ask yourself if you're making generalizations about things that aren't always true, or if you're pretending to know a lot about a subject when you really only know a little. If that's the case, try to stop doing that and instead take pride in being the kind of person who is willing to admit when they don't know something. The problem with this is usually people have to learn this the hard way, because when they ask themselves those kinds of questions they tend to tell themselves that they do know what they're talking about.

Let's hope you're not that kind of person.

Oh the other hand, if you get a handful of those kinds of people together with similar opinions, they will reinforce each other's ideas. If they're in a situation where they can gang up on someone else who tries to point something out, they will be dismissive of people who are actually reasonable. I have seen workplaces like that, though thankfully I've never had to work in one. One way to figure that out is to ask yourself if you only have that problem with a certain group of people: just at work, just family members, just people at this organization, etc. It's not fail-proof, though; you could be unlucky and surrounded in all aspects of life by a lot of unreasonably dismissive people, or you could surround yourself with a lot of unreasonable people who reinforce your beliefs so that you're inclined to tell yourself that reasonable people who dismiss you are actually the unreasonable ones. Without an example, though, there's no way of knowing what category you might fall under.

The advice in that case is to accept that there's some people you really can't reason with. However, you can get a bit farther if you present your ideas in a non-threatening and friendly way. If you're always nice to people and take care to give them credit where it is due, then you can get through to a lot more people than you could otherwise. The more you practice, the better you will get. Some people are seriously impossible, though.
posted by Nattie at 10:55 PM on May 18, 2009

Attack. Just call them out.

"What was that?"
"What was what?"
"You know what I'm talking about. What the fuck's with the eye rolling? Do you have a problem? Got a better idea?"

Or if you can't quite bring yourself to do that:

"If you've got an issue with my idea, I'd love to hear about it now."

Maybe they still won't listen to you, but at least you won't be taking it lying down. I'd rather have a reputation for being abrasive than as a doormat.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:21 AM on May 19, 2009

« Older bed etiquette?   |   Vetfilter:Canine Addison's disease Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.