How Not To Be Held Captive In Any Conversation


Have you ever had a conversation with someone who just wouldn’t stop talking? He hardly took any interest in you, just kept going on and on about themselves, and whatever interested him?

Maybe you managed to break away, but you left completely drained.

In my experience of speaking to people, this to happens more often than not. The truth is, we love talking about ourselves. If someone is willing to listen, we are more than happy to keep talking.

I was raised in a culture that condemns interrupting a speaker. I spent much time listening to those who wouldn’t shut up. I didn’t have a polite way to get out of these drawn out conversations. This left me resentful and exhausted each time.

My values are respecting and contributing to others. In fact, my entire career is built on the moral imperative of building people up any way I can.

Things changed for the better when I decided to reevaluate my values. I realized listening to others at the expense of energy and time was not what I valued. Not caring for and respecting myself was counterproductive, thus there was no way I could care for and respect others.

My excessive patience was a weakness. I failed to honor myself and end conversations. I allowed people to dump their emotional garbage on me without realizing I was picking up their trash.

One day skies parted and the light came down. I realized my excessive giving was just as selfish as their excessive taking.

I was giving for selfish reasons. If I interrupted or ended the conversation before they did, I was rude, uninterested, uncaring. I was afraid of what others would think of me.

Instead, honoring my own time and energy would have always resulted in the respect I was seeking.

I started closely observing myself in every conversation. I realized, I was great at: connecting, building rapport, and listening. I was not good at asking open-ended questions, or knowing when and how to end the conversation.

I also realized, people who talked a lot were not intentionally sucking the energy out of me. They were just unaware of their excessive talk working against them. These people just didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Whether you’re excessive talker or excessive listener here are 16 ways you can drastically improve your experience in conversations.

You will build rapport quickly, create meaningful conversations, never talk too much, and never again be held hostage in any conversation.

Suspend your ego – If you wish is to connect with another person, focus on him or her. Focus outward instead of thinking what to say next. Whomever talks the most has the least control.

If building rapport is your goal, resist the urge for a “verbal barf.”

Sound harsh, it’s a safe bet you needed to hear it.

Stop prejudging – One of my favorite quotes from Sex & The City is by Carrie Bradshaw: “Some people do arts and crafts. I judge”. We all judge. The key to becoming a powerful listener is listening without preconceived notions.

Fun fact: judging others is a result of judging ourselves.

Everyone is doing the best they can with what they have or know. When I remind myself that people are doing the best they can, my day goes much better.

Adopting this mindset eliminated my resentment towards excessive talkers. It made me a better listener and a better person.

Mirror – Mirroring is the covert “copying” of people’s body language in order to establish rapport and trust. We easily accept our mirror image. We unconsciously relax and feel encouraged to open up.

We can mirror body language, mood, energy level and language style. Don’t try to mirror everything. Matching mood, energy or body language is enough to establish a connection.

Sit Next To Them – Standing across from another person sends a subliminal message of opposition. When conversing, standing or sitting next to someone builds rapport quicker. You communicate that you’re on his or her side, not against him or her. This is powerful. Use it.

Me TOO! – Find similarities between you and the person you’re speaking to. We like people who are like us. Finding things that will make you go, “Me too!”

20 Second Rule – Conversation is a ping pong match. When it’s your time to talk, don’t exceed 20 seconds. Pass the conversation back in the form of a question or supportive comment.

Some responses take longer than 20 seconds. Don’t be militant about this rule. Just use it as a gaging tool to not get carried away.

Use Encouragers – Cues of engagement include strong eye contact, smiling and nodding (but don’t be a bob-head). Distractions or emotionless mummy faces can kill the speaker’s energy.

Use encouragers like “Yes” or “I understand” with a positive emotion of curiosity and regard. Energy exchange happens in every conversation.

A speaker who receives energy, reciprocates with openness and enthusiasm, forming a deeper connection.

To Pause Is Power – Even in the most scintillating conversations, silence happens. Let the sometimes-awkward silence be. Don’t say something just to fill the quiet seconds. Give the other person a chance to speak; this deepens conversation and helps them open up.

Bring Them To Uncharted Waters – Learn to ask thought provoking questions. These questions start with “how,” “why,” and “when.” The answers often reveal more about the person and his or her experiences.

How did you start your career?

When did you find out about it?

Why is that important to you?

Open ended questions will get him to elaborate his answers. Keep a “how so?” question handy, as it ask for more detail. Yes or No questions often halt the dialogue; you will end up doing all the talking while the other person can quickly close out the conversation.

Be Fascinated – Find something fascinating even in the most stale conversations. Ask insightful questions and observe. Find out what makes the other person tick. When you express fascination at their ideas or interests, you’ve made them feel important. Being fascinated is the best way to become fascinating.

Hear What’s Not Spoken – It is said that only 7% of communication is verbal, leaving 93% percent for body language and vocal variety. I suspect the ratio will vary by conversation; however, nonverbal cues such as energy, surely communicate a lot. Quiet your inner voice and pay attention. The energy behind words is always telling a story. It’s not what a person says, it’s how they say it. A good listener can hear and feel what is said.

Don’t Offer Solutions – Sometimes we give advice out of a genuine desire to help. Other times we give advice to appear knowledgeable, credible or important. The latter type never wins friends or influences people.

Refrain giving advice until expressly asked for it. It will not be valued and may be resented. No matter how much you feel someone needs help, if he doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t need answers.

Learn Something - You don’t learn while your mouth is open. Seek to learn at least one thing from each conversation. Listen intently and ask insightful questions.

Praise – Every human has a need for appreciation. However, giving praise is a skill. Good news is: skills are learnable.

First step in learning to praise is attentive listening. Find one thing you can genuinely praise your conversation partner on. It can be seemingly small as how well they listen or their positive energy. I find praising intangibles, such as positive energy or sense of humor have the most positive effect. I’ve found, people would rather be praised for their positive attitude, kindness or generosity, than a nice outfit, cool haircut or a fancy watch.

Interrupt – I was raised to know it’s rude to interrupt. But, there are times when interrupting is appropriate.

Have you ever conversed with someone who just wouldn’t stop talking and you allowed him to go on and on? For me, it’s ok to interrupt when this happens.

Learn to employ false time constraints. “I have to get on a call in precisely 5 minutes” always works for me.

Stop pleasing the loquacious. Respect yourself, your time and energy. Developing the courage to initiate the ending lends you the courage to start conversations too.

End On A Positive Note – This works like a bow on a gift box. No matter the subject always end positively. Simply saying you enjoyed the conversation is enough.

As Mya Angelou said, “When you know better, you’ll do better.”

Now you know, do better.