I like to think of myself as a skilled communicator (don’t we all?). But, the reality is, I can be a bit of a conversational steamroller.
I’m a talker. And, when you put me in a social situation—particularly one that I’m excited or nervous about—my motor mouth starts going even faster. I go on and on and on, barely taking breaks to breathe.
I’ll admit, sometimes I convince myself that this is a noble effort on my part. I’m carrying the weight of the conversation and avoiding putting that person on the spot or making her feel uneasy.
However, I know this is hardly ever true. More often than not, I’m far more frustrating than admirable. A conversation should be a two-way street, and the people I speak with probably aren’t too thrilled that they can’t get a word in edgewise.
Even with that reality check in mind, it can be tough for me to actually zip my lips and listen. So, for my own sake, and also now for yours’, here are the best tips for changing your motormouth habits.
1. Ask Questions
“Well, duh!” you’re probably thinking right now. If you want to talk less, it only makes sense to work some more questions in, right?
However, tossing in a few friendly inquiries here and there isn’t quite enough. First, they need to be the right kind of questions (like these 48 small talk starters). No, not rhetorical ones that only warrant a brief pause before you start talking again. And, you don’t want to ask straightforward one that can be answered with one word—meaning you feel like you need to jump back in right away.
Instead, make an effort to keep them open-ended, giving both of you the chance to contribute equally.
Another thing you need to be sure to do? Actually pause for an answer. That sounds obvious. But, I can think of numerous different times I’ve started with a friendly, “How are you?” only to immediately launch into a spiel about my own day.
2. Actively Listen
As my mom loves to tell me, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Which is hilariously ironic, by the way, because my mom is an even bigger conversation hog than I am (I hope you’re reading this, Mom).
My family drama aside, this is an important thing to remember: You don’t necessarily need to be talking all of the time to be considered a steamroller. If you’ve ever had to maintain a conversation with someone who only talked about himself, you probably walked away feeling like he completely monopolized your discussion—even if you were able to speak up every now and then.
When you do give that other person a chance to speak, make sure that you actively listen to what he or she is saying—rather than halfheartedly hearing her while simply waiting for your own chance to speak up again.
Paying close attention is not only courteous, but it’ll also save you from jumping back in with something that’s completely off track from what was just being discussed.
And, if you do fall into that tempting trap of rambling endlessly again? At least it’ll be about something that’s relevant to that person—and not yet another story of how your intramural kickball team is doing this season.
3. Enlist a Friend
When’s the last time you looked a professional acquaintance square in the eyes and said, “Hey, you’re talking too much. Shut up and let me talk?” Oh, never? Yeah, I thought so.
That’s to be expected—none of us are as straightforward with our colleagues as we are with our friends. Fortunately, you can use this to your advantage.
If you’re serious about changing your bad habits, loop a close friend in on your efforts to be more of a listener than a talker. If and when you start to monopolize the conversation over drinks and shared spinach dip, he or she can put a hand up and let you know that you’re talking too much. After enough corrections, you’ll start to become more conscious of your tendencies to ramble.
Is this the most natural thing you can ask a friend to do? Probably not. But, trust me, he or she will probably be more than happy to finally have the chance to tell you to shut up.
4. Play Ping-Pong
No, I’m not saying you need to grab a paddle and play a real game. But, this sort of analogy helps me remember what the anatomy of a healthy conversation should look like.
There’s a natural, balanced rhythm that dictates that you and your partner should be talking in somewhat equal parts—sort of like bouncing a ping-pong ball back and forth. I talk about me, and then you talk about you. I ask about you, and then you ask about me. So on and so forth.
I’ve tried taking pauses or even counting in my head. However, all of those methods always come across as overly noticeable and forced. This trick? There’s something about imagining a conversation as a game that seems totally intuitive.
I couldn’t tell you why it helps, but it does—and, that’s good enough for me (and hopefully you too!).
The only thing worse than needing to deal with a conversation hog is being that dreaded person. Fortunately, there are a few tips you can implement to stop your tendency to overtake every single discussion. Give these a try, and you’re sure to strengthen your relationships by transforming yourself into more of a listener—rather than an eternal talker.
Are you a conversational steamroller like me? Let me know on Twitter how you deal!
Photo of person talking courtesy of David Lees/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author