Me with one of my very best friends Ragan, as we are about to engage in some good, deep conversation.
So you think you’re a pretty good conversationalist, do you?
Most people think they are. However, I recently read an article that suggested that in our age of social media (verses in-person social interaction), most of us are struggling with our conversational skills. The article (link below) talks about one big mistake that many people make in conversation: they become a Conversational Narcissist. This person subtly, or not so subtly, turns the conversation back to himself. A conversation with a Narcissist (Rob, in the example below) goes something like this:
James: I’m thinking about buying a new car.
Rob: Oh yeah, I’m thinking about buying a new car too.
Rob: Yup, I just test drove a new mustang. It was awesome! Let me tell you all about it….
Did you see how Rob didn’t give a support response or keep the spotlight on James, but instead turned the conversation right back to himself? Many people struggle with keeping the conversation focused on the other person. This is probably the number one mistake people make in conversation. Additionally, many people also struggle with asking the other person any questions at all. From the article:
“Most folks seem to struggle with asking any questions at all and have a very difficult time relinquishing the floor.”
The article goes on to say “It’s fine to share things about yourself, as long you loop the conversation back to the person who initiated the topic.”
The article made me take a hard look at my own conversational skills. I am very introspective and I love deep conversation with good friends. I really try hard to be a good listener and draw others out. The only problem is that I have noticed that many people are so impressed with my listening skills that they forget to ask me any questions!!
But I am in no way perfect in conversation. For starters, I am a recovering blabber who used to share WAY too much detail. Many years ago my employer told me that I went on and on when speaking, which led to me not getting a particular job. Also, I sometimes have an agenda. Nope, I’m not interested in selling you a product, but I might want to sell you an idea. My husband Erik takes the brunt of this because I’m always pestering him with my ideas about what to do and where to go as a family, or “can we have so and so over for dinner?” Stuff like that.
So with my own issues in mind, Erik and I (and Ragan, pictured above) have developed a list of conversational styles we have noticed over many years. PLEASE KNOW that this list is intended to be a funny, non-judgmental, yet truthful/helpful look at some of the faux paus that we have consistently seen over the years (and that we, ourselves, have also made).
So, besides the Conversational Narcissist, which is probably the worst, here are the other 6 conversation styles and habits that everyone who would like to grow in the area of conversational skills should avoid:
- The Story Topper: We all know this one. He’s the guy or the gal who always has a better story to share. A better car, a better house, better kids, or a better life. Or conversely, he or she has it worse than you, and he wants you to know that you don’t have it as bad as you think you do. A conversation with a Story Topper (in positive form) can go like this: Me: “Hey Sally! You’ll never guess who I just ran into! Harrison Ford!” Sally: “That’s nothing! I just ran into Justin Timberlake yesterday, and JLo is coming over to my house for dinner tonight!” It can also look like this (in the negative form): Jane: “Man, I’m struggling to lose my last ten pounds of baby weight!” Sally: “That’s nothing! Try having to lose the last 50! You don’t know how good you have it!” You know you’re with a story topper when you feel like that cool story you just shared is not so cool, or that your perspective falls short of reality.
- The Topic Changer: This is the person who doesn’t prefer to stay on the topic that you are on; they want to talk about what they want to talk about. They don’t stay on point. Just when you are getting into the topic, for some reason, they change it. You know you’re with a Topic Changer when you find yourself frustrated that you were not able to dig as deeply into something as you wanted to, or you find yourself distracted by the conversation, rather than satisfied.
- The Monologuer: You know this one: the person who wants to tell you every.little.detail. about something that happened to them or what they are going through. OR, if your Monologuer is from another generation, he (it’s usually an old man, let’s be honest) will go on and on about World War II, stories of how it used to be, what is wrong with this world, and his opinion on Donald Trump. It’s like they are just talking to themselves. And maybe they are, since most of us tune them out after about five minutes. The Monologuer makes you feel like you want to find any excuse to leave the immediate vicinity as soon as possible. The problem is it is almost easier to escape quicksand.
