The Conversation Hog: How to Snuff Them Out or Realize You are One
I think that we have all dealt with at least one person in our lives that simply cannot take a hint.
The person, who when asked how their weekend was, divulges you with a forty-five-minute speech about the candid photos they and their family took at the pumpkin patch or the minute by minute explanation of their argument with their mother-in-law.
You feel trapped.
You have no idea how to escape the situation and spend most of the time pretending that you are listening. You can feel the minutes of your day slowly slipping away and you are becoming more and more agitated, which makes appearing to be interested harder and harder to do. Once they finally walk away, you breathe a sigh of relief, but you know that there will be a next time and it will be just as brutal.
Typically, we appease this type of person’s requests because we feel sorry for them.
We know that they are lonely, isolated or awkward and that is why they selfishly take up all the time they can, because of the limited number of people they interact with. However, these events can make your sorrow can wean quickly.
The problem happens when you try to cut them off and they indignantly ignore you and carry on.
When they completely ignore your attempts at protecting your time and brain from their mindnumbing stories you get irritated and that sympathy you had for them quickly vanishes.
The best thing to do in said situation is to assert your boundaries.
If this is an everyday or regular occurrence, you have to have a difficult conversation with this person. If this is that one irritating relative you only see every other year at Christmas, maybe you just tolerate the torture every other year for a few hours, it depends on your personal limits.
If this is someone who is part of your daily life you need to let them know that though you appreciate chatting with them either the context of the conversation is too draining or the length of time of the conversation is too great a commitment.
If they are a colleague, the best way to go about having this conversation is to speak with them privately.
Invite the colleague to coffee, or take a stroll during a shared break and let them know about your situation; do not have this difficult chat with them within earshot of your colleagues or others.
Be assertive, but kind.
Usually, these individuals see their workplace as their social life and it can be hard for them to realize that they are overstepping boundaries.
Start off by telling them that you value them as a colleague, this will immediately let them realize that you do not see them as a friend, but as a workplace relationship.
Tell them that you have been trying to better manage your time at work and are focusing on reducing how much time you have to spend completing projects outside of work hours by better utilizing at work time.
Let them know that they can help you better focus on your work, by limiting their conversation times with you during work hours. Let them know that this is what you need in order to get your work responsibilities done during your work hours.
If they are even somewhat of a decent person they will get the hint and understand. Tell them that though you love your chats, you would just like to pair them down because they are taking up too much time you could be spending on work. It is really hard for someone to complain or criticize another person for wanting to improve their work habits.
The next time this colleague comes to your office to chat, allow them five to ten minutes and then wrap it up. Let them know that you are so happy that their child’s school play went well, but you have a pressing deadline to get back to. Hopefully, they will remember the recent conversation, your work goals and take the hint. If not, I would recommend being more direct this time, but following the same guidelines listed above.
I did this with a colleague once. It was a woman who had a really tough home life. She was too public about how bad her marriage was and how much she hated (her word not mine) her husband and would pop by your office for a question and spend the better part of an hour filling you in all of the terrible things her husband had done the night before. It was exhausting and honestly, for me, very uncomfortable.
After a few months and a lot of wasted work hours, I finally scheduled a coffee with her at a nearby coffee shop. When she arrived, I was very direct and ensured to take charge of the situation.
I told her that I valued her as a colleague and that she trusted me with her personal issues, but that our conversations were interfering with my work deadlines and making me uncomfortable.
I told her that I wanted to make sure to tell her one-on-one that I was trying to focus more on work, so that I could get home to my family sooner than later, quit working so much overtime and would really appreciate her support with this endeavour. I also told her I did not know how to respond to her relationship issues and felt cornered when she spoke about it at work.
She took the hint and after that, she did not pop by my office all that much; most of what she needed she could retrieve from email requests and her constant pestering subsided.
Sometimes the person you are dealing with is not a colleague, but a friend or family member and though you enjoy spending time with them, you sometimes do not like the topic of conversation.
Perhaps they dwell too much on their ex and are constantly updating you on their ex’s life, which should have no validity to their life anymore. Maybe they love to complain about their work, partner, kids, or life a lot the time, but never take any of the advice you have doled out over the years or make any attempts to correct the problem.
You like this person and want to continue to see them regularly, but do not want to have to deal with the negative conversation anymore.
In this case, I go with the honesty route. If I feel someone is simply obsessing or complaining about a person or subject too much, with no plans on improving or stopping, I let them know how I feel.
I will say something along the lines of, ‘Hey, I feel like we have been circling this conversation a lot lately and are getting no closer to resolving this issue. I hate to say it, but I am finding this topic a bit draining to discuss so often. Is there any way we can shelve this situation until there is a change or you have decided on some positive next steps?”
If you are not a direct person this will be a very hard thing to do, but I find being direct is the best way to deal with this.
It is not you saying that you do not like this person or spending time with them, but rather directly hitting the nail on the head on what the problem is.
My brother once did this to me. After a bad breakup and a decent amount of venting time, he told me that I was focusing on my ex too much and should move on. He pointed out that I was deliberately finding ways or reasons to bring him up in conversations and it made him uncomfortable. He also pointed out that he did not think it was very healthy for me to be dwelling on the past so much. It was brutally honest, but done so kindly and honestly that it really helped me shift my perspective and completely stopped me from talking about that toxic person on a regular basis to anyone again.
There are certain seasons in life where we are selfish little hogs in conversations with our friends, family and colleagues.
After a sudden change, good or bad, it is common and understandable to want to vent, reflect, talk through or even obsess about what has happened.
It is natural to rely on those we care about and trust during times like these, but also be very wary about how often you are in one of these dramatic situations. You cannot be at the centerstage friend or person all of the time. Sure, we all have our moments or periods, but we need to be cognizant of how we are treating or abusing our relationships.
If you find yourself always itching for your turn to speak, or impatiently nodding along as your friend talks, just waiting for your moment to hurl your pearls of wisdom, perhaps you are the selfish friend.
We all go through periods of self-indulgence, but if you find that you struggle to maintain longterm friendships or struggle to trainsition acquaintances into friendships, perhaps you should do a quick check on your social skills and if you are self-sabotaging your chances for meaningful connections because of selfish habits.