People who repeat themselves
April 16, 2008 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I know a few people who repeat themselves quite often in conversation. They are doing me no explicit harm, yet I get impatient & sometimes a bit angry. In an effort to be more relaxed about such behavior, I'd like to know more about what drives people to be repetitive, and why it might strike a nerve with recipients such as myself.

The most severe example is when I tell someone that I've already heard the story/comment they're about to tell me and they proceed anyway. I'm sure part of my diastase is due to them dismissing my "I heard this before" statement.

Some milder repetition that pushes my buttons, despite seeming harmless:
-- Describing the same thing/event repeatedly without adding new detail, just reiterating the same information with different words
-- Perfect memory is an unreasonable expectation, but after the 3rd/4th time being told something again, my buttons get pushed.

Any insight on this behavior & the reactions it inspires is appreciated. I want to make good on that live & let live thing.
posted by yorick to Human Relations (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Are we talking about more elderly people? All of my grands repeat(ed) stories ad nausium until I had heard the story so many times, I could recite it to them. When I'm feeling impatient, I cut them off and try to remind them I've heard the story, which results in them abbreviating the rest of the story but still telling it.

Otherwise, I listen to the story. One of the greatest pleasures in my life is having very elderly relatives as an adult- so many of my friends lost their grandparents, uncles, etc when they were so young that they can't remember them. And they love talking to me. I think it is really frightening to be one of the last of your generation, and eager to pass on just one more memory, just one more friend to be remembered after you're gone. I don't mind hearing the stories again and the pleasure they take in it is really great.

I have a really close relationship with my remaining grands and really treasure it. I know it, and those repetitive stories, aren't going to be around forever.

With younger people, I'm more direct: my Mom, for example, has stories she loves to tell. So do I! I'm neither offended nor expect her to take offense when I/someone says "Oh yeah! I've heard this story- what else happened to you this week/that year/while you were living in Timbuktu/in the army?"

I think it is natural to be annoyed when people repeat stories, just be friendly and direct about it in the situations where you don't want to sit through the rest of the story. Don't mention (or mock) their ailing memories or tell them how much it irritates you when they do this- just cut it off, and change the topic.
posted by arnicae at 8:51 AM on April 16, 2008

I don't continue if someone's told me they've heard it before. However, I have a stutter, which is mostly conquered by practicing what I'm going to say before the occasion arises, so I don't have to struggle to find the words. Practicing helps me get the words out smoothly, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making me forget whether I told a friend something, or if I have only practiced telling them.
posted by headspace at 8:52 AM on April 16, 2008

I am like you. My mother does the repeaty thing. When I am feeling irritable I'll say "I've heard this" and then as she plows ahead telling it to me again without even slowing, I say "I SAID I'VE HEARD THIS" and then she stops but we glare at each other. It's suboptimal as a strategy.

I feel like some people are just a little more linear in the way they talk/relate things and a story needs to go along a certain path or else it feels "wrong" and ending in the middle feels "wrong" So, the same way I need to straighten things that are askew on my dining room table (because them being out of line feels "wrong") people need to tell their stories the way they tell them and for a lot of people, hearing a story again isn't really a bad situation. I also think a lot of people just aren't as contextually mindful about something. We have a joke in my family that if my Mom is saying "well didn't I tell you that?" she probably told my sister twice and didn't tell me at all. She remembers that she said something to her daughter but that's as fine-grained as it gets. At some level, that's as fine-grained as it's GOING to get and it's up to me and my sister to work out where we go from there.

With almost everyone but my Mom and co-workers I can pretty much handle this with grace.

So, I sit back and try to remember that conversation is for both of us which means I have some right to not be perpetually bored but that they have some right to be respected and not necessarily interrupted and/or snapped at. I've tried a few things

- a more conversational interruption with a skip-ahead question. "Oh yeah you've told me this, what ever happened when he got back from the hospital? Did they ever find the fourth wheel of his truck?" I think it gives the point that you like talking to them but want to get to a point of mutual interest once you've realized that you have heard this one before.
- if someone is telling me something that they expect me to learn/remember like in a work situation I'll usually try to figure out why in the heck they're telling me again. Is it them or me? I'll often ask "Is this the same thing you asked me to do last week? If so, is there some reason you're telling me again?"
- realizing that "I've heard this" is somewhat rude and abrupt and while it's okay to shift the conversation, saying this is sort of a dead end that can be perceived as antagonistic. I'll sometimes say something more agreeable like "oh yeah you told me, great story [change topic]"
- I also realize that I dislike hearing this stuff again because *I* am irritable and have some sort of feeling that this is wasting some time of mine that is in some way precious and this is my own stupid belief that I have to jettison. If I want to built and/or maintain a relatioship with someone [as opposed to a work situation which I think is different and requires different strategies] I have to be willing to bend. I HATE BENDING and, honestly, this is my problem and I can work on that on my own time.

