Monday, August 19, 2013

Conversation Killers

Conversations are important in getting to know people, and us humans are a species who need frequent interaction with one another.  But sometimes you're in a conversation with a lovely somebody and suddenly you're stumped. You furrow your brow and purse your lips and try to figure out what you could possibly say next.  The nice conversation you were having has come to a startling halt.  What the heck happened?

I've been thinking lately that there are a few things you can say in a conversation that will absolutely kill it. Only a professional small-talker can really come back gracefully when one of these convo crimes have been committed:

1. One-upping. You're at lunch with a friend, and upon asking how work is going, she shares with you the troubles she's been having lately with her boss.  But let's be real--none of it sounds as bad as that one time when...
It is so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to share your worst of the worst, isn't it? Especially when the conversation has already derailed into the complain train?  But most often when a friend is complaining, she really just wants to get it off of her chest and be heard.  By sharing "that one time when" you  might come off as trying to one-up her situation, making her feel like she shouldn't really be having trouble at all, because you've had it way worse.  Before sharing, consider if the story you tell will be helpful and if it will aim to problem-solve.  If not, you may want to keep it to yourself for now and instead ask her a question or two, aiming towards positive solutions.

2. Comparing to your personal situation.  You're at a wedding and someone you went to school with is chatting about a big vacation they just got back from. Psh. He's always going on some elaborate outing or buying some new expensive piece of technology.  And he probably doesn't even realize how lucky he is, because you sure can't afford all of that and it would be impossible to do now that you have kids.  So you should remind him that this fabulous life he's living is really a gift and you surely could never have anything like it, right?
Probably not.  When good things happen to other people, it's not an invitation to compare it to your experience and wallow in your own unfulfilled desires.  You can think it, but saying aloud, "I wish I had the time/money/a husband who/a dog that..." really doesn't engage the person you're talking to at all. How is someone supposed to respond to that? The only way to move forward following any form of  "I wish" is by apologizing for the blessings of his life or changing the conversation altogether. Awkward.

3. Assuming you know exactly what they're about to say. It's really easy to get into the habit of anticipating what will be said next, but conversations shouldn't resemble chess games. Assuming can be a conversation killer because it has the potential to stifle the direction it could've gone wouldn't want to talk yourself out of a seriously interesting discussion! Be in the moment and give yourself time to think after a question has been'll probably do a better job of answering it.  Be willing to ask for clarification about a response they gave you...assuming what they meant by a statement can also end badly.

4. Answering with simply "yes" or "no" even if it was only a yes or no question.  An awkward pause ensues until the question-asker responds with a follow-up: "Why?"  Save them the trouble and keep the convo trucking along. Unless, of course it was an awkward question you'd like to avoid talking about and you'd prefer the conversation end right

5. "You didn't know that?!" I am so guilty of this, and I'd like to believe that I say it out of passion for whatever it is being talked about.  Brandon has gently brought to my attention that this is pretty rude, as what could your convo compadre say except for "no..." and then they feel a little bit silly/stupid/like they've been living under a rock because they do not, in fact, know whatever it is I'm talking about.  An explanation/description said with gusto adequately conveys that same passion without being condescending.

Hopefully avoiding these conversation killers will help you get more out of the discussions you have and lead to better relationships!

Are there other conversation killers that should be added to the list?  


  1. Great "article!" I would add, constantly talking about yourself. Having gone on quite a few dates within the past 6 months, nothing kills it for me than when whoever I'm with has no interest (or perceived interest) in me, but would rather go on and on about themselves. Boo on that.

    1. Good one to add! I totally agree, that definitely squelches any hope of having a good conversation!


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