How Not to Hold a Conversation

Hostage for one. Over and over again for another. Oh well just read then and stop yanking my crank when I am speaking with you. Heh, yanking my crank…

I have been in a really bad mood lately so be warned. Today, I have a selection of “Things that drive me nuts in conversations” which I run into frequently. The first I’m going to call “Out from HUH?!? field” and it goes something very much like this, more or less.

Let’s just say Ann, Beth and Cindy are participants in a conversation. In an ideal conversation Ann comes up with a conversational blurbit because that’s how conversations start (well, I suppose they don’t ALL have to start with Ann, in fact it would be a pretty self centric thing for Ann to do if she did start all the conversations because then everyone would be talking about what Ann wanted to all the time. In this case Ann starts the conversation because she is the first on the list. Hee! Look, I gave it away, see A for Ann and…all right yeah, anyway).

ANN: Can you guys believe the thunderstorm we had last night?
BETH: Yeah, the rain came down so hard that I had to pull over coming home from shopping. Unreal!
CINDY: My boyfriend did the cutest thing.

It bothers the snot out of me when someone hijacks a conversation like that. Maybe Cindy really wants to tell about how her boyfriend made pancakes for her that weekend or maybe she will relate it to the storm somehow but to me it sounds self centered and rude as all get out. Sure we all have things we want to say and when we say them we want other people to listen to them too but EVERYONE wants to say something and wants people to listen to what they are saying as well. Conversations are both about talking and listening. Beth listens to Ann, personalizes the conversation a bit to make it more real, there by letting Ann know that she heard, she processed and agrees. This so far is a happy conversation, Beth is respecting Ann’s thoughts and building on them with a Beth perspective on the topic.

Cindy I don’t think really cares what Ann is saying, she is just waiting for her turn to talk so she can relate what she wants the other two to hear. It’s all about Cindy. It wouldn’t matter what the other two were talking about, when Cindy’s turn came to jump in she would still tell about the pancakes. You can see people do this, they mark time with their eyes thinking “Yeah yeah storm whatever, get to me, get to ME!” Are the pancakes more important? To Cindy yes to Ann and Beth probably not. Right about then in the conversation I bet Ann and Beth are feeling a little slighted.

I am a pretty avid talker and I would like to think I am not a Cindy. Unfortunately I need to learn to listen better sometimes so that I don’t become a Cindy. For the past couple of years I have been studying the dynamics of conversations for this very reason. I am practicing hearing other people and you know – it’s hard! I’m not always so observant either when it comes to a good animated discussion and sometimes I do think “Oh oh oh, I want to tell about my boyfriend and the pancakes!” but if the conversation isn’t leading in that direction I have to face the fact that this particular story just isn’t on the docket and move on. Even if the pancake story is a good story, just no if I have to jimmy it into the conversation.

My second thing I am working on is related banter. Not everything has to be a personal anecdote even though they are good anecdotes (this is different from trying to wedge the pancake story into a conversation, this would be like saying “Yeah I had something like that happen to me once too blah blah blah”). I have some good stories (the boat floating story and my future story) but unless we are talking specifically about crazy film or artsy people OR fat asses I’m keeping mute. Even then I am learning to not sprinkle an evening of talking with too many personalized blurbits. My sis is a good coach for me on that, she tells me when I’m being an idiot and when I’m not without prompting sometimes. Heh, fam!

Here is my second conversational pet peeve. I call this the “Yeah, keep talking” syndrome. (the order is being changed to protect the innocent)

BETH: So that was some storm last night no?
ANN: Yeah, we got a ton of rain. [Ann folds towels from a newly dried load of laundry]
BETH: I was driving home from the mall when it hit, I had to pull over it was raining so hard!
ANN: I was at home the whole time but the windows shook something fierce.
BETH: Oh, when I got home [Ann leaves the room with the basket] it had already –
ANN: Keep taking, I’m listening.
BETH: Passed. The flowers were all flattened though and the cat was under the bed so I guess it was pretty bad.
[pause]
ANN: I’m listening.
BETH: Yeah, so umm, the cat took about three hours to come out-you want help in there?
ANN: No, no, continue on. Flowers something.

I know people who do that ALL THE TIME and it drives me nuts. I don’t mind suspending a conversation until the person comes back. I don’t even mind if the person interrupts with an “Excuse me, I have to go take this away, I’ll be back in a bit” but just disappearing in the middle of a conversation without any warning makes me feel like I could be talking to the walls for all the enjoyment the other person is having. If they really don’t want to talk then don’t, but let me know. If my subject matter is boring, fine, just find some way of changing it to something we can both mutually discuss. Walking out in the middle of the conversation and half listening is just telling me passively that you don’t give a rip really.

Third, people who have one or two things only to say. Every conversation goes like the first one except it doesn’t matter what is being said, Cindy always has something to say about her boyfriend. Unless everyone is talking about boyfriends she feels left out and in order to contribute she interjects something about boyfriend. She could be a skilled conversationalist and it may be seamless but after a while people begin to wonder when the boyfriend subject will show up because it always does. Oh no, here comes Cindy, we have to hear about her boyfriend again. I have to watch this when I get into something new. The wedding? I am so trying not to be all blah blah wedding, blah blah TheMan blah blah plans because people just don’t want to hear it. All the time. If they want to know, they will ask “How are plans coming” and I will say “Fine, interesting snag here” (maybe) or “We have X amount done so far” but I also need to remember, “How are things” is not open season for telling every little detail. If they want more, they will ask for more (and then? and then?)

Lastly I hate dueling conversations. Take the first conversation but continue it so that Ann and Beth have several more lines dealing with the storm while Cindy continues on with the pancake story. I would hope that Cindy would get a clue from the fact that Ann and Beth are still engaged in a storm thing that they are not too happy about having their conversation hijacked. Unfortunately I know a couple of people who are just Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! and continue on with the whole pancake thing even though all the subtle cues say “Really, we would like to have our storm conversation please.” That to me is so three year old feeling and coming from an adult who should know better it intensely grating. After a while I just avoid these people. Conversation with them is like being lectured at and I can get that by signing up for classes, I don’t have to hang around and be berated for free. Who wants to have a conversation pirated and dictated by someone else? Not me thanks.

So I guess I just wish people would learn to be less self centered and give other people some listen time. It makes everyone happy and so what if you don’t get to tell the pancake story, maybe it’s just not fated to be told or maybe somewhere down the line there might be an appropriate pancake story conversation that it will fit perfectly into.

One Response to “How Not to Hold a Conversation”

  1. j Says:

    Thanks. I’ve been searching on the web for advise on conversations since I don’t hold them very well and your was the only one that actually said something about advise on holding conversations.