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Engage Others with Civility and Tact

Sure-Fire Conversation Stoppers


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		  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.  


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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