Sure-Fire Conversation Stoppers
You have probably noticed these stoppers in others.
(But you may not have noticed them in yourself.)
When you meet a person for the first time, you have only a slight relationship. Actually, as social scientists have concluded, during the first few minutes of meeting, people are making judgments, sizing up one another. This is that critical time for forming first impressions “Do I like this person?” “Do I want to spend time or have a friendship with this person?”
Below are recipes for making conversation difficult for others.
These are the top five conversation stoppers I have observed:
1. Offer only very brief responses. One-word answers. Be coy. Play hard to get. Reveal very little information for another converser to work with, thus making them carry the conversational load. This will keep them off balance and feeling awkward.
How to handle: If a social conversation becomes hard work, it usually best to excuse yourself tactfully and move on. For whatever the reason, such persons don't want to talk much – at least not with you. Ease your discomfort by exiting.
2. Whenever you hear an idea you don't agree with, debate the point. Make the conversation into a competition. Marshall your case and be relentless, letting no error in fact or opinion go un-challenged. Make sure you let the other person know they are just plain wrong.
How to handle: I have found that telling the debater “I'd rather not argue, if you don't mind” can be helpful in shifting the talk away from dispute. If that doesn't work, it is probably time for you to take your leave (unless, of course, you are enjoying the argument.)
3. Give lectures rather than conversing. If your conversational partner asks you about a current book or movie, launch into a detailed critique – even if you have not read or seen it. (You can rely on reviews you've read, or even hearsay, as you make your pronouncements. The method is to use the mere mention of a topic as a trigger for your lecture-mode, as if you've been invited to give a speech.
How to handle: If necessary to get the lecturer's attention, raise your hand and ask “May I comment on what you've said so far?” or “May I have a turn to speak?” (Many persons may be well-intentioned and are simply unaware that they are controlling the talk.)
4. Monopolize the conversation by controlling all the topics discussed and most of the talk itself. Interrupt freely, grabbing control as speaker. Assume that others are thrilled to hear you, even if they sometimes act as if they also have something to contribute.
How to handle: “Please let me finish . . .” will at least slow down a monopolizer who is interrupting. One of the unpleasantnesses about such people is that they talk much but listen little. So other conversers do not have the satisfaction of having been listened to and understood. In my social and professional circles, I give the chronic monopolizers a wide berth and avoid them.
5. Even though you barely know the person, be generous with gossip. Offer up plenty of such talk so that others conclude that you'd gossip about them as well. Above all, make certain your gossip is petty, replete with slights and innuendo, as in “Did you see the garish outfit Suzy has on?” This forces a choice upon your conversational partner -- either to go along (and thereby ratify your gossip), or to move away so as not to lend support to your gossipy ways.
How to handle: You can avoid well-known gossips, or you can make your encounters with them brief. If they are talking about mutual acquaintances, you can also say plainly, “I'd rather you not talk about my friend like that.”
My belief is that people who engage in these kinds of talk are mainly unaware of how they affect others. Like persons with bad breath, they simply don't know they are being offensive. They suffer from an unconscious incompetence.
These are not the only stoppers, but they are among the most common ones. They are easy to observe in others who use them but hard to see in oneself because conversational routines are so much a matter of habit, and habit is, by its nature, automatic and unconscious. As the Gospel teaches, we can see the speck in the eye of another but cannot see the beam in our own.
Mastering conversation requires not only adding effective skills but also eliminating ineffective ones. Awareness itself can become a solvent to help eliminate conversational routines such as the stoppers described above.