Best of luck. Mild intoxicants can also be helpful. Sometimes I can be stuck in a situation like this and just lower my lids slightly and start daydreaming about something pleasant and the time passes right on by.
posted by jessamyn at 9:00 AM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it is incorrect to see a conversation as merely the transmission of information. People talk for many reasons -- maybe they are trying to process a story, or relive it, or share the moment with you. Maybe they have a hard time fitting their thoughts into spoken words and want to practice. Maybe they want to finish their thought so that it feels finished inside them. Unless they are monologuing for a long period of time, I think you should cut them a break.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:10 AM on April 16, 2008 [7 favorites]

Heh, you're an introvert, aren't you?

Some people like to repeat stories because by repeating them they relive them. It's a social ritual, where by orally sharing a story they get to recall it also and experience the feelings and emotions again.

Take it as chance to learn from them and experience the moment also. It means something to them, to share these things with you, so accept that for what it is, as opposed to how you personally see it.

I'm wired much like you and found I had choice: either be angry about it or not. Seeing as it's coming from a good place, I choose not to let it get to me and instead concentrate on good place. It has also taught me patience with others..

On preview:
Jessamyn's suggestion for skip ahead questions can work in limited doses, but sometimes people get irritable about that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 AM on April 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

"Hey, you told me that story before. You know the part I really liked? It was that part where you told the guy he looked like Tom Cruise!"

People simply forget they already told you the story. Some people have a better memory for who they've told what than others. But since they've forgotten, to them it really feels like they're about to share something new. They're all geared up and excited to share it. When you say, "You told me that, already, bub," you burst their bubble. That may be "they're problem," but you still have to be in a room with them, so it's your problem, too. So I recommend finding a way to show them that -- though you've heard the story before -- you still find it interesting.
posted by grumblebee at 9:17 AM on April 16, 2008

Nothing to add, but just yesterday I read this passage in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun:

I have no way of knowing whether you, who eventually will read this record, like stories or not. If you do not, no doubt you have turned these pages without attention. I confess that I love them. Indeed, it often seems to me that of all the good things in the world, the only ones humanity can claim for itself are stories and music; the rest, mercy, beauty, sleep, clean water and hot food…are all the work of the Increate. Thus, stories are small things indeed in the scheme of the universe, but it is hard not to love best what is our own—hard for me, at least.

I plan on telling myself, when faced with a "serial repeater", that perhaps by not allowing them to finish their story, I'm taking one of the few things they can really claim as their own.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:28 AM on April 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

I repeat myself for two reasons: 1.) Its fun to relive a memory or past event. Often this involves repeating a story with friends. It's best when everyone can jump in with their recollection. 2.) I've collected lots of anecdotal and academic stories and examples which enforce my point of view on a given topic. For instance, if I'm engaging in a conversation about politics, I may repeat the same bit of information. If I'm speaking with someone who has heard it before I'll usually preface by saying, "I know I say this all the time, but I think it deserves repeating..."

I would be hurt to learn that my friends or colleagues actively become angry when I repeat myself, but I do understand that it can be frustrating when the conversation is trite or strictly informational. So I don't think your feelings are misplaced.

How to deal with it? I think you should just work to accept people for how they are. There is no reason you can't politely remind people that they are repeating themselves, but it's not something you should get angry over...
posted by wfrgms at 9:35 AM on April 16, 2008

why it might strike a nerve with recipients such as myself.

Other commenters have addressed that they often know they are repeating themselves, but I'd still like to comment on this part of your question.

Like you, this pushes my buttons. I don't mind HEARING a repetition, like if I'm with the story-teller and they are telling it to a person who has never heard it before, but when I am the only person there, or I'm with other people who have all heard the story, I feel insulted.

Right or wrong, it seems like the person should remember having told this story to me 4 times before - and if you know you've told it, why are you doing it again? My sister in law and my dad both do this, and they seem totally unaware that they are doing it.

My dad in particular sometimes seems bewildered when I say, "you told us this a million times!" He's like, "I have?" (he's not senile, he just knows a ton of people and has a lot of interesting tales). But that's part of the annoyance. I feel like he can't be bothered to remember having had a conversation with me. That's the insulting part.
posted by peep at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2008

I am sometimes taken aback by people who get angry when they think a story is about to be retold. It makes me think that they might be insecure about how their own intelligence is being perceived, that they are insulted with the implication that they don't remember the story.

There are those, often older, people who's retellings can be just tedious. But sometimes telling a story again is not about imparting information, but about a social interaction and an expression of sharing, trusting, and performing. Listening for small changes and additions, or simply receiving the interaction, is not really so hard to do. Sometimes the same story is told to make a slightly different point, as may be apparent if you can just ride it out.

The bigger picture is an interaction with another personality, not receiving a data packet.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:01 AM on April 16, 2008

I'm usually the repeater, and it's usually my frustrated husband saying "You told me this already" and/or "I get it." I think I tend to repeat myself in two different ways:

1. Telling a story I've already told someone previously, as discussed above;
2. Saying the same thing in different ways during the same conversation, for emphasis.

As the repeater, I can tell you that #1 is always unintentional (unless we have clearly established that you have forgotten something and I need to tell you again, or it's prefaced by "hey, you remember that one about...?"). And I won't know that I'm doing it until it's too late. So when you get impatient and snap at me, it is going to cause hurt feelings, because I'm being jumped on without warning for offense I didn't know I was causing. Jessamyn's method of "a more conversational interruption with a skip-ahead question" is a beautiful way to let me know what I'm doing while avoiding those hurt feelings, for those of you with the patience.

#2 is also unintentional, to some extent. It's kind of a conversational tic, I'd argue, for those of us who love language. When we feel strongly about something and need to convey a point, what better way than to rephrase and restate? Except that some people find it annoying (or worse, insulting -- as if I'm repeating because I think they don't understand, which is not the case), and so I'm making a conscious effort to restrain/retrain myself.

Honestly, we're not doing it on purpose, so be gentle with us. It's really disconcerting and hurtful to be in the middle of what you think is a perfectly lovely conversation have someone blow up at you. You may feel better afterward for having gotten it off your chest (and stopped me from telling my story again), but then you get to deal with the little thundercloud I've now got over my head from being snapped at. (The real answer to your question, then, is which situation you prefer to deal with.)

Sorry to be so long-winded. I hope, at least, that I wasn't repetitive.
posted by somanyamys at 10:04 AM on April 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sometimes people continue to tell the story because they have nowhere else to go once you've said "oh yeah, heard it". They must preserve their face, and they do so by continuing to go down the path they were on (telling the story). You have to recognize that by saying "heard it", you may be unintentionally telling them to stop saying what they're saying and talk about something else instead. People don't always react to indirects request in your favor, because it subconsciously reflects badly on them, and they may want to indirectly let you know that they are in effect standing their ground by ignoring your request.

Here's my suggestion: when somebody starts telling you a story with no new information for you, acknowledge that you've heard it, but say something additional that either A) reflects positively on them and their story, or B) gives them the option of staying on topic, but elaborating on it or taking it in a new direction.

Example of A: "Oh yeah, I remember you telling me that cool story! I like how you [conclusion of their original story...provides a continuation point at the END of the story, and preserves their positive face by reinforcing that you're a good listener who's interested in what they have to say. ie. you're not bored of them and their stories and you don't think they have a lousy memory]"

Example of B: "Oh yeah, I remember! How did it work out?" (preserves their negative face by NOT telling them what to do, but helping them remain on topic with a request for new information)
posted by iamkimiam at 10:10 AM on April 16, 2008

I think it's just part of the cost of associating with humans.

We have communicated much longer verbally than we have in writing, and there's something vestigial about the oral tradition. Whether it be reliving experiences or fine-tuning a story (you must admit that once your listener hackles have been raised, you're less likely to notice a nuanced change in the narrative, should there be one). A lot of times people will talk just to process an experience/recollection. Some people do with journals/diaries to the same effect.

Some repetition is a good thing. I've probably forgotten countless stories told to me by my grandparents. The brain's a funny thing, haphazard in its performance. I've been surprised by some details that pop into my head when telling someone a story that I've told (to them, or others) before. That simply wouldn't happen if I didn't inconvenience them with a repetitive story. That being said, I hate knowing that I'm repeating myself. Personally, I'd rather be told early to mid-tale than to hear the crickets when I've finished. It's much more likely that I think I've told someone a particular story when I haven't, because I'm more sensitive to it than others I know. No harm done, though. It'll get told. Provided the beer holds out.

It sounds like you're asking about serial repeaters, though, and for them, I think Jessamyn's advice is the right tack. It proves you've heard and comprehended the story already. Try to not take offense at serial recounters.

I've a somewhat dingbatted relative that's prone to repeating the same 5 stories. I told him after hearing one story for the umpteenth time that from now on, when I made a certain hand signal, that means I've heard it. (personally, I like the sign kids make to truckers to blow their horn (a sort of vertical fist pump)). This is taken with humor, rather than animosity, and the next story can start with minimal embarrassment and/or hostility.
posted by Busithoth at 10:11 AM on April 16, 2008

As a listener, just jump straight to the punchline.

Them: "Oh that reminds me of the time we went to Crater Lake with the MacGuyvers..."
You: "Oh right, and the dog found its way back all on its own?"

[on preview, what jessamyn said]

I've felt what you describe and have wound up just relaxing and not pushing everything toward my own needs (so to speak). It's just a little control-freaky, and generally I've become more aligned with what JaredSeth said. I just let them have their time and I can space out, practice saying "mmhmm," and everybody's happy. I guess you'd have to like spacing out for that to work, though.
posted by rhizome at 10:13 AM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

When it happens to me, I'll just sort of say in a friendly way that they told me the story before, and if they still seem compelled to continue, I'll quickly summarize it just to show that I remember the details, and that there's no real need for them to get into it again. If they want to add a detail that they might've omitted (even if they didn't), that's fine. And if they want to specify what prompted them to want to tell the story at that moment (like maybe something happened to them shortly before meeting you that reminded them of the story), that's fine too.

But if they just want to tell you the story for the sake of telling it again, what can you possibly be expected to say in reaction, especially when you told them you already heard it? All you can pretty much do is give an awkward nod of the head. I wouldn't say it's rude or anything, but conversation isn't just about relating information to others, it's the others receiving and reciprocating, and it's hard to reciprocate in a situation like that.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 10:15 AM on April 16, 2008

I am a serial repeater, and I am not demented. I have one obnoxious friend, a neurosurgeon and serial repeater himself, who takes great pleasure on calling me on it. When he does, I tell him, "I like to tell the same story again and again. Maybe eventually I will learn something from it." He has heard this so often that he usually finishes the sentence for me.

If one is not just a demented person firing off old neurons, there is usually a reason to tell a story. A story is told for a reason, because it is pertinent to something that was said or because it creates a particular feeling that is appropriate to the conversation or the context. The story does not happen in the mouth of the teller; it exists between the teller and the audience. When it is stored in my memory, it is a dead thing; when it is out there being told, for those moments it is alive and it holds the potential of evolution and growth, of sharing of wisdom and knowledge, of building a closer bond between me and the people I am speaking to.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:16 AM on April 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, one more thing: I mentioned my SIL and my dad. Both of them have the same deal, which is repeating funny stories. The thing is, they ARE funny, but after a certain number of times, and I'm going to say that number is roughly 2, most people aren't going to laugh out loud at the exact same story.

So there's awkwardness all around. Dad gets to the punchline, delivers it with a grin and an expectant look, and . . . everyone smiles mildly or perhaps gives a courtesy chuckle. The listeners are thinking, "don't you remember telling this story?" and he's insulted that no one's guffawing at his hilarious story.
posted by peep at 10:19 AM on April 16, 2008

1. You need to learn to meditate. You have some tension about this, as you already know. I know what you mean -- it can sometimes make me tense when I'm hearing someone repeat something I think I've already heard -- and those are times when a long habit of meditation shines affords the serenity to listen to what other people are saying. Meditation just means slowing down and thinking -- it's that simple and that complex -- so going for walks, sitting quietly on a mat, or what-have-you is a perfectly good way of doing it. Do it every day. At the very least, spend more time daily without any external input, either from people or things.

2. You say that you're irked by people when they are "just reiterating the same information with different words." Now, first of all, if you've never heard it from the person who's talking, then it's almost invariably not the same information, as it's very difficult to communicate and remember the words we hear. If the words are different, the information is different. If you're bored by what they're saying, think about the difference in the words, and think about what it says about this person. React to the whole statement. If the punchline is the same, the joke is still different, and the rest of the joke does matter. Second of all, if people are telling you things over and over again, you can mention it, but have some serenity about it, and you will be happier. I have this habit, which has taken years to break, of telling stories over; it's because my memory in certain areas is fuzzy, and I don't remember the specific interactions wherein I told a given story; also, because I seem to like telling stories. My best friends are those who treat me well regardless; I have one friend who, on multiple occasions when I've done this, has waited until I'm done, smiled, and said gently, "I know. You told me." It meant a lot to me; he was responding to a person rather than the words a person was saying. I suppose that's the heart of it.

3. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm going to guess that your job requires you to sit through a few meetings. (Most people's do nowadays, I suppose.) Even if it doesn't, there's plenty of stress in the modern world, stress that can easily induce us to forget the purpose of interacting with other people. The point of talking to people isn't to receive information in the form of words; it's the pleasure of the interaction. Even if you're talking to someone you don't like, you can learn a lot from a retold story, and knowing about someone is always good.

Again, when you're listening to someone, remind yourself that you're interacting with a person, not with words or information.
posted by Viomeda at 10:19 AM on April 16, 2008

I'll go against Jessamyn's recommendation for mild intoxicants. Not because it wouldn't help you (it probably would), but if you're drinking, then chances are the story-repeater is, and then it's only going to get worse.

As for dealing with the problem itself, I'd say you're fighting an uphill battle. People are often encouraged to retell stories and get used to it ("Frank, tell Verna here that great story involving your mother in-law and a bucket of cole-slaw!", see also: I 9829; Huckabees)

If I'm on friendly terms with someone and notice them retelling a story a lot, I sometimes try to preemptively tell a shortened version to them when I sense it coming.

I have a weird habit where I'll sometimes retell a very short funny story immediately after telling it the first time, except with a bit more detail. My wife teases me about it, so I've toned it down a lot.
posted by ODiV at 10:22 AM on April 16, 2008

(should be I (heart) Huckabees), damn you, live preview!

And peep, my dad's story about the guy at the urinal in the Palm Springs airport who wanted to "make friendly" with him doesn't ever get less funny.
posted by ODiV at 10:26 AM on April 16, 2008

but ODiV, isn't it so much funnier to see him tell the story to an audience who hasn't heard it?

The more I think about it, the more I see that my problem is not with hearing a re-told story, but with feeling like I have to act like I haven't heard it before, which is entirely my own issue I guess. I love this thread; it's interesting how everyone feels equally misunderstood.
posted by peep at 10:32 AM on April 16, 2008

Now I want to hear the "make friendly" story.
posted by canine epigram at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2008

I'm a repeater. I've been a repeater probably forever; definitely since middle school, when I pointed out, "Hey, Sylvia lives there" to my best friend when we were riding on the bus one morning, and she replied, "I know Sylvia lives there. You say it EVERY TIME WE PASS HER HOUSE." Oops.

I don't usually remember what I've told to whom; my social memory in general is pretty crummy and I have trouble remembering who I've seen movies with or whose birthday is when. There have been several occasions when I've started telling a friend about something cool that I did with someone and they interrupt, "yeah, that was me." I still value the people on both ends of my repetitive stories immensely, so it's kind of embarrassing when this happens.

There's nothing that "drives" me to be repetitive, at least not consciously. Remembering what I've told people is just something that doesn't come naturally to me, like catching a baseball. It's just one of those random variations in the many ways I process the world around me.

I'm not sure how I can improve my memory for what I've told people, or how you can improve your tolerance for people who repeat themselves, but please, try not to get angry, and please don't take it as an insult. That would just make me feel insulted in turn.

Anyway, seconding Jessamyn's advice on finding a less harsh way to nudge repeaters. "I've heard this" can often come across as "Man, you are boring" or "Are you done talking yet?" Rephrasing it to just a "Oh yeah! I remember you telling me this" can make a world of difference. Just a tiny bit of pleasantness or enthusiasm in the inflection will usually get me to say "oh, well never mind then," while thinking "Wow, he remembered." That makes me feel interesting, not boring. It also helps sometimes if you can anchor when they originally said it, e.g. "Oh right, you told me about this at Joe's party last week." It doesn't always work, but I do find it easier to recall what I've said to people if I can remember the event where I said it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2008

My husband is a repeater of anecdotes, and I normally do what Metroid Baby says to do. The anecdote is usually part of a point being made in the conversation, so I say, "oh yeah, I remember you telling me that," and then he'll say, "right, so then ..." it cuts the anecdote short while maintaining the flow of conversation.

My husband has near-perfect memory, so I doubt he's forgetting he's told it to me already. I think he's reliving the moment, as well as illustrating a point.
posted by Koko at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2008

I repeat things all the time. I've associated it with my ADD but I could be wrong. Usually it's just because I've forgotten who I've told what and I just talk a lot in general. I appreciate it when people stop me and say you've already told me this.
posted by Carbolic at 11:16 AM on April 16, 2008

I've done it on purpose before. I'm an introvert and cannot make small talk without feeling like an idiot. Sometimes the best way to break the ice is to tell a little anecdote (not too long), a "So I was at the grocery store the other day..."

Yeah, you've heard it. But while telling it, I won't be all uncomfortable at the silence, and during the telling, I'll be reminded of something else I haven't told you in that organic way conversations develop.

So sure, I feel like an idiot when I do that, too, but at least it's better than silence or "Sure is sunny." And it leads to real conversation.
posted by ctmf at 11:38 AM on April 16, 2008

It's called the Bell Curve of Evolution. There are 3 kinds of people - those asleep, those awakening and those fully awake. The ones asleep will do stuff that will wrack the nerves of those that are just awakening. That's their job. The ones who are fully awake will witness and teach the ones ready to learn techniques how to accept the shortcomings of the others and how to become a master over one's own emotions. The Bell Curve is constantly shifting. Essentially we are all here to teach each other. sometimes the teaching comes in the form of getting pissed off - and in that to find a thread of humanity and within that to search the self to find some humility and within that to find the Bigger Picture. Like - why is this person pushing all my buttons at the same time, why do I want to commit a crime and what can I be doing right now to change the energy from negative to positive. See if you can undrestand that. Ultimately a master will come along to teach you the lesson that needs to be learn and sometimes in the interim, a messenger will deliver the message, that sometimes we gotta see beyond appearances and just ride the wave of agony in silence.
posted by watercarrier at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2008 [7 favorites]

I think that this is often a sign that the person doesn't feel listened to, either by you or in general on that subject they are talking about. A variation on this theory is that they didn't get the response they expected or wanted from you when they told you the first time.

Ditto metroid baby's advice, as I think that it tends to make them feel listened to.
posted by kenzi23 at 2:39 PM on April 16, 2008

I like to hear myself talk. I'll admit it! :) I'm a story-teller from way back. But I do prefer to embellish the story for the listener if I know they've heard it before. If I do retell something, it is relevant to the conversation. Give us some slack, some of us are performance artists at heart.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:47 PM on April 16, 2008

I'm a pretty obnoxious repeater of the second kind (reformulating the same point over and over again within the same conversation). I love the comment from somanyamys above. I do it because I really love language, to be dorky about it. I'm constantly trying to shoehorn my thoughts into the most succinct, eloquent and illuminating linguistic form that I can. Usually when I make a point for the first time, it comes out wrong. Not unintelligibly wrong, just not the way I wanted to express it. So ten seconds later, after my brain has chunked things around some more, I'll often say it again in another way, a way that just makes me feel good to say out loud because damn if that isn't exactly the right way to say that! It's rhetoric of the gods! Its truth and beauty is self evident to all! And, to be fair, these aren't usually weighty propositions. Sometimes they are, as when I'm trying to explain my research to someone, but usually it's stuff about what toppings I want on my mashed potatoes. If I said, "salt and butter," I'd have to take it back, because "butter and salt" is more beautiful and obviously what I meant.

I imagine what annoys people is the perception that I think the listener is dense, or not listening. This is almost never true. Of course, my husband knows this, and I drive him batty anyway. Sorry, world.
posted by miagaille at 5:32 PM on April 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

A friend with ADD repeats stuff because he forgot he told it the first time, and continues talking because he doesn't pay attention to people who say they've heard it before. I used to get annoyed, but it's rarely a serious intrusion on my time. If I absolutely have to go, like my dinner is going to boil over, then I cut him off and call him back later. But 99% of the time I have the time to listen to the story AGAIN, and you know, what the hell... it brings us closer. I think telling someone "YOU ALREADY TOLD ME THAT" is really saying "I'M SUPERIOR TO YOU BECAUSE MY MEMORY IS BETTER." Unless you suspect dementia, in which case get them to a doctor, just shut up and listen to them.
posted by desjardins at 6:33 PM on April 16, 2008

Good lord, this drives me absolutely nuts. I probably handle it worse than you. For most of my life I've received compliments for being polite, but this situation will, from time to time, end with the other person feeling insulted and no remorse on my part.

It's a bit funny to read all the posts stating “This is a larger social interaction that you are failing to participate in. Do your part by paying attention.” What? When does the drone, performing in the theater of their own imagination, start to pay attention? If they're so damn interested in the both of us 'acknowledging the larger interaction' then why can't they clue in to how poorly I respond to their repetitions? It's not like I'm keeping it a fucking secret! And that's what drives it, it's a very self absorbed (narcissistic, might be a better word), indulgent way to behave and the defense that the repeater is participating in some sort of broader, deeper way is just ludicrous. They are the ones who are absent, swept off in a trance. peep's observation that it is the imposed role playing on the part of the listener that really irritates is another aspect of their lack of focus on the other party.

I do not like it with stories, I do not like it in arguments. Either way it points to a lack of responsiveness in the speaker. Stories where there is heavy emotional content that a person is still processing are an exception. This is different from the person using the opportunity to go back over some of their favorite memories again, uninvited. In the latter case, can't they just get their own blog?

So, uh, yeah. It touches a nerve. I ain't got much in the way of insight on how to handle it. Usually I skip ahead to the punch line, or just interrupt in a brusque enough manner to prevent them from continuing on. With elderly female relatives, I suffer in silence. If two of them start to talk to each other with set piece one followed by set piece two, it makes me feel jagged and unbalanced along my centerline.

Disclaimer: I'm a bit (O.K. more than a little) on the misanthropic side, not particularly social. My skills at small talk are pretty limited, and yes I can see the connection. There's more going on than I'm mentioning...

But damn! Jesus H. Christ is it annoying. DO NOT WANT. Mild intoxicants don't do shit, opiates and nothing less.


The point of talking to people isn't to receive information in the form of words; it's the pleasure of the interaction.

Says who? You don't assign motives. For crying out loud, you wrote this while discussing business meetings. How many out of a thousand would say that was the point of talking to people in that context? I put the over/under at 3 1/2.
posted by BigSky at 10:44 PM on April 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am grateful for the repeaters for speaking up here, and explaining how and why they do this, because it ANNOYS ME TO NO END when someone (not elderly) tells me the same story again and again. Geesh, I know people in their mid-30s who are guilty of this.

I feel disrespected when this happens. It's as though the person telling me the story believes that I have not understood the story the first time, or they have forgotten they have told me the story already. I know someone who is an otherwise nice person who will do this again and again, despite me telling her 'yes, you already told me this story' yet charges on to finish the story I already heard several times. Unfortunately for her, I have distanced myself from her because of this most annoying trait.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Now that I think about it, I have done that on occasion as described above, but only when it seemed like the other person was waiting for me to talk. Like, just staring at me, making the silence uncomfortable. I can happily work nearby other people without talking, but if you make me talk, I'll do it.

Don't get all huffy with me if it isn't entertaining enough for you, though. Don't just say you already heard it, tell your own goddamn story, why don't you? That's what I'm hoping you'll interrupt me and do anyway, whether I'm telling something I already told you, or making inane remarks about the weather.

Not picking on you, yorick, just the type of person I run into from time to time.
posted by ctmf at 4:15 PM on April 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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