Have you ever had a one-sided conversation with someone that seemed more like you were witnessing a monologue than engaging in a dialogue? Have you experienced an inability to stay with the conversation because you can’t get a word in edge wise and all you can seem to say is “uh huh” and “yeah” over and over again? Do you often find yourself in position of the listener? Conversations like this can leave us feeling zapped, drained, used, and more like therapists than friends – which is not the ideal in intimate relationships – intimate meaning friend or otherwise.
Maybe you’re on the other side. Are you the person who keeps talking and talking without taking time to investigate the answers to the seldom questions you do ask the person you are speaking with? Do you continually offer personal information and have a tendency to over-disclose to people you either don’t know very well or have known for a long time? How much do you really know about your friends or lovers? Do they know you better than you know them? Does this bother you or are you okay with it? If you’re ok with being the selfish one in the conversation, there’s a good chance that the person you’re talking at probably isn’t feeling very fulfilled in the conversation – which can lead to greater discontent in the relationship as a whole.
So, what to do about this dilemma?
First, if you find yourself in the position of the listener, it is up to you to voice your need to be heard, seen, and understood. The rules of emotional accountability and responsibility teach us that we are responsible for how we feel, and we are also responsible for how we allow people to treat us – this includes communication.
So, here are some things to say the next time you find yourself in the unbalanced position of solely being the listener. While it can be difficult to interrupt someone who doesn’t stop talking or only talks about him/her self, it is important to learn to set boundaries so our communication wants can be met.
- “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’m not really feeling understood in this conversation. Do you mind if I offer a little bit of information in regards to where I’m coming from?”
- “I had mentioned before that ___________, and we didn’t really talk about it. Do you mind if we revisit that topic?”
- “You know, I’m starting to feel more like a therapist than a friend in this moment, and it would mean a lot to me if we could work toward a more balanced conversation where we listen to each other and take turns.”
- “I want to be understood and I want to feel seen in this conversation. Do you mind if I expand a bit on how I’m feeling?”
- “I’m noticing that we have been talking about your _____________ for quite some time now. I’m wondering if we can switch gears so I can express myself, too.”
There’s a good chance that when you assert yourself to a selfish communicator, he/she might get defensive and take it personal. This is not about you. If you have continually attempted to express your wants in an emotionally accountable way – using “I” statements and avoiding “you” statements – there may come a time when you have to decide how important the relationship is to you. People have the ability to change, but of course, we can never make them change.
Now, if you find yourself in the position of always talking about yourself, here are some things you can do to be a better listener:
- Close your mouth. No, seriously, close it. Allow the person you are speaking with to finish his/her sentences. Allow space for thoughts to be completed and feelings to be felt. After the person speaks, pause. Pause for what seems like a long time. Trust me, it won’t be as long as it feels. Then, reflect back what you have heard, imagine how it would feel to be that person from their point of view not yours.
- Don’t make it about you. If someone tells you that they are sad because their fish just died, don’t say, “Oh, that happened to me once.” It’s not about you at that point – it’s about them – and when people are expressing feelings, that is something to be honored and not interrupted.
- Don’t try to fix. I cannot stress this enough. Fixing takes away power and sends the message that you don’t believe that the person you are speaking with is smart enough to figure out his/her dilemma on his/her own. If someone asks for advice, that’s different.
- Don’t pity. Pity also takes away power. Saying things like “I’m so sorry,” are appropriate at some times, but at other times saying, “I’m sorry,” really is just something easy to say so you don’t have to investigate the deeper emotions that may be occurring for the person you are speaking with.
- Don’t analyze. Don’t judge. Don’t assume, among other things…
So, what do you do? The main thing is to allow space. Allow space for the person to speak, feel, and express. Allow room for long pauses. Stop trying to fill the space with anxious chatter. SLOW DOWN. When that has happened, get curious and ask questions to show that you care. If you don’t know what would make the person feel cared for, ask them! Here’s how you can ask:
- “It’s really important to me that you feel understood in this conversation. What I understand so far is that _____________. Is that correct or am I missing something?”
Conversations are an art form. They can be carefully choreographed like a dance, with each partner taking turns to lead and follow.
Balance. Balance is key. If you have to, set a timer until you get used to intuitively gauging the give and take of a conversation.
Yes, some people enjoy talking just to talk, and perhaps this level of intimate conversation isn’t for them…but you never know. Are you communicating at your highest potential? Could you set better boundaries in regards to your communication wants? What would you like to change to become a better listener?
If you would like more of an in-depth study on this type of communication, Conscious Communication by Miles Sherts is a great book with practical information and tools to use. I use a lot of his concepts and tools in session when working with my clients.