Help me be less of a conversation hog
April 14, 2018 5:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm a talker. I interrupt, and I monopolize. I am generally an asshole in conversation, though I truly just get excited and want to share my thoughts in a helpful/open/fun way. I need some short, pithy things to tell myself in the moment to shut me up.

I have tried biting my tongue (literally). I have tried marking how many times I've contributed to a conversation and stopping at 3 (yeah, right, as if I stopped at 3).

Clearly, changing this habit won't come just because it's the "right thing to do." I think I need to scare myself with assumed rejection or something. It would be super helpful if I could have a few things to tell myself that would motivate some temperance.

Honestly, though I generally don't like negative motivation, I think it might be helpful to know what goes through other people's heads when a talker is pontificating. Assume I am generally sparkly and witty, and full of amazing insights that the world is aching to hear, and shut me up anyway.

But, don't be TOO mean. I don't want a complex, just some balance. What do you wish the talkers out there knew about how they come across?
posted by Dr_Janeway to Human Relations (41 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Negative reinforcement: Imagine everyone rolling their eyes every time you start in again. Or take more than 5 min of uninterrupted speaking time

A more positive approach: Think of someone, celebrity-level, that you really respect. Just for this example, I'll use Barack Obama. You get to have a small group conversation with Barack. Do you do most of the talking in that small group? How do you listen and react when he speaks? Transfer those feelings to your friends. Imagine that they are amazing, intelligent, interesting people that have so much to offer, and this opportunity to speak with them is a gift. Use the time to listen and absorb what they are saying, and what they're trying to communicate.

(Source: my husband is a pontificator, and I am excitable and often pipe in convos way too often, so we're the best of both worlds :D )
posted by Fig at 5:47 AM on April 14 [7 favorites]


I too struggle with the impulse to interrupt people during conversations. I think I mostly control it pretty well, though it can come out if I've had a drink or two. Anyway, when I catch myself doing it I just apologize ("Sorry, I keep interrupting you—please go ahead") and then remind myself that if I respond before my conversation partner is done talking, I will probably never know what they were actually going to say. I'll be missing out on important qualifiers, related points, interesting anecdotes, that sort of thing—I risk responding to a straw version of whatever they were trying to talk about, and that makes the conversation less interesting.

So I don't have a pithy phrase for you, but when you catch yourself interrupting you should try to remind yourself to actually take an interest in your conversation partner's statements, and to listen to the whole thing rather than just jumping to the first conclusion that pops into your head.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


I've known some folks tended to talk rather compulsively. I have a lot of very strong rules in my head about waiting for my turn to talk about not interrupting, so I'm probably the least equipped to engaging these conversation. (I do have ADD, which sometimes results in blurting out things I really shouldn't blurt out, so I have some sympathy!) Here are some of the things that have gone through my head while they were talking.

* Oh that's interesting - I'd like to take a quiet minute to think about it and make sure I take it in so I can respond thoughtfully - oh he's talking about something else now.
* I want to ask if she'd like coffee but she won't pause. I've signaled that I want to say something and she keeps talking. I'm not sure what to do.
* This is exhausting - I'm really overwhelmed. I just want a minute of silence to think about everything they are asking me to take in and formulate a response.
* I have things to talk about too. When is it my turn? How do I get it to be my turn?
* I have no idea what they are talking about (with someone talking about esoteric work stuff). This is so confusing. I feel like a word dump. Are they ever going to ask me how I am?
* I wonder if they are okay?
* This isn't a real friendship - I can't freely respond or share my own experiences and ideas

However, it sounds like you already want to *not* do this and you find it impossible to stop. I think it's worthwhile to ask if there's something more at play. Not to freak you out, but so far three of the people I've known who do this have eventually told me that they have bipolar disorder. If you have other symptoms that relate, you might want to explore that. Google suggests that it can also be a symptom of ADHD, dementia or other issues. If you had a really serious full-bloom mental illness, of course, being rather chatty would probably not be the big problem you spent a question on. But it could be worthwhile to talk to a provider about it.

The other thing I'd suggest is meditation. Meditating helps me practice centering myself and that makes it easier to center and calm myself when I'm feeling impulsive. Another trick I've heard of (for redirecting habits in general) is taking a drink of water.
posted by bunderful at 6:05 AM on April 14 [12 favorites]


* I have things to talk about too. When is it my turn? How do I get it to be my turn?

