Why am I such a poor conversationalist, and how to improve?
April 19, 2012 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Why do I repeat myself instead of explaining or describing what I mean in real-life conversation? When people have acknowledged my statement, why do I keep going with it at all, much less repeat almost the exact same phrasing? Why do I have so much trouble maintaining continuity in a topic? I am a dreadful conversationalist- this must be really irritating to others, but half the time I don't even realize that I'm doing it. How can I stop?

When I'm online, I can explain myself or expand on what I am saying. But in real life, I don't seem to be capable of doing that; instead I act like Jacob Two-Two. I'm pretty socially awkward and this is just one component of that. I often don't feel comfortable contributing to a conversation, and when I do contribute, I do a pretty poor job; I don't always explain how I got from one point to another, and forget components of my story or explanation that are really important for everyone else to understand. When I get really involved in something that I'm saying, I tend to exaggerate instead of speaking accurately. And, of course, the repetition thing. I can talk to people online and in letters; how do I learn to articulate and converse well in real life?

By the way, I've done a search for this topic and couldn't find anything that specifically addressed the topic of unintentionally repeating oneself.
posted by windykites to Human Relations (7 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
when you write, even if you write immediately after the conception of your own thoughts, can edit your explanations almost instantaneously so that you sound coherent and clear but when you're speaking, it's very hard to edit what already came out of your mouth. i have this problem too and i had gotten into the habit of exaggerating because i felt like if i could twist a remnant of what i was trying to say before, something of what i was trying to get across could be salvaged.

i know this works against spontaneity but if you talk to the same group of people, maybe in the morning, you could think, "i would really like to talk about this today and this is what i'm going to say about it and go into detail about."

also, do you listen to yourself as you talk? like when you're storytelling, do you ever listen to yourself as you would someone else? because i'm sure you're much less critical and judgmental and more patient when someone else talks. apply that to yourself. consider that before you even speak, what you're about to say has worth and interest.

what you're probably doing is while talking you're paralyzed of what other people are thinking about you and in that paralysis, your speech gets fumbled and distorted.
posted by thischarmingirl at 8:44 PM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: Practice.

When alone, doing errands, waiting for stuff, practice explaining whatever's brewing in your mind to an imaginary third party. Then practice saying it a different way. Practice saying it to a child, to an old person, to a professor, to a plumber. Practice getting it right.

it's a question of flexibility, and it takes practice to acquire on-the-fly flexibility.

Most of all, when explaining stuff, be more aware of how you're being received than in how it's coming out. Speak with empathy for the listener.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:25 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whether or not you have ADHD, it might be a helpful search term for you. I have ADHD and this sounds a whole lot like me. Exercise and meditation could help with you to be somewhat more aware/present during your conversations.
posted by lover at 10:33 PM on April 19, 2012

First of all, acknowledge that you do realize what you are doing. You've just laid it out perfectly, and are looking for ways to become a better conversationalist. Lots of folks couldn't care less!
So you're on the way.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:19 AM on April 20, 2012

I know a person that does some of the things you've mentioned - namely, 1) skipping from point a to point c in a story, 2) not explaining something in a way that is easily understandable to listeners, and 3) continuing to explain something even once listeners have acknowledged that they understand.

I have a theory that 3) happens because he isn't confident that he's gotten the point across, due to 1) and 2), and he, for whatever reason, thinks people are just humoring him when they say they get it. We have a lot of conversations where he'll begin to explain something, I'll say "oh yeah, I know what you mean," he'll keep explaining, I'll say "I know," and he'll ask me to prove that I know what he's talking about, and is completely surprised that I do.

I really don't have any great book suggestions for you, I'm sorry, but I think that the fact that you realize something is going on is a HUGE first step. Now you can be on the lookout for this. Do you have a partner or friend that you can enlist to point out when you are doing one of the patterns?
posted by coupdefoudre at 7:09 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Many, many years later, I still feel like I owe a great deal to my 8th grade Speech teacher/forensics coach for drilling us on impromptu speeches. These drills taught me a whole lot about how to make a point coherently, effectively, and concisely. The rules I learned might seem too formal to help in casual conversation (and indeed, they're not much help with banter), but they do help with explaining/storytelling -- which are part of any conversation (and which seem like the part you have the most trouble with).

In the most useful exercises, we'd pick a random question out of a hat (for instance, "Who is the greatest American President of all time?"), take three minutes to prep, and then deliver a 5-8 minute impromptu speech in front of the class. We were taught a very specific structure for giving these speeches, similar to the five-paragraph structure you may have learned for impromptu essays. For a speech, though, it's slightly modified...

1. Use a brief opener for your first sentence -- for instance, a rhetorical question, quote, interesting fact, joke, or anecdote.
2. Proceed to your thesis (this is one of the key things you should formulate during your prep time).
3. Then, give at least three supporting points for your thesis. Explain each one briefly.
4. In conclusion, summarize your supporting points and restate your thesis. Then "close the loop" by referring back to your opener.

This structure is pretty formulaic, but once you master it, it gives you a foundation that you can work from -- a skeleton to hang things on. In other words, once you know the rules, you're free to break them. At this point, these rules are so deep in my brain that they're basically unconscious, and I break the rules more often than I follow them (especially in casual conversation), but they're still there to help me structure my thoughts. I think that this structure makes me a better explainer and a more articulate speaker in all kinds of situations.

Obviously, you can't go back in time and take my 8th grade Speech class (more's the pity), but you might look into joining an organization like Toastmasters to get practice and build your confidence. Doing this in front of a mirror isn't enough -- you really need to try it out in front of other people. Good luck!
posted by ourobouros at 8:08 AM on April 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

My coworker who does this does it because he (secretly or knowingly) think that his audience is too dumb to get it the first time. I think he was told once that you need to do this to communicate effectively.

And yes, it's very grating. I've taken to excusing myself when he starts in on the second round.

The fact that you are aware that you have this problem is a great first step. Perhaps you can catch yourself doing it and simply stop and say something to replace the repetition. Maybe "Ah, but I'm repeating myself, let me clarify instead", even if you just say it in your head.
posted by Four Flavors at 10:18 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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