Have you had those conversations with some people that just leave you feeling confused or frustrated, unheard or misunderstood? You may even feel your conversation was hijacked or that you were somehow judged. Or even worse, you may not know that other people feel that way after a conversation with you!
The art of conversation doesn’t come that easily to everyone, so it’s important to take a little ‘chat check’ and see how you rate. Without realising it, we can easily be stuck in a pattern of being a poor conversationalist. There are unhelpful habits of conversation that you may come to recognize in others or yourself once you are aware of them. Here are a few types you may recognise:
The Thought Completer knows exactly what you were going to say and has the annoying habit of interrupting you and completing your sentences according to what direction he or she thinks you were going. This person hijacks the conversation and robs you of telling your own story. The lesson here is not to assume you know what the other person is about to say – we all have unique experiences to share, so take care not to interrupt.
The Pessimist is the chronic negative thinker. No matter what you say, this person has a negative take on it. Their experience in the past, their opinion on the present and their predictions for the future are relentlessly negative. This person can leave you feeling hopeless and that the world conspires against you. Either that or you feel much less inclined to chat with them in the future. To avoid being like this yourself, remember it is sometimes better to just listen than say something negative.
The Egotist is unable to allow the conversation to revolve around anything but themselves and somehow finds a way to link any topic back to themselves, all while being oblivious to what they are doing. Funnily enough, just when the topic becomes about something unrelated, this person coincidentally has to leave! If you think you might do this, try to listen as much as you speak and focus on the other person and what they have to say.
The Interrogator can be too interested in the details asking questions almost like a detective and leave you feeling grilled and exhausted! In their enthusiasm to learn more about all the technicalities, they can interrupt the natural flow of the conversation and create a frustrated atmosphere. If that sounds like you, remember to keep any questions you may have relevant to the information that is actually needed, be patient and only ask questions in moderation.
The Detached Listener may have heard you, but you’d never know it, as they don’t show any reactions. Whether you are talking about something really exciting or truly sad, this person remains neutral and impassive, leaving you feeling like you might need to be more expressive or just maybe keep it to yourself from now on. If you might be doing this to someone else, remember the other person needs some verbal or non-verbal cues to be sure you are interested in what they have to say. Make sure you add in a nod or an appropriate sound every now and then, to let them know.
The Competitive Storyteller has always done whatever it is faster, harder, longer, and can somehow make your experience sound boring! While this person often has the audience riveted and never forgets the punchline, it is easy to feel outdone and a little skeptical that this individual can have experienced so much more than you, every time. If taking centre stage is very comfortable for you, make sure you listen to others as well and take turns in the storytelling.
The Fixer somehow feels that whenever you speak of a doubt or some indecision, they need to weigh up all your alternatives, analyse the pros and cons, and work it through to the solution for you. This person hasn’t realised that you may not have asked for advice, but were just expressing yourself. If you tend to jump in and be a ‘fixer’ for people, remember to wait until you are asked for your advice or opinion.
Of course, there are other types of conversation destroyers you may encounter as well, but now that you are more aware, see if you recognise some of these in action. You may just tweak your listening skills to become a better conversationalist yourself!
Vanessa Steele, ThoughtMatters counsellor