This is really helpful. I have to remember that other people didn't grow up in a family of six where the only way you get to talk is if you just talk louder. I can connect with that need to contribute.
posted by Dr_Janeway at 6:25 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


Oh hey, this is me! I still have these tendencies, but I can tell you that what has successfully tempered them is a mindfulness meditation practice (Zen Buddhist specifically, but pick your poison). It's not a direct cause and effect, get 1% less like this every time you meditate until voila you are a perfected human being, but over the years it enabled me to get much more comfortable with silence (my own and others'), more able to step back and observe a conversation without injecting myself into it, and more able to recognize my own tendency to want to jump in and take over and stop myself before I start. It's been invaluable in many areas of my life that I'd never really even considered when I began a sitting practice. (Full disclosure I have sat very little in the past few years, but I was a serious student for about a decade prior.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:35 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


DBT has an interpersonal skills module. While it didn’t directly address my long winded short pausing tendencies, it does ask questions like ‘how do I want the other person/people to feel about this conversation?’ And ‘what do I hope to get from this conversation?’

I usually want the other person to feel respected and I usually want to learn and/or share information. If the other person can’t get a word in edgewise, it hard to ascertain that they’re understanding/connecting.

A separate and helpful thing is to think about pause lengths. Some people are short pausers and other people are long pausers. As a short pauser, conversations with long pausers require extra attention. Signaling that a thought is complete and the other person has a chance to add is often done with silence rather than gesture or question. So consider adding gesture and question, as well as making what feel like impossibly large gulfs of silence between paragraphs.
posted by bilabial at 7:02 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


What do you wish the talkers out there knew about how they come across?

Okay, I have a story for everyone. Up until recently, I was a lot like you. I'm generally a thoughtful person who likes to help solve problems and add to conversations---until this year, when I was assigned to work with Mr. Conversation Hog/Story Topper. A typical conversation:

Me: Wasn't it wonderful weather this weekend?
MCHST: It was!
Me: Did you...
MCHST: I got to work on my play! I roughed out a few scenes and it's looking amazing. Can't wait to workshop it. I know people from school in Boston---well, not actually Boston but across the river (does that annoying thing Harvard weenies do where they're coy about just saying the friggin name--HARVARD--also, I went there too so shut up already) who have friends at the Public and they may get it in there. Keeps getting better. Then we adopted a new dog who is absolutely brilliant. It ate my sneakers and didn't like being on a leash. My daughters will never take care of it. (I begin to tune out here) I had to drive them to karate, SAT practice, baseball, National Honors Society, Greenpeace meeting and Indigenous American cooking classes. Then we went on a 20 mile hike to Mount Doofus with the dog who I had to carry the whole way. Now my shins are sore but I'm going to tough through it because no pain no glory. Then I saved the world and made a feature length Hollywood film but I didn't do it for the Oscar which I already won.

This is all a slight exaggeration but this dude and I have been working closely together for a year. He has never once asked a question about me. He has never once stopped talking about himself.

I cannot stand working with him. However, since I work with mostly horrible jerky teenagers, I have taught myself to find ONE GOOD THING about people.

And what I've learned from MCHST is TO NOT BE THAT PERSON. Now, when I'm with people and chatting, I just remember how NOT to be. I force myself to be inquisitive, even if I have an interesting anecdote relating to the conversation. I just shut the hell up. I probe to learn more about them. Sure, every now and again I catch myself saying, "Yes OMG Real Housewives NYC is back!" but then I remember to temper myself and let other people talk.

TLDR: It's SO easy to become a bore. We are not nearly as interesting to others as we think we are.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:41 AM on April 14 [16 favorites]


I have some folks that I work with that do this. It isn't really being a conversation hog, it is a soliloquy. As the guy on the other side, how I handle it is finding time for them that I can speak to them via phone. I put them on speaker, occasionally say "Uh huh" and tune them out. If I'm at home, I do dishes, I clean the kitchen. At work I move on to my next work task. I feel bad for them, but I've already talked to both of them about the way they monologue. The best way for me to conserve my energy and still demonstrate caring for them in relationship is to just handle them this way.

At least one of them is highly aware of this as a behavior and now frequently begins conversations with "I'm sorry, I won't take up much of your time/I'll keep this short, I promise". He then speaks for 30-40 minutes, ignoring any attempts to wrestle the mic away from him. Frequently the only way I can end these conversations is by saying "I have three minutes before I need to do X." and then three minutes later, "It is now time for me to do X. It has been lovely to hear from you, bye."

My recommendation? For people who you trust, open up to them about this and ask for their help with this. I've been working my way up to suggesting to one of the people that I work with that we have a phrase or a hand signal for when they have been monopolizing a meeting. Beyond that, try to be aware and sensitive to others' attempts to give room in the conversation for others and respect it. e.g. if you've been talking for a while and someone attempts to break in to redirect the conversation, take that as a cue to stop contributing for a while. You can have a timer on your watch if you'd like.

Other idea: after you've talked for a period of time, you don't get to talk again until you've asked two open-ended questions to other people. That creates space for them to share as well.

Good luck. I feel bad for the folks that I work with who have this trait, I fear it could impede their abilities for career advancement and just generally be difficult.
posted by arnicae at 7:49 AM on April 14 [3 favorites]


Yeah, me too.

When you meditate in the theravada tradition and your mind wanders, you bring it back. Then it wanders again, and you bring it back. For me, I try to stay quiet. I don't have to tell a stranger that the other brand of (equally good, mind you) chips are 2 for 1 this week. And I often don't, somehow. The impulse to speak and share is quieted if I give it a minute and wait. I'm not always successful but this minor change has worked well for me. Shh. Wait. It gets easier once you start and train yourself. Meditation and meditative thinking can help with the impulse- and don't forget the self-compassio .
posted by maya at 8:08 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Oh that's interesting - I'd like to take a quiet minute to think about it and make sure I take it in so I can respond thoughtfully - oh he's talking about something else now.

This is me. The other thing I'd add is to try and be patient and listen to people. The worst is when I'm in the middle of a sentence and take a slight pause to articulate the rest of my thought, and the other person jumps in because they can't stand silence. I don't hate the people who do this, but it's frustrating not to be able to finish what I was saying. I admire your self-awareness and desire to work on this. I'd suggest one strategy of telling yourself to listen for the period at the end of the other person's sentence.
posted by transient at 8:10 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


I have a tendency to do this too, and the thing that's really helped me a lot is to remember that conversation is not a competition. If someone tells you a story about a thing they did, saw, or read, you don't have to match it or top it. People are allowed to have their experiences, and they're not required to reflect on those experiences through the lens of a similar/more awesome thing you did. It's tough, because you want to bond with someone over similarly lived experiences at times, but it's also OK to just let someone else's life be the focus.
posted by pdb at 8:13 AM on April 14 [8 favorites]


Assume I am generally sparkly and witty, and full of amazing insights that the world is aching to hear, and shut me up anyway.

Here's the thing, though. Are you assuming that you are wittier, sparklier, and have more amazing insights than your conversation partner/s? Each time you say something, you are making a choice for the whole group that your story is the one that they need to hear, and your friends' stories will just have to wait for another day. Why do you get to be the decider of that? Maybe you can think of it not as choosing to speak for yourself, but choosing to silence all others. Sounds like you know what that feels like growing up, is that what you want your friends and colleagues to feel?
posted by tinydancer at 8:30 AM on April 14 [15 favorites]


When you find yourself thinking of something to say, challenge yourself to think of a question instead.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:35 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Imagine conversation as a ball that's getting tossed from one person to the next. Someone has to catch it, hold it, consider it, toss it back. When you say something imagine yourself not expressing to an audience, but rather tossing what you say, waiting for the person to catch it, hold it, and toss it back.
Think of how they will close up their arms and put their heads down if you're just pelting them with ball after ball and they haven't had a chance to catch it. Imagine it bouncing off them.
In other words, focus concretely on the rhythm of give and take. Remember that if you want people to hear you, you have to wait for them to be ready to receive you.
posted by velveeta underground at 8:39 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I'm 45-years-old. In my younger years I talked more and interrupted.

Maybe it's wisdom or maybe I'm more aware. Maybe I'm boring. Whatever it is, I don't feel the need to fill the space with my voice.

When I encounter a person who talks a lot and interrupts I mostly think there is something going on with this person. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. Maybe they are controlled by their thoughts and impulses. Maybe they can't be quiet long enough because it feels too vulnerable. Maybe they are anxious and feel discomfort. Pontificators could be making some very good points but discomfort almost arises because pontificators can be intense and relentless. They are stuck. It doesn't feel authentic.

I think I'm better at listening because I'm just living and have less opinions, especially about myself. Live and be aware. Your conversation partner will find you more interesting if you are sincerely interested in what they have to say. Interrupting signals that you don't care what they have to say. Interrupters often are uncomfortable with themselves because they can't pause to have any real connection. I do not say this to be mean. I say it because I've been there.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:46 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I am really like this. One thing that helps me a lot is to focus on what the other person is saying, rather than thinking about what I want to say in reaction. I also came to suggest trying to think of questions rather than comments, which someone about suggested as well.

Part of the reason that I talk so much is that my brain is on overdrive, so focusing that energy on what someone else is saying and really trying to imagine it and understand it can also help.

You know when somebody makes that little noise, sort of like that gasp or an inhalation, that it means that they are ready to speak? When I do that and my conversation partner keeps going, that is a really good cue for me to recognize that they know I have something to say, but they are not finished, and I should really pay extra attention to what they are saying at that moment. It will be my turn soon, and if it's gone, it's gone, people like us always have a comment and I am routinely losing the things I want to say anyhow!

Sometimes also when I find myself really wanting to talk I ask myself why I want to say the thing I want to say. If I'm honest with you, a lot of the time I want to sound smart! It's been helpful for me to realize that everyone around me knows that I am intelligent and I don't have to prove it.

And having a sense of humor about it with myself really helps. Beating myself up for talking too much or interrupting doesn't really make it any better. Being able to step outside myself and say "oh there she goes again!" is a much gentler and more productive way for me to address it.

Finally, I also do this because I am a small woman with a small voice and sometimes if I don't interrupt I just won't get a chance to talk. So I allow myself to interrupt when it's important, like in meetings with colleagues.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 8:53 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


What do you wish the talkers out there knew about how they come across?

If you're a conversation hog with me in a one-on-one setting, I'll probably give you the benefit of the doubt. Especially if you're sparkly and witty, I'll probably enjoy your monologues! A big part of this is because if you're a monologuer, I'll just monologue back at you. However...

In a group setting (particularly if we work together), my reaction towards conversation hogs is completely different. To give you a sense of what goes through my head:
  • I'm afraid of seeming like a b**** around other people, so I won't interrupt you.
  • Because you don't let a word in edgewise, and I tend towards being quiet, I can't conversationally "compete" with you in a group setting. This usually means that people around me will begin to assume that I have nothing to offer to the group.
  • I will question whether you're doing this unintentionally or if you're really trying to pull a power play. Being a bit socially unaware doesn't preclude being conniving, so it's something I need to look out for.
  • Because it's not clear to me if you're trying to drown other people out, I will be scared to ever mention this to you in case it gives you fodder with which you can manipulate me.
  • If you're doing this in a work environment, I'll begin to fear for my professional standing if you keep talking over me.
  • I will probably lose professional respect for you if you continually one-up me in group conversations.
  • I will have trouble believing that you have respect for other people's contributions.
  • There's a risk that I will, over time, become passive-aggressive with you.
I know that's harsh, the reality is that there are super talkers who I adore in a one-on-one context yet who manage to drain every bit of my social energy in a group setting. I'm guilty of being a super-talker too at times, but remembering how damaging it is especially to group dynamic and how it exhausts people without strong assertiveness skills helps me to rein it in.
posted by blerghamot at 9:03 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


Some people that I know who do this, do it because they don't get a lot of social tine in a week or a month, so all that excited internal monologue gets unleashed during one party. If that's you, try to play the long game and get your attention needs / desire to share ideas and experiences met across many social encounters. And find more social time if you don't get enough.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:24 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I've been labeled a quiet person by many, but I know I run my mouth sometimes when I start to tell a story and lose focus of making my point and being done with it. A metaphor I relate to: it's like painting a picture while standing under a waterfall. The story I tell has many colors, but I'll be lucky if my conversation partner can just perceive one color before the water washes it away. So, I just stick to that color. The result is: Conversation partner perceives my most important point and it's painless and brief. Then it's their turn to run their mouth.

