AUNT JOSEPHINE Too much talking.
HAVING A CONVERSATION IS A TWO-WAY STREET, BUT SOME PEOPLE CAN MAKE IT SEEM VERY ONE-SIDED. WHEN IS THE TIME TO (TRY AND) SAY SOMETHING?
QDear Aunt Josephine,
My brother-in-law is a nice guy but he’s always loved the sound of his own voice and it’s getting worse. He talks at me, rather than to me, and the conversation always feels one-sided. I’ve started to avoid him, which is a shame because we’ve always got on well in the past. My husband is very easy-going and says to ignore him, and the rest of the family don’t seem to say anything about it (they probably don’t get the chance!). We’re going to be spending Christmas with them all and I can already feel myself getting wound up. How can I talk to my brother-in-law without saying something rude and walking o ?
Tired Of Being Talked At, Chelmsford
ADear Tired of Being Talked At,
That would certainly be a direct way of dealing with the situation! I completely understand the rising irritation and frustration of being stuck in front of someone who is stuck on transmit. But you and your brother-in-law are also part of the same family. As tempting as it is to shout, “Will you just put a sock in it?”, and storm o , it probably wouldn’t go down that well with him or other members of your family, so try making that a last resort.
Let’s look at your other options rst. When your brotherin-law gets into full ow you could hold your hand up and say: “If I could just interrupt you to say...”, or something similar. Sometimes we can settle into an unconscious hierarchy and let others monopolise the conversation, so it would be good to look at your own part in this. You could also say something like: “Tom! [insert his name here] I’ve just been [insert something here] and I’ve got some really interesting things I’d like to discuss with you,” and lead the conversation from there. Another way is to wait for a natural pause (everyone has to breathe) and say something like: “I’ve got two points I’d like to make,” so he knows that you have things that you want to say.
When we’re feeling conversationally cornered, we can sometimes end up lashing out in a generalised way (“You always talk over me!”), which can take the other person by surprise or get their hackles up. Instead, it’s best to catch them in the act and just state the facts. You could say, goodhumouredly: “You’ve been talking for the past ten minutes and I haven’t said anything yet”. By responding (rather than reacting) in a rational manner, the other person will also respond much better, and feel less defensive.
The other approach is non-verbal. You could send out deliberate cues that you’re not interested or want to get away, for example looking towards the door, to encourage him to wind down the monologue. The downside is that this can actually prolong a conversation, making the other person talk even more to try and hold your attention, and it might (unfairly) come across as being rude.
When we’re being talked over our natural reaction can be to interrupt. But another more powerful approach is to actively take ourselves out of the conversation. Still be there physically, but stop contributing both verbally and non-verbally. Even the most self-unaware of conversation hoggers will eventually grind to a halt when they are met by nothing, leaving you space to have your say.
I once read a piece of advice about a similar situation and how ending a conversation doesn’t have to mean ending a friendship. The same can be applied here. If you stop the current mode of communication between you and your brother-in-law, he will have to adapt to something more be tting for both of you. We can’t make someone stop talking at us, but it is in our control how we choose to engage with it.
Life coach & author, Josephine Carnegie holds a certi cate in holistic counselling but is best known for giving good advice. Ask Aunt Josephine a question by sending an email to her (hello@aunt josephine.co.uk). Unfortunately, Aunt Josephine can’t enter into personal correspondence.