Over the years I remember needing to talk to someone who was in the middle of a conversation and having to wait until they finished before I could speak. Sometimes it was to tell a colleague that a child in their class had been hurt, at other times it was to tell a friend that they had a message or it may have been a more personal, lengthy conversation. However, I’d wait and then do whatever I needed to do.

I’ve met quite a few people recently who, although you may be part of the conversation taking place, they expect you to be quiet until they’ve finished and then speak. In affect they ‘take the stage’ and everyone else needs to listen and wait. I get that it’s polite to let someone finish. I also get that they may not have the ability to dip in and out of conversations so they may NEED to finish what they are saying in one go, in order to be successful at completing what they want to say.

What happens if someone listening can’t cope with just listening? What if they need to share their thoughts as people go along or they will forget? What happens if there’s an opportunity for a quick witty comment which others would appreciate? You can’t exactly go back to it can you?

What about the notion of dialogue? What is a conversation?

Should there be a compromise? Of course there are some people who feel that they should be given respect through silence. I have a big ego, you will wait and let me finish etc.

Unfortunately, this can come across as patronising, rude, offensive, dis-empowering and actually make others not want to join in conversations with them again.

Alternatively, it could result in someone becoming a passive listener who for whatever reason can’t hold their thoughts or can’t return to them later. Thus they speak out and get ‘shot’ for speaking out of turn or they forget and add no value to the conversation.

It’s funny. I guess it’s the same with having more than one conversation going on a room. I know many people who can’t cope with it. Whom do they listen to? Sometimes they’re scared of ‘missing out’ re other conversations going on around them. Perhaps they find it hard to stay focussed and get distracted by what they hear. It may be dependent on content i.e. if they hear something they’re interested in, they want to shift their attention there but feel bad about doing so becuase they’re already talking to someone. It could be about controlling what’s going on around them. It could be that they are nosy and want to know everything so they wish for conversations to occur one at a time so they can be party to all of them. Who knows?

I find it quite odd when those who favour this, sit in a room, start a conversation when another conversation is going on. Surely this goes against their ‘way’.

I guess you can spend ages analysing and thinking. You can get confused, wondering why things are the way they are. Why some dominate re what they want and can/will tolerate.

At the end of it all, it’s probably best to accept that they are the way they are and then think about what YOU can or can’t do. What YOU can or can’t handle. If you can be part of a conversation with this person then it’s fine as long as you’re not left wound up. If not, don’t partake but then don’t beat yourself up about it or regret it in any way. It’s not black and white is it?

So I’ll stop now. Any thoughts?

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Amit · January 21, 2009 at 12:14 am

I think crazy, mad conversations are awesome – because things don’t need a structure or value. Reading “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac proves the point! It’s fairly easy to tell who’se cool/random and who’se blocky through their ability to deal with crazy chit-chat. I once remember an aristocratic dinner party (where you’d expect the most order) having the most nonsensical and random spilling of beans all over the table in the verbal department! And it was great!

    Heena Modi · January 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks for this Amit.
    It’s nice to know i’m not the only person who likes orderless conversations 🙂

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