Make your point and be done with it. (I mean this kindly! I'm preaching to myself.)
posted by little_dog_laughing at 9:33 AM on April 14


I've encountered so many conversation monopolizers that I started classifying them into subtypes. If I meet a new monopolizer I ask myself if they belong to one of the existing categories or if I've encountered a novel subtype.

Pedantic Man: Loves to expound on his opinions on the Correct way to do something or another. Is interested in your viewpoints only inasmuch as they validate his own, or provide fodder for him to point out your errors to you. Loves to talk about himself in the context of the pet topic.

More Enlightened Than Thou: Talks your ear off about his dabblings in Eastern philosophy, alternative lifestyles, "life coaching", and suchlike. Is a white, heterosexual, upper-middle class male (not that there's anything wrong with that). Discourages you from sharing about your own explorations because you're afraid he will either wait only for a pause so he can talk more about himself, take offense at your differing opinions, or (if you are female) hit on you.

Forgetful Girl (a cousin of Pedantic Man): forgets that she has told you the same, uninteresting story about herself and/or people she knows and you don't, on at least a dozen previous occasions. Does not get the hint when you jump straight to the end in an effort to move things along. Aggravated by a bad case of the "that reminds me of..." intrusions into previously-functioning conversations.

One-upper: The person who, no matter what you might have just done, has done something far more interesting/dangerous/awful/amazing than you. And is willing to describe it in great detail and at great length, whether you may want them to or not.

Extra-Long Storyteller: So intent on sustaining the attention on themselves, that they try to turn a short boring story into a really interesting long adventure, but instead just add extra boring details to make the story last as long as possible, with the end result being a really long extra boring story.

Here, broadly, is how I remember conversations with monopolizers:

Them: Me, me, me. Me! Me me me me. Oh, and, uh... you?
Me: Me—
Them: Oh, me! Me me me!
Me: You?
Them: Me. Me me me me me me.
Me: ...
Them: That reminds me of something about me!

And in addition to trying to classify them in a subtype I ask myself questions like
* What are the odds that this person will express any genuine curiousity about me before I end this conversation?
* That's an interesting idea/point/experience. Let me think for a second about my response—oh, you're talking again. Never mind.
* It's rude to interrupt but I really need to ask something/say goodbye/etc. How do I politely get a word in edgewise?
* If this is at work and you're talking over quieter team members or monopolizing a meeting, how do I moderate your contributions so other people have a chance to speak?
posted by 4rtemis at 9:53 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


[One deleted. Askme's not a space for getting into a debate with other commenters; please focus on OP and constructive help for their question.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:00 AM on April 14


Instead of trying to change the habit by beating yourself up for all the negative thoughts you might be inducing in the listener, i would suggest on the focusing on what you do want to be doing as a replacement for talking - in other words listening.

Too often people in a conversation spend their not-talking time thinking about themselves - their reactions, their feeling, what they are going to say next. Try to focus on being a good listener - are you really hearing and thinking about what the other person is saying?

One problem is that we think faster than the words come in so you need to spend the extra brain cycles on thoughts related to the other person, to build on the impulse to want to hear more from them. Imagine there will be a quiz on the topic at the end of the evening - make an effort to sort and store the facts in your memory. What else would you want to know? How does this fit what you know about other things? Anything new or surprising? You can also think the person and what you are learning about them. If someone were to ask you later, what do you know about this person - how much could you tell them? Focus on trying to find the good - as if the person asking about them was their mother.
posted by metahawk at 10:22 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


You know what's admirable in people? Graciousness. Putting people at ease is gracious; welcoming them into the conversation and being interested in others is gracious.

Be gracious.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


One quick phrase or mantra?
"people will like me more if I listen instead of speak"
or
"people will like me more if I ask about them instead of talk about me"
posted by newpotato at 10:33 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


What do you wish the talkers out there knew about how they come across?

Honestly having a "conversation" with people who behave like this makes me feel small, devalued, and used. I avoid engaging with monologuers whenever possible.
posted by Stonkle at 10:37 AM on April 14 [6 favorites]


Ask yourself "What is the purpose of this conversation?"

I am often timid in group conversations because I don't know how to fit anything in. When someone asks me a question or prompts me (such as because they noticed that I perked up at mention of _____ our have been trying to say something) it is more emotionally memorable than anything anyone will ever say during such conversations. That feeling of being included, of being considered creates/supports a connection better than any number of facts.

There are conversations where people are actually looking for information, our trying to figure something out. Outside of business, teaching, and other professional situations, they are rare.

Other people also enjoy sharing their thoughts and insights, too. They will, in personal conversation, be more interested in hearing your thoughts and insights if you give them space to share theirs, and engage with them.

I did grow up in a family of six. My father and older sister were very much talkers. I learned to listen, to make that interesting for me, and that I didn't want any part of conversations where people are shouting over each other, competing for space. I would rather walk away and talk to other people that seem lost in such social situations and have fulfilling side conversations. Or if not that, at least go off by myself, "I must be lonely, I think I'd rather be alone" as it were.
posted by mountmccabe at 10:42 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


I love your self-awareness about the situation. So props for that.

I can attest to my plummeting interest level when engaged with someone who monopolizes all the oxygen within a conversation. So you're on to something with your inquiry.

I've nothing to add to the above set of observations -- you've quite a lot to digest. Except for this:

Start writing. Start a blog. Start a journal. Start a novel or a non-fiction book. Any of those modes will be an excellent outlet for your natural proclivities, acting as a channel for your surfeit of energy and enthusiasm in voicing your insights. Wear yourself out with the writing so when you engage with a person in live time you're more docile and sated from all your private creative output.

Good luck!
posted by zenpop at 10:48 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


Ask yourself, what do I get out of my behaviour? Is it that you need to prove that you're smart/witty/sparkling etc? Do you want the other person to like you (do you fear that they won't?) What's the payoff for the blather?

I tend to monologues and yapping, and I try to remember what Maya Angelou said: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Giving someone your undivided attention is a gift, and it will make people adore you (when they want attention, which in a conversation that they're talking in is most of the time).
posted by Gin and Broadband at 11:01 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I am not really kidding when I say one solution could be to get interrupty, monologuing friends. I’m not an extreme interrupteur but I have some old friendships where be just interrupt each other because we have a lot to say to each other and it’s fine.
posted by Smearcase at 11:24 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


If it is important to you to be seen as sparkling and witty, it is IMPERATIVE that you stop hogging.

Because it’s impossible to engage with the content of what you’re saying if your behavior in saying it is obnoxious.

So, not only is it annoying to others, it’s harmful to you. You want people to listen. They won’t—can’t— if you’re having a performance, not a conversation. Listening is the most important part of a conversation, and you have to give it if you expect to receive it.

Others come away thinking you’re a wonderful conversation partner if they feel wonderful having talked to you, not if you got in all your lines.
posted by kapers at 11:43 AM on April 14 [5 favorites]


I think it might be helpful to know what goes through other people's heads when a talker is pontificating...What do you wish the talkers out there knew about how they come across?

You can find excellent, in-depth answers to these questions in The Talk Book by Gerald Goodman. (I have the 1988 edition; I'm not sure if the newer edition is exactly the same.) I recommend this insightful and thought-provoking book highly. I come back to it again and again over the years, and I learn something new and valuable from it every time. It features fascinating dialogues interspersed with detailed commentary from the author. He's exceptionally gifted at identifying habits and hidden rules that shape conversations but frequently go unnoticed.

The whole book is fantastic, but in particular, I recommend Chapter 6 - "Silences: They shape the quality of our conversation." Here's a taste:
To understand that silences govern our attention is to know that they shape the quality of our conversation and, ultimately, our relationships. Pretty big effects for such small bits of rushing and allowing. Almost as if a bunch of little unrecognized nothings add up to an important something. Silences are to conversations what zeros are to mathematics - nothings, yes, but crucial nothings without which communication can't work.

