Shut Up! (Have Meaningful Conversations)

Meaningful conversations are dialogues of people inviting each other to share opinions and experiences, and returning the favor.

It has happened again several times recently. I meet someone, and I ask a question, such as “What made you come to this conference?” or “What was the highlight for you today?” or “What are you looking for in an event?” and then the person starts talking. And keeps talking. And goes on talking. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on it goes… with me nodding my head, trying to listen, but actually thinking, “When is he ever going to stop?” Usually our “conversation” is interrupted by some external event, such as a phone call, a bell indicating the end of the coffee break, or a bystander dropping dead from boredom.

Even worse is the situation where I am asked a question, which is great, but it turns out I have only 20 seconds to answer it, because some bystander intervenes offering us her unsolicited input, “Well, I experienced something like that when bla bla bla bla bla bla…”, and there we go again. My opportunity to share something is hijacked without my permission, and for the next 15 minutes this conversational parasite is sharing with us an endless stream of opinions and personal experiences, in answer to questions that nobody had asked her. Until I escape the trap by pretending that my hair is on fire.

I am of the opinion that these are not conversations.

They are uninvited monologues.

Meaningful Conversations

When we're trying to survive and thrive in a network of creative people, it is important for us to develop the competence of having meaningful conversations with each other. Conversations are dialogues of people inviting each other to share there opinions and experiences, and returning the favor. A meaningful conversation is not about answering questions that nobody asked. And it is not about filling the available time until the next external interruption.

I think I have developed a sense for asking good questions. But I’m still not a good conversationalist. I have yet to learn how to say, “Shut up! Now it’s his/her/my turn.”

Any tips are appreciated.

(image by Monkieyes)


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  • Fabio Fabbrucci

    May I suggest to you this book:
    It helped me a lot how to handle different situation as u described here.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for the book tip!

  • Olga Kouzina

    🙂 This post reminds me of this great, and I mean, great, book: The author gives some hilarious and insightful observations that could be used to tackle this “self-depleting humility” which is obviously the case with you. It’s not the applied “how-to” stuff, it’s more fun than anything else, and I hope it will help you. It did help me in some ways.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for the tip!

  • Laur2014

    You can use a simpler form of your antidistress pattern “now it’s his/her/my turn” 🙂 … but I think the former is better so just give it a try
    By the way, please share the result with us

  • Oliver Gearing

    It sounds like you’re a pretty good conversationalist, Jurgen – listening skills are pretty important and from what you’ve said you’re good at that. I find a similar issue with some of my acquaintances, I’ve just listened to their monologue about what they do and then don’t get a chance to get past ‘I’m an accountant’ and then my opportunity is gone. My current tactic is to stop asking questions, look disinterested, or just leave the conversation…

  • Andrefaria

    Thanks for writing this, Jurgen.
    Now we have a name for this anti-(communication)pattern: “uninvited monologues”.
    A name makes everything easier…

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