- The Foyer Talker: These are folks that excel at small talk and don’t know when to leave the party. They stay in the foyer, continuing on with the conversation, oblivious to fact that you need to put your kids to bed, or clean up the house, or sleep. They are unable to read your body language and they are not in tune with social norms or cues. You genuinely like this person but you genuinely want them to leave so you can relax and watch TV.
- The Agenda-cizers: These peeps try to subtly or not so subtly work in a personal agenda into their conversations. For example: “Hey, did you know I’m selling a new product? I’d like you to hear about it. Perhaps you can work underneath my pyramid scheme, I mean…perhaps you’d like to work alongside of me and make lots of money. Let’s have coffee to talk all about it…” You feel like you always have to play defense with this person while trying to be somewhat open to what they are trying to sell you, err… I mean tell you. (PS: I mean no disrespect to those people who use social media to promote something they are trying to sell. I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the person who is pushy with their agenda and they are always thinking about it every time they see you.)
- Misc. Other Annoying Personas: The following Personalities deserve “honorable mentions.” The Story-Teller is like the Monologuer only better because they are super interesting to listen to while still being a one-sided conversationalist. The Interviewer asks too many questions and seems nosey. The Taboo Talker freely shares their views on religion and politics (or directly asks you about your views) and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. The Mood Changers either bring the conversation more “up” or “down” in an attempt to deflect their own personal feelings of discomfort. Finally, the Debaters are always trying to “win” the argument or bring you over to their side with persuasion. Did I forget any? Please feel free to comment below. Let’s all speak freely on this!
I will conclude with just one simple rule that each of us can follow to instantly bring our Conversational IQ up 100 points. Here it is:
Consider the other person.
That’s it. Not rocket science. Just think of two little words help you: PING, PONG. Engage in a game of ping pong by answering their question with just enough detail to keep things interesting, and then PING the ball (the conversation) back to the form of another question. When there is a pause, hopefully, they will ask you a question, and PONG the ball back to you. You talk, they talk. Ping, then Pong. The goal is that the conversation is a mutual exchange of opinions and ideas. Share enough, but not too much, unless they dig you for more detail.
Just a couple more things you can do: Don’t hog the floor. Hit the ball back to them. Share interesting details, but don’t go on and on. Read their body language. Ask them questions. Respect their answers.
If you ask the other person lots of good questions and do a few other normal, human- kindness, non-selfish things, everyone will love you and think you’re the coolest person around and they will leave your presence wanting to spend more time with you. Why? Because you’re a good conversationalist and you make them feel good by listening to them, thereby affirming their dignity as a human being!
But wait – what if they are a conversational narcissist and/or they don’t hit the ball back to you? I am going to leave my thoughts on that in the P.S. section if you are interested.
In conclusion, if we all consider the other person, and ask good, engaging questions, everyone will leave the conversation satisfied and happy, with the relationship being strengthened and deepened.
So who wants to get together for some good, deep convo?
I’ll bring the coffee!
PS: What to do when the other person is a Conversational Narcissist or a Monologuer or just doesn’t want to play PING PONG with you in conversation?
- One, let the conversation go flat and see if they PING the ball back to you with a question.
- Two, you can ask them another question, and hopefully with this round you will begin playing PING PONG again and it becomes a mutual exchange. However this can be dangerous as it may feed into the problem behavior, leaving you frustrated.
- Three, just say what you want to say as though the other person actually asked you a question. Just take the floor. Even if they didn’t give it to you.
- Four, be patient and just let the conversation go naturally. Conversation should be a natural, enjoyable exchange. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. One person may talk more than the other one. It’s really all up to what you want in a relationship. If you have something to say, just remember that John Mayer song: “Say What You Need To Say.” Don’t wait for a transition or a question. Just say it!!!
- Finally, when they start to rattle on, drink another glass of wine. 🙂
To read about the Conversational Narcissist, click here: