By Rachel Puryear
Since childhood, most of us are taught that it’s very rude to interrupt someone else while they’re talking (though the specifics can vary by culture or social status). This principle becomes ingrained in us as a matter of good manners. It makes sense, since most people don’t like being interrupted while they’re trying to speak – so we understand why others might not like it, too (especially if we ourselves are empathetic people, which you likely are if you follow this blog).
But are there times when it’s acceptable, or even justifiable to break this general rule? Can gently curbing the monologue of one person in a conversation help other voices be heard that might otherwise get steamrolled, and facilitate a more fair and inclusive conversation?
Actually, sometimes, yes. Here’s why:
We’ve all been in conversations where there’s that one person – or maybe a few – who seem to routinely dominate the discussion, and it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise around them. If you’re talking to them one on one, they will do most of the talking. If they’re in a group discussion, they will tend to speak before others do, and tend to hog center stage for themselves.
Trying to have a discussion around these people can be incredibly annoying. They can seem very inconsiderate, and even self-absorbed. You might wonder if they ever get tired of hearing themselves talk.
However, often times these people don’t mean to be rude or cut anyone else out of the conversation – they are often just unaware of the impact of their behavior. They may be highly extraverted, and talk first and think later. They might have no idea that others feel edged out, and assume that if others also want to talk, they’ll beat them to the punch – and that if that doesn’t happen, that they better step up and keep the conversation going. They may even feel like they’re doing more of the conversational work.
The problem is, quieter voices – ones often reflective, insightful, and thoughtful – often don’t get heard in a conversation when this happens. Luckily, there are gentle ways to handle this situation.
If someone is dominating the conversation on an occasional basis, such as being very excited about a particular topic, or about an important event going on in their life; just let them be heard on these occasional matters very important to them. This is especially so if they are normally quiet – if a normally quiet person is talking a lot about a particular subject matter, then it’s pretty important to them.
However, when someone frequently takes over conversations and it prevents others from also contributing; there are some helpful things you can do to redirect the conversation towards others without humiliating the chatty person or treating them harshly.
If it’s a one-to-one conversation with a highly talkative friend or colleague, you could set limits on the conversation from the beginning. You could say you only have 20 minutes, you have to leave for an appointment at noon, or you could (subtly) set a phone alarm to go off after a while – and say that’s your cue that you have to get going now.
Or, if this is a friend or loved one and you want to maintain and deepen that relationship, you will have to be more direct about it. Something like, “I have noticed that in our conversations, you tend to do most of the talking. Much as I enjoy hearing what you have to say, sometimes I would like to be heard”, or “I would like you to ask about what’s going on in my life, too.” Or, “I would feel more connected to you if our conversations were more balanced.” Remember, though, that it will take time and practice for the other person to change their habits, and that’s if they do hear you and are willing to change.
In a group conversation, though, the dynamic is a little different. If there’s one person who’s getting a lot more airtime on a regular basis than others, you could sometimes raise your hand, and say something like, “I can tell you are very excited, and have a lot to say about this! Can I ask a question?” Or, if you can get in between their sentences or when they take a breath, you could ask, “What do others think about this?” and look around the room. Be careful about putting specific people on the spot, though, unless you’re pretty sure they would want that.
If someone doesn’t want to even try to share more of the spotlight in conversations, though, then maybe a little distance could be created. That doesn’t mean you have to cut the person out of your life, or out of a group forever – but maybe have a bit less interaction with that person, or sometimes have the rest of the group get together without them once in a while (just realize that if that person finds out, the best course of action is to just be honest – especially since by now, you’ve hopefully already addressed the issue with them at least once before).
Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to hearing from everyone in a conversation, including quieter folks who like to think before they speak. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo