Elvis can't figure out how to leave the building
November 10, 2013 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me learn to exit conversations, interrupt people, and generally be more assertive with the big groups I'm in charge of.

I lead intensive week-long workshops (with ~30 adults) together with two other teachers. I love what I do and get great feedback as a teacher, but I'm also an introvert and find some aspects of the classroom facilitation wear me out. Obviously it's a matter of learning to be more assertive, and part of it is me being insecure in a leadership position; I can be outgoing in plenty of other situations, but here I feel I owe my students my attention. It can get in the way of me doing my job - for example I'll get stuck in a conversation during a break when I have a zillion other things to take care of (or I just need to not talk to anyone for ten minutes), or I can't find the nerve to shout over the group and get their attention (to say the break has ended or lead a hands-on activity, for example), and one of my colleagues will have to step in and do it ... and then I feel worse. I try, but it comes out awkward.

1. How can I gracefully exit a conversation? And more generally cultivate a better boundary around myself, when I feel obligated to be warm and social? Both of my colleagues are wildly extroverted and seem to have tons of energy to engage with students, so I feel like I am coming across as aloof or unapproachable compared to them. (I don't feel I need to emulate them, I want to be a more assertive version of me.)

2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

3. How can I interrupt a conversation when I need to? I tend to stand there hovering like a dork.

4. Overall, what beliefs and attitudes can I practice to help me feel more comfortable having to do these things?
posted by hereticfig to Human Relations (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

1. "Would love to chat about this but have to [dp class centered thing, like run off copies.] Can you catch me at the end of class?"

2. Shout over them? That's what I do. "Hey, guys. GUYS. We're going to get started now so everyone sit down please."

3. Touch the arm of the person speaking. "Sorry, I hate to interrupt. [Important info.] Thanks!"

4. That these people are actually depending on you (and PAYING YOU) not to create a warm fuzzy environment but to lead them through learning. It actually isn't important that they like you so stop focusing energy on being meek and inoffensive.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:26 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


3. There's a guy I work with who is great at these sort of things. When people start on a ramble, he comes in at a small lull point and says, "Yeah, I think this conversation has a lot of merit and you're touching on how we need to [briefly summarizes their gripe/debate topic]. Let me know what points you come to as you discuss it over the next few days. Now, let's move on to this other important point..." The thing is, he's not just saying words, he does believe it is an important discussion. Not that he actually follows up on it mind you, but you can tell he understands why these people want to debate it so much.

4. That in five seconds they will forget that you "interrupted" them and continue on with their day. Being interrupted is really no big deal; virtually no one takes it personally.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:12 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

An authoritative "let us pray" works every time. It generally only works once on the same group, though. I have also used a gavel and a signal horn. I prefer the signal horn.

How can I interrupt a conversation when I need to? I tend to stand there hovering like a dork.

With words that will state why you are interrupting the conversation. "The next session is beginning now" et cetera. You have about three seconds from approaching the conversing people to interrupting them or else you are just part of the background that can be safely ignored.

what beliefs and attitudes can I practice to help me feel more comfortable having to do these things?

Believe that if you cannot run your classroom, you cannot do your job.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:18 PM on November 10, 2013


1. How can I gracefully exit a conversation?

Like everyone else does. You just interrupt and say "Sorry. I have to go. It was nice taking with you." AND THEN GO.

2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

Tapping on a glass is a pretty universal signal to shut up and listen. I was, for example, at a very loud and crowded 40 year birthday party this weekend and this never failed to get everyone's attention. But as soon as the noise begins to die down YOU have to speak up loudly.

3. Touch the arm of the person speaking. "Sorry, I hate to interrupt. [Important info.] Thanks!"

Excuse me. EXCUSE ME. Sorry I hate to interrupt.....

4. Overall, what beliefs and attitudes can I practice to help me feel more comfortable having to do these things?

Practice.
posted by three blind mice at 12:35 AM on November 11, 2013


One-on-one interactions:
A) If possible, start every conversation with a stated pretense that your time is limited (either with your need to physically leave, or to start/continue with task X). It gives you power over the length of the conversation and makes even the most awkwardly timed exit acceptable.

B) To end a conversation or change direction, I've found that most talkative people tend to leave more spaces between sentences if the spaces are filled with words/sounds of approval. When you've decided the conversation is over, start giving hums and mmhmms (or whatever is situationally appropriate) with growing intensity and frequency between their sentences. This creates a rhythm in a conversation, and after just a couple, they'll subconsciously start to leave spaces in their speech for you. This is a great way to get an overly talkative person to leave you some space.

C) As soon as there's enough "affirmation" room, you can end/change the conversation easily with a contextually appropriate affirmative statement ('That's hilarious!' 'Good point!' 'Wow' etc.) followed by either a) 'alright, well I need to [leave/work/excuse]' if it seems like a natural stopping point, or b) 'sorry to cut you off, but [excuse]' if you're interrupting a thought or story.


Groups:
Mostly the same. It's not always possible to verbally set a time limit with a group, but if you get the opportunity, then do (A) from above.

As far as ending/leaving a group conversation, (B) & (C) from above work almost the same, except there's usually no need for (B). Just loudly affirm the most recent statement and continue with (C). The affirmation lets you enter a conversation and change topic without coming off as rude or making anyone feel inferior or unheard.


The last thing about beliefs is don't let people walk over you. Most people are aware of the holding power of conversation, and your desire to end it is sometimes a battle of wills, whether they consciously view it that way or not. Even if you're not saying you want the conversation to end, you're likely putting off body signals that indicate it when you're 'hovering like a dork.' The fact that the conversation continues is not malicious, but it continues because it's what they want. You have to want it more, and be comfortable knowing what you need to do.

--TLDR: Affirm, then interrupt.--
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 1:28 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


“Sorry” and “Excuse Me” are magic powerful words that you can learn from and use to do great things.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:51 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I really disagree with "touch the arm of the person." I don't like being touched unexpectedly and I think I am not alone in that.

Rather, come up and stand in the line of sight of at least one of the conversers, and make eye contact. Wait 10-30seconds for a lull, and jump in. If the time passes with no lull, smile, say "Sorry to interrupt," and jump in anyhow. I don't like doing this but it does get much easier with practice. Fake confidence the first few times and you will likely start to feel more confident about interrupting.
posted by nat at 6:06 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the break times, a "I'd love to talk more, but I need to get something ready for the next session." should be just fine. (Even if that something is you, and it's you desperately needing a break.) And I agree with some sort of sound cue for coming back to session. (Bell? Hand chime?)

On the larger question, though - is there a way to work it into your intro for the week? Something like "Everyone's got different styles of working through things - [colleague] and [colleague] will be right in the middle of a large conversation, but I'm happier when I'm talking to people one on one, or have some time to reflect on what we've been talking about. If you're more like me, and you need a bit of space, that's just fine, we'll make sure you can get some at breaks."

In other words, set up the expectation that people learn and process information in different ways, that it's okay to be an introvert in this set of sessions, but it also tells people that you may be not as extrovertedly social at breaks. I adore teaching, but I'm a lot happier if the conversations after are one on one, or a couple of people, not 6-8 people in massive conversation groups, and I think that's a fine thing to model for others.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2013


2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

Stand at the front of the room, hands folded in front of you, and say nothing. Stare at them all until the whole room is quiet. I've seen this and done this, and it works so much better than trying to shout over a crowd. It may take a lot longer than you expect the first time, but once people realize you'll just stand there, allowing them to waste their own time, they'll catch on.
posted by xingcat at 6:16 AM on November 11, 2013


I'm sometimes in very similar situations. For both exiting a conversation and interrupting someone else's ongoing one, one thing that's worked every time for me is to make a "T" with my hands (like they use to indicate time-out in sports*). This usually interrupts the person talking in a relatively gentile way; sometimes it doesn't, so I have to start talking, at which point I begin with an apology: "I'm really sorry, but I have to ..."

* except I don't play any team sports—hey, I'm an introvert...
posted by StrawberryPie at 6:23 AM on November 11, 2013


In the situation that you've been tangled into a conversation with someone during one of your breaks, and you need to get out because there's something else you need to do (like have a cup of coffee and get your head on straight), the challenge is to be able to stop the ongoing conversation for long enough to tell them you have to go. Presumably the room is full of people milling around and making noise. Look just past the person you're talking to and say suddenly "Oh! Right!" as if you've just realized something that had slipped your mind, or you've just seen someone on the other side of the room waiting for you. Sudden interjection pauses the conversation for a split second, and you apologize for needing to leave, express interest in what they were saying, suggest finishing the conversation later (if appropriate), and walk away.

In a theater/performance situation, flashing the lights is the cue that intermission is over, and I've seen this used in large classrooms also.
posted by aimedwander at 7:19 AM on November 11, 2013


2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

At a seminar I just went to the leader clapped her hands continuously while instructing people to come back together. The participants started clapping their hands as well. It very quickly quieted down. It had a positive note to it.
posted by goodsearch at 2:18 PM on November 11, 2013


1. How can I gracefully exit a conversation?

"Sorry, I have to go over there now."
"Whoops, we've run out of time. Sorry."
"Can you please email me that question? Our break is just about over."
"Excuse me for a moment." Leave the room and come back two minutes later. Do not rejoin the conversation.
Fake a phone call.
"Can we speak later, I have to get something ready for the next section."
"I'm sorry but I MUST speak to _____ before we get started again."

Say sorry but do so in your words. Keep your expression neutral and make it clear that anything other than what you ask for will be an intrusion.

2. What specific words and approach can I use to get the attention of a noisy group of 30 adults?

SET A TIMER. When the timer goes off, set it to do a dramatic air raid horn or anything else loud. Set expectations off the TOP of the event that when the timer goes off, you need everyone back in their seats in order for them to get the most out of their time. Stand at the front of the room and stare at everyone, standing, until they are shamed into seating. If they make you wait more than five minutes, turn out the lights. They are wasting your time, act accordingly.

3. How can I interrupt a conversation when I need to? I tend to stand there hovering like a dork.

TO person you are interrupting: "My apologies. To person who you need to speak with - "Greg, can you come with me for just a moment?" To person who is chattering when you need to stop: "Greg, can I ask you to take your seat and we'll get started? Thanks so much."
posted by SassHat at 12:22 PM on November 12, 2013


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