Genuine Friendship vs. Being a Big Talker

Photo credit: Sarah Dibbern

Photo credit: Sarah Dibbern

Twenty years ago my ears were opened to the possibility I wasn’t a good conversationalist. I wouldn’t have believed it had it been said straight up–as I’ve always been a talker, someone who can fill most any awkward pause with a random story, quip or observation. But I’ve learned something that maybe you’ve known all along; genuine conversation should consist of more than the sound of our own voice, whether it’s out loud or rambling inside our head while others are talking. Real conversation involves intentional listening, questioning and a genuine interest in the lives of others.

How did I discover I wasn’t doing it right? Welp, I was at work and had wandered into a colleague’s office to share a story. He seemed to welcome the interruption and smiled broadly at whatever I was saying. I carried on, holding court for several minutes until I finally said, “I’ve been talking so much and you haven’t said a word.” His frank response, believe it or not, was, “People like to talk about themselves; so I let them.”

Imagine the gobsmacked expression on my face. My temptation was to be insulted and defensive because I believe my banter to be entertaining and even informative. But the truth is, I want to be more than a verbal performer. I want to be a better conversationalist, colleague and friend.

Getting beyond small talk…

It may seem like a no-brainer, but for people like me, who’re apt to plunge into any conversational lull in an attempt to keep things moving–try not to monopolize a discussion. Whether you’re talking about family, fashion or current events, be sure to pause and ask about others’ thoughts on a topic or switch the focus completely to another person by inquiring about what’s going on in their life.

Ask questions and actually listen to what you’re being told. If people don’t open up right away, be patient. Some folks need a few seconds to build courage and those seconds of silence only seems painful to a talkative person. Plus, be sensitive to whether your opinion or response is invited or if your friend simply wants to talk about what’s on his or her mind. Shockingly, I’ve learned not everybody cares what I think about what they say. Sometimes people simply want to talk. And in my wise friend’s words, we should let them.

Questioning forces our active interest in others, and the deeper a relationship, the more important reciprocal interest should become. Sometimes I practice not volunteering information about my life unless I’ve been asked. This seems like a good way for me not to monopolize any given conversation. But I’ll warn you–by doing this, I’ve discovered that some people don’t ask. Maybe they’re so used to windbags like me freely offering up information that the need to question doesn’t occur to them, or maybe, {gasp} they don’t really care. I know that seems a harsh assessment, but it’s why I’m trying to be better about questioning and listening, because I do care. Well… not about everybody or everything. But I’m working on it.

Try not to interrupt even if you think you have something important to say. I never realized how bad I am about interrupting until I lived away from my hometown for several years. Then during a return visit, a bunch of relatives got together, and at the end of the evening, we attempted to play cards. Oh, how I remember the many members of my beloved family chiming in to give instructions on how to play the game, each louder than the last so as to be heard without actually waiting for anybody else to stop talking. I became overwhelmed by a layered cacophony of boisterous know-it-alls competing to be heard. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. But it was in that moment I recognized a learned behavior I must work to reign in. Well, unless I have something really important to say, which of course I often do. I suppose discerning the importance of our words is probably best left for another post.

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10 thoughts on “Genuine Friendship vs. Being a Big Talker

  1. Donna Trump says:

    Right on target, once Again, Angela–no, not about you! About me! In our defense, let’s acknowledge that some people (you, me, e.g.) talk fast, were brought up in houses where people talked fast, and maybe interruption was part of the fun. BUT: I’ve seen it in myself–this gets old, faster than we can talk. I used to think sharing my own experience to corroborate on an issue another person brings to the table was a way of validating that person, but now I think it’s usually better to just shut up and listen. Although I’m suffering a loss, here, of the chaotic, messy, give-and-take exchanges I still kind of love.

    • Donna~
      You are and I are soul sisters on so many levels. And you’re right, much of our conversational patterns/habits are culturally ingrained. But I find the further west I live, the less acceptable my fast & loud talking becomes.
      But when I back home, if I don’t interrupt, I may not get a word in edgewise. 🙂 And what good are those words anyway if nobody is listening?
      Much love to you my talkative and listening friend!

  2. This is so good. And I think you ARE a very good listener. I’m always worried that I talk too much. I for sure need to be more comfortable with silence and not consider my JOB to fill it.

    • You’re kind Nina but patience, listening–and for that matter–empathy don’t come naturally to me. 😉
      But we are all a work in progress, eh?
      Thank you for not keeping silent on this post!

  3. Stephanie Odegaard says:

    I for one, consider you ridiculously interesting. Maybe we just need some friends who think that of us, and will just listen from time to time. 😉 (not in a “let you talk”…but in a “I want to hear all about it” sort of way)
    There are definitely times when I am talking and realize I just hijacked the conversation, and…if I am fully aware…will try to ask a question to get them back ont he track I just derailed.
    Whew. Conversation save.

    • Thanks for your comments Steph. You’re too kind to me as per your usual. 🙂
      But it seems too often I pitch in “my experiences” as a way of “helping” or offering “advice.” What I don’t want is for that to be perceived as always turning a conversation toward myself.
      Love ya!

  4. Ahhhh…one of Big BS’ favorite phrases. “People love to talk about themselves.” While I always find you entertaining and insightful, I have had way too many off-setting experiences from the run-on blabbermouth. It’s just not my nature. As you know, I’m more of a sit back and take it all in kind of conversationalist. But it takes all kinds to keep the conversation alive. If we were all like me, there might not be much conversation going on! So keep it up, Johnson. 😉

    • “Run-on blabbermouth” has most certainly been used in reference to me somewhere along the line. So I guess I’m just trying to learn how to balance “entertaining and insightful” blabbermouthyness with a genuine interest in others. In the process, I’m also learning who seems to have a genuine interest in me which helps me know what is up for discussion and what is best left off the table.
      Love you sweet friend and one of my fav conversationalists. 🙂

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