I KNOW. Well. Sometimes. :(
September 6, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I curb my know-it-all tendencies and adjust the way I say or suggest things during a conversation? How can I come to terms with my frustration about being asked to filter my words when others aren’t tasked with the same request?

My newer-SO confessed to me this weekend that he sometimes finds the way I express my opinion abrasive. It’s not what I say that’s upsetting; it’s how I say it. He is concerned that whether I know it or not, I frequently come across as trying to prove to people how smart I am, and that I often give extraneous information that does not add to a conversation, but instead makes me look foolish and like a big know it all. Conversely, he says, there are times where I say so little and interact so infrequently during a conversation that I come across as aloof and stuck-up. As a result, it is sometimes hard to take what I say seriously because I either seem like a swot, or a little judgmental. This is obviously a very upsetting revelation and I am very embarassed and angry about it, but I am grateful that my boyfriend cares about me enough to tell me that I am not as gracious as I think I'm being.

For the most part, when I am around people I don’t know very well (or in the case of my boyfriend’s friends, some people I don’t particularly like) I work very hard to be as gracious and as natural as possible so that I do not offend anyone or ruffle too many feathers. I try to listen more than speak so that I can really get to know who I’m with. I do know that when I am particularly anxious or particularly relaxed, I can become a know-it-all just because I enjoy talking with people and having something to contribute to the conversation. I am never unkind, I very rarely gossip, and I genuinely enjoy the company of the people I meet, even if we’re at odds sometimes due to newness or personality conflicts.

Now I feel very paralyzed, because apparently I’m damned if I speak, and damned if I don’t.

The worst part about this is that my SO has a few friends whose behaviors are never reproved or commented on. I am happy to change my behavior and work towards being a more comfortable conversationalist, but it bothers me that these other people get to run free with their abrasive personalities without remark. When I’ve inquired after some of these folks, my SO and his friends just say, “That’s just how they are.” Well, maybe this is just how I am, too, you know? What's so special about these other people and why do they get a free pass when they're being blatantly in-your-face-rude or whatever?

I expressed all these things to my SO as civilly as I could but obviously I’m hurt and embarssed. He immediately recanted his comments when I stood up for myself and now I feel worse like he’s not going to be honest with me about this sort of stuff in the future. I want to know if I’ve slighted someone, but I feel very sad about the possibility that it’s my personality that does it when I am well liked in all other parts of my life.

How can I curb my know-it-all tendencies and adjust the way I say or suggest things during a conversation? How can I come to terms with my frustration about being asked to filter my words when others aren’t tasked with the same request? What kind of therapy would be best for this kind of attitude/behavior adjustment?
posted by iLoveTheRain to Human Relations (36 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What's so special about these other people and why do they get a free pass when they're being blatantly in-your-face-rude or whatever?

I suspect that those people are men, and that you are not.

To be less abrasive, you have to want to be less abrasive yourself, for yourself. (I say this as someone who had a "don't be so abrasive" come-to-Jesus talk with some friends lo these 15 years ago and it really tipped the balance...I felt bad about it but I gradually became friendlier and more easy-going. But that was because I myself wanted to, and I saw my behavior as a problem.)

So we need to establish whether you're actually abrasive or whether you're just "abrasive for a girl". Can you ask other friends for their frank opinions? How do you feel about yourself?
posted by Frowner at 11:34 AM on September 6, 2011 [12 favorites]

It's really unclear that your SO is giving you helpful or even passingly objective advice. Do others in your life agree with him? Is it possible you're just not saying the things he would have said? I mean, maybe it's him.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:35 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

How new is this SO?

I would never give this kind of vague and general criticism to someone whom I liked enough to date. I don't get it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:36 AM on September 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I agree with the young rope rider that you would not say those things to someone you enjoy dating. Personally, I would put your SO's comments in the red flag category (as in, is he truly being constructive or just a critical jerk?).
posted by murrey at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did he happen to give you any examples of this? Going by strictly what you've said, it sounds more like a personality clash than any specific problem inherent to your conversational style. Before you start thinking you need therapy because your SO thinks you and his friends are not getting along, try to figure out what happens in the moments he is talking about. Could be he's right, could be that he's a dick and his friends are dicks.

...but it bothers me that these other people get to run free with their abrasive personalities without remark.

Do you know this for a fact? I mean, I assume your SO talked to you about this in private and not in front of everyone. So, perhaps these people have been talked to by their SOs or friends or whatnot and maybe they're trying and/or they're not getting any better.

We all have friends who can be pains in the asses, but who we're not just going to give up on because they're abrasive or socially inept. Perhaps they're not getting a free pass at all and rather when neither you, nor they, are in the room people are saying "jesus, can you believe what Phil said? What's up with that guy?"
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on September 6, 2011

I would be wary of all this. It's one thing to tell someone, you can be abrasive at times, but another to tell someone their entire communication style is busted. To me it sounds likes he just doesn't like you (though he might not realize it) and is trying to "fix" you so he doesn't have to break up with you. That's not fair to you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ooh, I hit post by mistake...

If you really are abrasive, it will take a while to change - if anyone is looking for an overnight fix, that isn't happening.

Something to remember through this process: if most people like you and you have good friends, then you're really just looking at breaking a little bad habit like biting your nails. You're not an awful person; you're not even a person with big personality problems.

I focus carefully on following up on someone's remark in the spirit that it was made - if someone is talking happily about the new Britney Spears video, I follow up with positive questions, parallels and comments rather than trying to share my opinion of Britney Spears. Or I talk about what I know of her from the gossip pages. I don't try to change the tone of the conversation. (Unless it's ethically necessary.)

I also focus on asking questions. I tell stories that are funny or informative rather than negative or about my successes.

Sometimes I meet someone who is abrasive themself, and then we just have a festival of crabby banter because we recognize each other and know that it won't matter. This has the potential to surprise the casual observer.
posted by Frowner at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I haven't met you, but here's what I think, based purely on your description of your SO's complaint: I think you're fine. I think that—like every human being alive—you're imperfect, have some quirks, and annoy some people sometimes. I think there's an excellent chance that your quirks, as described, are tolerable to almost everyone, and do not not constitute a major, unforgivable personality flaw. I think your SO is, at best, doing you a disservice by framing something you do that irritates him in particular as an objectively bad characteristic.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:49 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

A huge part of me just desperately wants this to be some kind of minor personality clash, but I've gotten feedback like this before, even from my parents. I have been told that I am intense/"too animated" when trying to argue a point, or when I provide extra information about a topic. I do think that some of this is my boyfriend not being used to a very vivacious girlfriend (8 months +) but I am self-aware enough to know that I do this in certain circumstances and that's not good. A more unkind boyfriend from my past told me that I am long-winded. Obviously I've been trying for some time to adjust, but my previous method of just really listening and only offering my opinion sometimes apparently isn't great either.
posted by iLoveTheRain at 12:00 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify...I have an ex who is a fine person, but we just don't get along as friends. We irritate the hell out of each other, especially in group situations. We are both perfectly sociable people with friends who love us and we had a lot of affection and respect for one another, but the second we quit sleeping with each other it became blatantly obvious how much we did NOT get along.

Maybe it would have worked out in the long term if we did nothing but have sex and avoid each other's friends, but it's pretty tough to have an intertwined relationship when there's that much of a personality incompatibility. Living together, for example, would have been out of the question.

Sometimes the sex/attraction papers over a basic personality incompatibility. If that's the case for you and your SO, it's good that you found out sooner rather than later.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:01 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't be so bothered by these comments, particularly in unkind company.

People have multiple facets in a variety of situations with considerations of present company. I can be to some observers as a "know-a-lot" (know one knows all, that's simply silly), as well as abrasive (read asshole). Yet I am usually quick to apologize when wrong. In some company, I turn down the dial of being argumentative and go into listening mode, even in instances I know the other person is making inaccurate statements on something I am well versed in. If you were to witness an exchange between a couple of dear friends of mine, you may believe we were adversaries (at the end of the day these couple of people are arguementative and its always in good fun).

All in all, embrace youself. Don't let others dictate who you are, or who you should be.
posted by handbanana at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2011

Heh, cross-posted with you.

Maybe it's a bit of an incompatibility and something you should try to work on. I'm a long-winded know-it-all, too. ADHD medication helps (seriously) plus, when I catch myself doing it I make a joke about it and apologize.

I also avoid topics that tend to lead me to lecture/argue.

My friends have to suck it up to some extent, though, because I'm not going to bend myself into pretzels. Everyone has flaws.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:05 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with Frowner's first comment about being sure whether you're really abrasive or just more opinionated, smart, and confident in your intelligence/opinions than some people find comfortable in a woman. I have this problem too, with 8 out of 10 people my outspoken nature is absolutely fine, and dare I say, valued. But there are those other 2 out of 10 (usually men) who find it irksome. But it's really their problem, not mine.

Do you have as many friends as you want? Generally, people who are truly obnoxiously abrasive and condescending end up with people trying to avoid them. So if you don't have many friends or the ones you do have often seem to be trying to find ways to avoid spending time with you, than yes you might need to work on something. You might want to ask some other friends whether they've noticed anything really offensive in your communication style. I just find it really odd/unbelievable that you could be this really annoying boor and nobody else has ever given you any indication besides this new partner, who let's face it, has a conflict of interest. You don't like his friends, they may not like you, he's in the middle. It's easier for him to try and get you to change, than to try and get them to change.
posted by katyggls at 12:06 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, this is definitely gendered too. The ex I referenced above apparently thinks I'm a bitch sometimes. The genderedness of the word is telling, I think.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:08 PM on September 6, 2011

It is amazing how comments like that can raise insecurities in people who are really quite fine.

It's one thing if you're hanging with a crowd that, for example, doesn't speak sarcasm or tends not to snark. It's another thing when someone very close to you says the exact thing that screws with your emotions so that "damned if you do and damned if you don't" feeling gives them a little more control over you. Some people, without trying, are master manipulators that way. Some people do it on purpose. It's just one way of keeping someone down.

Having parents and a previous boyfriend who've undermined your confidence in the past makes you ripe for choosing more people who'll do the same, possibly including this guy. If you are a person of good quality and great character and you just happen to have a great big personality too, but you also know your own weaknesses, you also, hopefully, can choose better whenever you get the opportunity. If this guy is the be-all and end-all himself, then continue to try to adjust. But otherwise, aside from maybe working on mirroring others when you suspect you're going over-the-top and needing to learn to gauge how others are receiving you - I'd say finding a significant other who thinks better of you would be a great start.
posted by peagood at 12:09 PM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Does this blog post ring any bells? It totally does for me and people's comments about me being a know-it-all. I try and remember this part especially: 'Whoever pulls a "well, actually" almost always shifts the conversation to [him/her]self.' I don't think this is specific to the male gender, as the author of the post suggests, and I definitely don't like it being framed as a 'getting laid' issue. But the thought behind it is something interesting to me (and my fellow nerds - now we've made it a running joke at our lab).
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:17 PM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Again assuming you are a woman, but this really does sound like Ye Olde Sexism rearing its head. Which is bullshit of course, but there may not be a whole lot you can do short of changing your scene (which you may not be ready to do).

I'm not a woman so I rarely have been called out for similar behavior (though I often see women criticized for it unfortunately), but it has definitely happened, invariably from guys who don’t see me as a physical threat and thus don’t believe I should be allowed to be better (i.e. smarter) than them at anything. This happened when I started dating my wife. She once confessed to me that her brothers didn’t really like me because they thought I was a know-it-all, and they often mocked me behind my back.

Truth is that I really was and am a know-it-all. I was pretty pissed about their behavior because I had been really careful to not mock them for their willfully ignorant jock mentality. But since I had asked she told me what they thought, and then I had a choice to make. Since my future wife had never complained about me being me, and since we were getting along so swimmingly, I decided to stick around and even made efforts to change my behavior so that I would at least be accepted by her brothers. Yes, it was distasteful (and it still is), but it worked wonders and helped me obtain the thing I was truly after: companionship with the woman of my dreams. It’s amazing how much one is able to put up with to be with the person they love.