I want you to see that those little slivers of quiet in conversation – where someone pauses, where people switch turns talking, or when talk stops while thoughts are collected – are not trivial. When they’re not there in the appropriate places, conversation loses its easy flow, and when those small silent allowing become short in supply, conversation begins a vaguely felt turn for the worse. Depending how long that continues, people walk away from the conversation feeling either a bit uneasy, mildly upset, or emotionally sickened. And most folks don't know what's hit them. Those puzzling, uneasy, leftover feelings are easy to diagnose - and easier to avoid - once you pay proper honor to the significance of silences. [...]

This is something much bigger than just "better listening," which has been blessed with a great press in recent years but badly misses the target. [...]

By hogging attention from a less assertive talker, the crowder is robbing some of the richness from conversations. [...]

Response-rushing...can feel like someone can't wait for you to stop talking - as if they knew ahead of time what you had to say, or as if what they're saying is more important than anything you could say. Worst of all, you're denied time to think about what you've said, or to pause and collect thoughts. The basic sensation is that someone needs your attention quickly, and the sensation is felt over and over again - a sense of being rushed. Ironically, you're forced to spend the bulk of your attention recapturing lost ideas and trying to get a word in edgewise. It's a messy way to communicate, leaving leftovers of unexpressed thoughts and feelings. [...]

Overtalk is a form of verbal elbowing. And it's surprising how much we accept such aggression without complaint. [...]

Tender talk is easily wounded by the common clumsiness of ordinary crowding.
posted by velvet winter at 11:45 AM on April 14 [9 favorites]


On the writing idea, perhaps you could also try writing down your thoughts during a conversation instead of speaking them (eg. in a group conversation; that would likely be quite rude in a one-on-one conversation). Then review afterwards - of what you wrote down, what really should have been said, and what was just fine to have not said? I recommend this sometimes when I'm moderating meetings, to help people feel more comfortable with waiting their turn to speak.
posted by eviemath at 2:00 PM on April 14


Assume I am generally sparkly and witty, and full of amazing insights that the world is aching to hear

Then remember to assume that there are other people who also like to feel that they are sparkly and witty, and full of amazing insights that the world is aching to hear, but some of them aren't as good at staking out conversational space as you are. So the feeling the you mention right there is also a gift you can give to someone else.
posted by obliterati at 3:46 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


" Are you assuming that you are wittier, sparklier, and have more amazing insights than your conversation partner/s? "

Yeah, like, I think I'm witty and sparkling and have interesting things to say, but with my interrupter, the first time I can take it as the give-and-take of conversation (we all interrupt from time to time!) but the second or third time it's pretty clear to me that I'm just there to be an audience. How do I feel? I feel interchangeable, unimportant, and unnecessary. They just need an audience to admire them, they don't care about me or that I'm the one listening. I'm a non-entity. And after being interrupted two or three times, I clam up and stop talking, because obviously my thoughts aren't wanted.

My interrupter will interrupt me three times, I snap my mouth shut mid-word and clam up, fuming, and then they'll monologue for half an hour without ever noticing I'm not participating in the conversation. Because I clearly don't matter!

Every now and then they'll comment on how I never seem to have an opinion on things, and I just sit there thinking FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU because I have tons of opinions! But as soon as I open my mouth to share them, my interrupter cuts me off and goes back to their thing. It sort of galls me that this person thinks I'm dull and uninteresting and lack knowledge about world events, current affairs, the arts, etc., because they won't ever let me talk. And, indeed, they view themselves as uniquely intelligent about these things, and I'm guessing that most of the other people in their life ALSO never get to share their thoughts, so they think they're utterly brilliant and better-educated than everyone they know, when in fact they never STFU to find out what anybody else has to say.

If I did not have to deal with this person, I wouldn't. I dread interacting with them. They make me feel shitty about myself, frustrated and angry about my interactions with them, and fremdscham for them because they're being such a pompous ass and alienating so many people and have NO. IDEA.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:10 PM on April 14 [13 favorites]


When you are doing that:
Not just that I wish I could get a word in. I’m sitting there wishing the other people could get a word in, because they seem interesting and there isn’t enuf space to hear from them because you are talking a lot. I’m also wondering why everyone is being so nice and indulging you by carefully listening to you.
I’m also noticing who you are interrupting most often and judging you if you tend to talk over vulnerable people while deferring to the “popular” people of the group.
But I also try to remember that you ate dioung it intentionally and wish you well in life.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 4:46 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Seconding Eyebrows McGee.
Yay for your for being self-aware enough to ask this question.

I'm not trying to be mean, just truthful. I'm betting your stories, jokes and insights aren't nearly as entertaining or well-received as you think they are. Instead of aching to hear more, when I'm around people like you I'm actually aching for them to shut up and act like they care about hearing somebody's voice other than their own. We all know the people who love to hold court and wish they would just get over themselves already.
posted by MelissaSimon at 5:49 PM on April 14


Instead of becoming closer friends, the inveterate talkers of my acquaintance become 'studies'. I half-listen to what they're saying while studying their need to speak rather than question and listen. I judge them as being less curious and thus more ignorant than listeners, and I'll naturally trust them less because I think they are less self-reflective.

One friend has become aware of their propensity to hog the metaphorical speaking-stick, and is consciously trying to change for the sake of deepening their friendships. I place great value on that self-awareness and if I was your friend I'd be glad to know that you have become aware of your problematic behaviour.
posted by Thella at 6:04 PM on April 14


To reinforce some things already said, I don't think you can do this alone. Ask for help, specifically tell people (friends, family, etc) you want them to let you know when you are talking to much. Give them permission to interrupt you and promise you will be grateful not resentful. Check in from time to time to learn if you are improving or not. Make this habit something you own and admit.
posted by conrad53 at 12:26 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


There is an old spiritual discipline called "silence." We've seen it practiced in various ways throughout religious traditions, including vows of silence. However, some good contemporary applications of it that I've seen is to practice (and as such, you can make it something of a game) to see whether you can go periods of time being okay not talking when you feel a strong urge to interject. One reason we often talk too much or interrupt is because we think that the world needs the information we have to share; or there's a bit of insecurity in us that needs to be part of the planning/solving; or, we are very intent on making sure that our own reputations aren't besmirched, so we are talkatively defensive -- you know, just needing to clarify that one thing, to make sure we are perfectly understood.

What practicing "not talking" does, during times that we really want to, is learning to discover that we are okay without giving our input all the time. We trust that others can have our backs when people might not alway understand us perfectly. We learn to take joy in others coming to good conclusions, rather than being schooled towards a right conclusion, which gives a a perverse sort of joy at times. In the end, talking too much (at least for me) is in part about trying to control the universe around me, just a little bit. What I've found, through practicing a bit more to intentionally be quiet (as if taking a step towards virtue) is that the result is like a treasure to discover. There's safety and serenity in riding on the waves of life a bit as an observer, knowing that all is going to be okay if we don't keep opening our mouths. Ironically, what this seems to do is put us in a light where we are more appreciated for what we bring to the table, rather than us being just part of the background noise that is always there.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:29 PM on April 15 [3 favorites]


In the end, talking too much (at least for me) is in part about trying to control the universe around me, just a little bit.

This. I do feel as if I have a spiritual duty to give all of myself to things. What I am learning is that giving all of myself often means offering my attention rather than my thoughts.

This thread has been so helpful. Thank you all.
posted by Dr_Janeway at 7:21 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


This. I do feel as if I have a spiritual duty to give all of myself to things. What I am learning is that giving all of myself often means offering my attention rather than my thoughts.

One other thought I had, as you mentioned negative reinforcement not bieng that effective: I think we underestimate just how deeply people appreciate it when someone genuinely listens to them. In doing this, we have the ability to interject acceptance and joy into people's lives in a world that is increasingly full of distractions or half-attentions. A colleague of my who teaches in psychology often extols the virtue of truly giving your full attention to someone. According to him, it's one of the most valuable things we can give, and we practice it so half-heartedly.

We all want to make a difference in the world through what we can provide. I've come to think that attention is more valuable than what we can add propositionally to the world of ideas. Don't get me wrong; I'm a teacher and I love the latter. But like you said, offering attention is so relationship building that I'm surprised it's not practiced more, especially since it's such a boon to building the world of ideas in the first place. I suspect that one reason I'm not better at it is because to do it right, there is some personal vulnerability where we have to detach from our own needs a bit, whereas when I'm talking, I'm in control of what people see.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:41 AM on April 17 [3 favorites]


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