Now for some practical tips if you are feeling the same way: just watch for catchphrases that might sound annoying and try to eliminate them, things like “well actually” or “did you know” or stuff like that. One thing I ended up doing was practicing the art of deferral: couching opinions in slightly weasel ways (I told you it would be distasteful) to avoid sounding too knowledgeable or confident. Ask questions instead of stating opinions. You can usually still get your point across by asking the right questions, and it’s sometimes less confrontational. Or just avoid expounding too much and respond in most situations with non-committal phrases like “I hadn’t heard that before” (for times when the speaker is dead wrong) or “that’s interesting” (I use that one a lot as a euphemism for “that’s fucking moronic”) or “I’d like to learn more about that”, etc…

The question you really have to answer is are you ready to change yourself in a significant way in order to please your SO who isn’t comfortable with the way you are at this point in your life? Is your relationship that special/good (it might be, only you can decide that)?
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:33 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I posted before I saw your follow up, sorry. If you have gotten this sort of feedback from people besides SO, then maybe you do need a little adjustment. But honestly, I still say that if you have plenty of friends (or as many as you'd like to have) and have good relationships with people, this is probably a very minor thing for most people that know you. So don't become obsessed with squashing your personality down into this little tiny box just to please the few people who find it unbearable (your SO's friends for example).

One thing you can do is use humor to diffuse a situation when it gets too intense. Sometimes I'll be having a debate on some topic with friends and if it feels like I'm maybe getting too intense, I'll stop and crack a joke and smile. It's a way of letting other people know that this is just a friendly debate, not an argument, and nobody needs to feel threatened. The way to change any unwanted behavior in oneself is to simply become hyper aware of it, without becoming too critical or hard on yourself about it, because that's counter-productive. After awhile you'll notice right away when you're becoming too animated about a subject, and you'll be able to smoothly adjust your tone or direction as needed.
posted by katyggls at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2011

I write as someone who's had such difficulties (that is to say, the things you are accused of are actually true of me). Having it pointed out to me was next to useless, and resulted in appalling social feedback loops.

Best not to think of it as problem of moral failing, but rather as a lapse in technique. And lapses in technique can be addressed.

Whether or not this is a fair accusation in your case, if you are interested in strategies which would mitigate putative behaviour of this kind, even as an experiment (which is possibly the best way to approach it anyway), may I suggest setting yourself (for a set period, or on predetermined occasions) to make a conscious effort to listen actively to someone who is speaking to you - that is to aim to be aware both of the intention behind their words and the words they are using (often the two are quite different), with the intention of understanding where it is in their world view the words are coming from, and with that being the centre of your attention rather than what you are going to say next.*

If the problem as you outline it exists, in the first case of overspeaking and a tendency to talk at and over people would be curbed, in addition to which any reply would take the other person's opinion into account directly. In the second case of appearing aloof, you would be making a conscious effort to engage with other people, even when not speaking, which is all you can do, really.

If the problem as you outline it does not exist, and it's just someone being hypercritical... well, it's a valuable exercise, in any case, and with your increased emotional muscle and sensitivity you can upgrade to a more suitable SO later on.

For extra points, you can aim to listen to yourself when you're talking. That can get freaky.

The advantage of this technique is that you're not trying not to do something (which is tough), but rather have a positive aim regarding what you will do.

*I just realised this is a ridiculously long sentence. I ought to edit it down and make it readable, but I quite like it. Apologies for convolution.
posted by Grangousier at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(It's also possible that you're hanging out with people who aren't very intellectually curious and who find it weird or threatening that you have enthusiasm - there are people, for example, who find it really weird and kind of stupid that I geek out about history because they never geek out about anything - getting excited about the Enclosure Acts is completely incomprehensible to them. There are also people who understand getting excited about ideas and who will basically think it's cute when you do it, even if they also think that you should let others get a word in edgewise.

Women are socialized to think that if we don't make an effort to make everyone around us feel good every minute then we are failing in our duty. This is not actually true. It's awesome to be easygoing and really good at keeping the conversational flow going, but you can still be well-liked and a good person even if you sometimes cause tangents or tell people about Fibonacci numbers too much.
posted by Frowner at 12:36 PM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Lots of good stuff above. I just have some questions or pointers I'd suggest for you that I think haven't been said yet:

> You say you sometimes add too much information - is any of this information wrong, or things you're really not sure about? And you toss them in anyway, because it sounds smart to say? I wish I had an example of this. If you're doing this, then this may be your chief problem and I'd work on fixing it. I don't mean that you lie or anything; but ask yourself if you have a tendency to riff on a topic in a way that sounds like you know what you're talking about, when really, you kinda don't.

> You might just be someone who enjoys a thorough debate or discussion. Have you ever considered an outlet for this interest of yours? Maybe join a debating society or a book club or something? Or pursue some kind of academic interest, if that's possible. Maybe you simply lack an outlet for testing your ideas, and it isn't that you're interested in steamrolling people to prove how smart you are, it's just that you'd welcome a little give-and-take. And the people around you currently aren't interested or capable of engaging that way.

You may well just be an introverted type who likes to dive deeply into topics rather than skimming on the surface with mild, light banter, like most people do.

> You may want to adjust your conversational style so that when you begin to respond to a topic in conversation, you just give outa slightly provocative, offbeat, funny tip-of-the-iceberg of your opinion on the matter at hand. In other words, start off brief and punchy. If your talk partners react like, "why do you think that?" or "what do you mean X and Y?" then you've drawn them into inviting you to expand, rather than you starting off like a talking encyclopedia from the very start.

Journaling on a daily basis may help you develop your opinions in this way, so that you empty yourself of your long-form opinions on topics you care about and develop the short, pithy summaries of those same opinions to share in conversation with others.
posted by Philemon at 12:47 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I get the feeling that a lot of people who are answering this question are this friend, rather than having this friend. hydrobatidae's link to the "well, actually" post is what I see as the most helpful answer in this thread. I have an ex-boyfriend/current friend who maybe wouldn't be an EX if he wasn't such an inveterate "well actually"-er. He's a wonderfully good-hearted person, for the most part, but his "well, actually"s can derail a great conversation and leave his conversational partners feeling defensive and hurt. (This is in a group of friends who are all university faculty, by the way, so the issue is not that he is actually smarter than the rest of the group, just that he tends to have/share a larger store of "trivia", and reqire a greater degree of precision in casual conversation.)

To give an example, when we were dating we parked in a parking garage at a hotel. After taking the car out to get dinner and coming back we were able to park in either the exact same space or one space over from it. I said something to the effect of "oh good, this will make it easy to remember where to look for the car. We'll just look in the same place as last time." He came back with a debate about whether it was really the exact same space we had been in before, or might really be the one next to it. Thereby missing the point of my remark, bringing our conversation crashing to a halt, and making me frustrated that he heard what I said, but apparently didn't understand it.

If I were able to suggest one strategy to him, it would be that he hesitate before making a correction and think "is this person in immediate danger if I don't correct them right now?" and if they're not, refrain from correcting them. This would save him from situations like the ones where he embarrasses people and derails conversation by correcting pronunciation of a word.
posted by MsMolly at 12:56 PM on September 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

. . . but it bothers me that these other people get to run free with their abrasive personalities without remark

An SO is in a much more intimate relationship with you than a friend. It can be scary to open up with someone when you're not sure they'll treat your closer self with the respect and delicacy you need.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2011

"...these other people get to run free with their abrasive personalities without remark. "

"...I am grateful that my boyfriend cares about me enough to tell me that I am not as gracious as I think I'm being."

There you go. He's doing something for you that he wouldn't do for them.

I have slight tendencies toward know-it-all-ism myself. Here are some tricks that have helped me be more confident that I am a good conversational partner.

I try to pause before speaking and ask myself, "Am I sharing because this is interesting or exciting or of benefit to the people I'm talking to, or am I sharing because I want to prove I'm clever or right?" If it's the latter, especially, drop it. Nobody's gonna die if you don't correct everybody who's ever wrong about anything.

Also, give people an out and let them change the topic. If you get interrupted or someone suddenly derails the conversation, go ahead and let the other person rattle on, and don't try to steer the conversation back the previous topic unless your conversational partner does. It may be a sign that you were boring them. Or, maybe they just had a thought they needed to share and they'll come back and say, "Anyway, what were you saying?" and you can continue with good grace.
posted by BrashTech at 2:10 PM on September 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

When you talk to people about things you're excited about, do you see the interest in their eyes fading? Do you notice if they change the subject as soon as you're finished? do they ask you any questions or just nod and smile? These are signs that you're rambling on too long for your audience.

There's nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about things, but you have to pay attention to how people seem to be perceiving you. If your animated conversations are entirely one-sided in their interest level, you need to slow down the information flow before people's eyes glaze over. If you're watching for these signs carefully and not seeing them, it may be that the problem lies with your SO. I've had jealous boyfriends complain that I was too smart when people paid more attention to what I was saying than to them. However, I also share the tendency to be opinionated and long winded especially after much booze, so I try to pay better attention to the people I'm talking to. It also helps when you have a burst of long-windedness to wrap it up by saying something like ' ok, enough about my world, tell me what you think about [X]' to bring people back to the conversation. What really really helps is having lots of friends with the same tendency to geek out on stuff.

Basically, people I've noticed that really have a problem with this are people who fail to notice the non-verbal cues of people they're in conversation with. Sometimes when you're excited about a thing the capacity to be aware of the people around you fades. If you can cultivate attention even when enthused, you'll be fine. As for the "being quiet" thing, I've heard this complaint too. I have never noticed any person who smiles a lot being called aloof, even if they never speak. So I try to smile more in social settings even if feeling stupid or tongue-tied.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:13 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

He immediately recanted his comments when I stood up for myself and now I feel worse like he’s not going to be honest with me about this sort of stuff in the future.

wait wait wait -- you stood up for yourself and were honest about your feelings during this conversation, and now you're worried that's going to crimp HIS style in communicating with you? turn this around 180 degrees and you might have something to worry about.

That aside, if this was me, I'd want more specific information about what to change, like, "OK, when you want to express an opinion, try using an 'I' statement." Usually I see these sorts of communication tips in relationship books, so that might be a part of the library to browse (maybe check out Feeling Good Together, which has several chapters on 'communication skills')? I think "lapse in technique" is a good way to think of this, and building some knowledge/skills about different ways to communicate might be helpful. It's like writing in an academic style vs. a journalistic style.

Keep in mind, though, that any changes you decide to make to how you communicate should be because they make YOU feel better/more effective in conversations, not to please your SO or parents.
posted by hms71 at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2011

I can become a know-it-all just because I enjoy talking with people and having something to contribute to the conversation

Try looking at conversations as a way to gain enlightenment, not give it. How often in a conversation do you ask others for their opinions? If you do, do you subsequently respond with a long-winded validation/refutation of their statement?

The worst part about this is that my SO has a few friends whose behaviors are never reproved or commented on.

How do you know this? Your boyfriend has enough respect for you to address his concerns to you in private; presumably this courtesy is extended to everyone in their group.

When I’ve inquired after some of these folks, my SO and his friends just say, “That’s just how they are.”

It's entirely possible your boyfriend is saying this exact thing when his friends inquire about your behavior. Part of being a good friend is finding ways to accept behaviors that are irritating but not deal-breakers and, again, having come-to-jesus conversations about them in private.

For the most part, when I am around people I don’t know very well (or in the case of my boyfriend’s friends, some people I don’t particularly like I work very hard to be as gracious and as natural as possible so that I do not offend anyone or ruffle too many feathers.

Your dislike of your boyfriend's friends is probably not as well hidden as you think. You can't really "work hard" to be gracious and natural, because people sense that you are faking it. It tends to make people feel wary and suspicious, and will only exacerbate any otherwise minor issues they may have with you. If you have to grit your teeth to pretend to be gracious, you are better off skipping the charade entirely.

my previous method of just really listening and only offering my opinion sometimes apparently isn't great either

Here is where you are really shooting yourself in the foot. Conversations are about much more than you just expressing your opinion about a thing, and you dialing it back to a point where that's your only contribution probably leads people to think that you only find conversations worth participating in if/when they are about your opinions.

As an experiment, you might try to engage more in conversations where you are actually relatively ignorant about the subject. Try spending less time telling and more time asking. Find something that the other person knows about or is interested in and talk about that.

On the flip side, try to cultivate a sense of wanting to bring things to people that they will enjoy and see if that changes how you interact with them. There are people who can have encyclopedic knowledge of a subject but not make you feel like you're talking to a know-it-all because they clearly enjoy sharing something cool with their friends.
posted by stefanie at 2:22 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

One more thing: I have a little note taped to my computer monitor that has saved me from embarrassment countless times. It is the one piece of advice I give more often than anything else, and I'm going to write it here in bold letters because I think it is such an important thing to remember:

Know Your Audience
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:36 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

he sometimes finds the way I express my opinion abrasive. It’s not what I say that’s upsetting; it’s how I say it.

big know it all

intense/"too animated" when trying to argue a point, or when I provide extra information about a topic.

I share some of these traits. I really love knowledge, and I like political debate, and, like most humans, I like to be right. I think the bf was being honest, and trying to clue you in, esp. if he was kind in his approach. Your response is honest and open to change. Yay for both of you. Check out Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Read up on being a good listener. Learn to say "What do you think?" more often. Ask bf to bear with you as you grown and learn, just as you put up with his imperfections. It's an excess of enthusiasm, coming out as know-it-all. You are a nice person, and you can learn more effective ways to communicate. I get a lot of my know-it-all-ness out by answering questions on Ask.me.

I keep reminding myself "It's more important to be loved than to be right." This applies to friendships and family, not to exams, voting, directions, etc.
posted by theora55 at 6:09 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it's very knee-jerk and unfair to assume poster's boyfriend is offering this advice out of sexism. If poster's boyfriend was gay and poster was male (with the same annoying qualities) I bet the boyfriend would have given the same advice.

I know the personality characteristics he is warning you about. And yes, they are very annoying. I think these qualities stem from insecurity, and you try to compensate by being overbearing in group settings. And no, it's not that your boyfriend is okay with GUYS being overbearing, I bet. Overbearing, know-it-all people come across as children greedy for attention. Whether male or female, it's annoying as hell. I think you should be grateful for his courage in bringing this up, because such warnings are often rewarded by "you're just sexist/you can't deal with strong women/you can't love me for who I am."

Honestly, the personality characteristics he is letting you know about in yourself are about as appealing as a booger hanging out of your nose. Be glad he told you so you can fix it. People can really ruin social outings with their boorish know-it-all tendencies.

I don't know how to fix the behavior, but perhaps you should start aggressively filtering yourself. Ask yourself, before you speak, "is this adding to the conversation, or am I trying to score a point?" Take a less is more attitude and try it out the next time you're in a group setting.
posted by jayder at 8:50 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

BrashTech: "Nobody's gonna die if you don't correct everybody who's ever wrong about anything."

I'm another person that suffers from 'well, actually-ness and this is the realisation that I've had to come to, as well. I have to sometimes bite my tongue and tell myself that it really doesn't matter if I don't agree with what someone is saying and that often 'correcting' someone does more harm than just letting it go. The problem I have is in establishing a middle ground - I find it hard to just be one part of a conversation without dominating, so I tend to say either nothing at all or I end up foaming at the mouth.

The only thing I've found success with is to always pause before I say something and consciously think about why I think I need to say what I am about to. As jayder mentions, saying something just to score a point doesn't add to the conversation at all. You will find, also, that by saying less people will listen to you more.

It can be hard to learn that people find you abrasive and/or aggressive but, if multiple people are telling you this, it's likely that you are appearing this way, no matter how much you don't intend to. It's a tough habit to break - good luck!
posted by dg at 9:21 PM on September 6, 2011

Seconding those above who've noted that he's brought these issues up to you because he cares about you, and wants to not find you annoying or have his friends dislike you. I have had to point out stuff like this to my (wonderful) SO and it was very hard to do. If I didn't love him so much, if he was just a friend, I wouldn't have said anything (but I also wouldn't spend all my time with him.)

I share your know it all tendencies... I think all of us here on the Green probably do, that's why we're here, lecturing each other and doling out the free expertise, no? And I've definitely felt resentful at being asked to tone down my ~razor intelligence!~. So I sympathize. But I do urge you to listen to him and think about how to make other people feel entertained/liked/engaged when you're conversing with them, rather than showing them how smart you are.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:23 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

From one know-it-all to another, first, be encouraged because you can't change this unless you know about it. Be thankful that someone has made you aware of it!

I can only tell you what has helped me - finding venues where I could preach to my heart's content. I found online fora on topics that I thought I knew everything about, and I spouted like Moby Dick every chance I got. It did help me get it out of my system, but more importantly, I found out (through the responses of others) that being frequently wrong but never unsure meant that I was displaying my stunning ignorance about said topic for all to see. Not only did I learn to listen a lot more and to RESEARCH said topics a lot more than I was doing, but I also learned that words have meaning and that there was always someone out there who could teach me something. Having my thoughts dissected and systematically disproven over and over was also much easier behind the veil of anonymity that most online fora provide, too. Even if you are able to give opinions and be correct much of the time, it could teach you a lot about how to interact without having the constant urge to jump in and give your two cents.
posted by brownrd at 9:34 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Working under the assumption that your boyfriend has a point (which is something you can decide for yourself), I think it's notable that the two styles of conversation you mention are 1. Talking a lot about something and 2. Listening and waiting to voice your opinion. There's a time and place for both of those things, of course, but you seem to be missing the third option: actively soliciting opinions from others. Other posters have mentioned this as well, but I can't tell you how frustrating it can be to be in a conversation where it's hard to get a word in edgewise, or if you feel like the other person is just waiting their turn to talk instead of listening to what you're saying.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing -- I'm sure you're making an effort to listen. But the only way a person actually knows that is if you're actively engaging them about what they're saying, not waiting to say what you think.
posted by sparrow89 at 2:12 AM on September 7, 2011

intense/"too animated"

Is this a code for LOUD? I have friends (of both sexes) who I regularly remind about "indoor voices". And yes, I catch myself talking too loudly when I'm excited, too.... Ask your boyfriend to give you a signal when you're being too loud. Something that only the two of you will know about, so you can just soften your voice a little bit or change the subject to something less intense--but not stop talking and go weird and nervous.

Also, ask yourself: "Which is more true in this situation: 'it is important to get along' or 'it is important that [wrong statement] be corrected'?" Adjust your phrasing to be honest to the part that's more truthful.
posted by anaelith at 2:40 AM on September 7, 2011

I suspect meta may be full of folks with this issue...aware and unaware. I've struggled with it myself over the years. I was a smart-assed know-it-all kid and have tried to be a more thoughtful adult. One thing I ask myself before I share my vast insights with others is whether or not this information is REALLY something they need/want to hear. Additionally, I ask if the reason I'm saying this is so that they will think I'm "smart".

I try to ask a lot of non yes/no questions and thoughtfully listen to the answers I get.

And I almost never correct someone unless it's something that may jeopardize life or limb if they continue to believe wrongly.

Of course, these rules are for general public conversation. My closest friends accept (I hope) the fact that I'm going to share, pontificate, spout off, etc. and seem to enjoy it (or have learned to camouflage their pained expressions well).
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 12:24 PM on September 7, 2011

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