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Recently I was invited to a casual games night at a coworker's place, and near the end of the evening there was a group of about 6 of us (a couple coworkers of mine, a couple friends of theirs, my partner, and I) sitting around chatting. The topics were very interesting to me (think the future of humanity and AI and such) and I enjoyed listening to the different perspectives people had, but I also wanted to jump in and contribute my own thoughts.

I tried interjecting a couple times, but it seemed to go unnoticed and/or someone else started talking at the same time, so it didn't get far.. This isn't a new problem for me since I am soft-spoken1 and can take some time to gather my thoughts, especially with conversations like that. However it usually comes up in work settings where I have other options (e.g. getting the attention of my team lead, or following up later).

Part of the problem may have been that I was visually blocked off from a couple of the most active participants, since I was at the end of the table and the person next to me tended to lean in. (Maybe I need to adjust my body language too?) The conversation was also kind of fast-paced, so by the time I had formed a comment, someone else was likely to start talking first. I didn't want to interrupt them or return to an old point just to say my bit once the conversation had moved on.

Overall, I was at a loss of how to signal to the group "hey, I have something to say too!" and have the floor without feeling like I was disrupting the natural flow of conversation.

What tactics could I have used to insert myself into the conversation?

1: Please don't tell me just to talk louder; everyone heard me fine earlier when we were playing board games, so I think there's more to it than that. I can accept that talking louder is a part of the solution, but I'd really like to know what else to try.

  • Since it wasn't a problem during the first part of the evening, I wonder: Did people start talking over you because they became intoxicated to some degree? – Gaultheria Jul 29 at 1:49
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    @Gaultheria There was some social drinking, but I don't think anyone had that much :) My guess was that it's different during games because they expect me to say things then, but not necessarily while chatting. – Em C Jul 29 at 2:02
  • I have the same problem and sometimes the only way I can do is wait for the conversation to slow down and then add what I want to say. But sometimes I get frustrated that everyone constantly interrupts me, so when I really want to say something, I just interrupt them. I know it is rude, but I don't know what to do. And when I can't say anything, then I am labeled as the quiet one and that's even more frustrating, since I have a lot to say, if only someone paid attention to me and listned... – TK-421 Jul 31 at 11:18
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    @TK-421 that sounds like my experience too! If you wanted to write an answer, I'd be really interested in hearing how people react to that, and if there's any strategies you've found that make your interrupting better received? That's something I've considered but usually am too afraid of seeming rude to actually try. – Em C Jul 31 at 16:14
  • @Gaultheria - I think the more likely cause for the difference is that, in the earlier part of the evening, they were playing games and, while there are exceptions, most games have some kind of structure to them which either creates the expectation of certain people talking at certain times (e.g., turns) or legitimizes interruptions (e.g., games where everyone shouts out answers as they think of them). – Dave Sherohman Aug 1 at 9:08
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I have the same problem. Sometimes I get frustrated that everyone constantly interrupts me when I really want to say something. And when I can't say anything, then I am labeled as the quiet one and that's even more frustrating since I have a lot to say if only someone paid attention to me and listened...

I have tried the following solutions to this:

  1. The passive one:

I just wait for the right moment to add something when there is a pause in the conversation, but sometimes there is no right spot for me to cut into the conversation.

  1. The active one:

This one depends a lot on my levels of confidence and hitting the right moment. I noticed, that all the people in conversations tend to interrupt one another in order to present their point of view and that's just how it works. Since my personality is not like that and I feel that interruptions are rude I don't want to do it. But sometimes the urge to participate in the conversations is stronger than my politeness, so right after someone ends I just start talking. Now it gets tricky and a lot of factors come in. In some cases, someone else starts talking and I feel the pressure from them to back up, so I stop talking and go back to waiting. In other cases, I succeed in getting people's attention and I can speak my mind.

What I have noticed in the second solution is that it depends on my levels of confidence. If I do not feel confident and start talking quieter, softer and with a more passive stance and body language it more often fails. If I do feel confident and join the conversation with a more powerful stance and talk with more power in my voice without caring if I interrupted someone or not, then it more often succeeds.

Looking at your specific situation, what I would have done, would be to cut into the conversation with something that would grab people's attention, so as an example it could be (with power and emotions):

Wait, wait, wait!

An after people look at me

You really think that AI can take over the world and steal our jobs?

And that would grab people's attention and you would be able to speak.

A different approach could be since you were blocked from the conversation by someone else leaning in and obstructing your view, you could do something to get the attention in some other way. I would try to, for example, get up from the table, go get something to eat, or drink, and come back to the table and stand near the person talking, to force some delicate pressure on them with your presence, which should cause them to turn to you after they finish a sentence. That creates a window for you to talk back to the main person in the conversation and during your turn speaking you can go back to your sitting spot and while having people's attention it would make everyone notice where you seat and the one who was blocking you, should adjust his/her position at this point.

This two options should bring you back from being a passive listener into being an active member of the conversation.

10

I am a very loud speaker and I sometimes have the same issue. This usually happens when I'm not really part of the group. When I am "the stranger". However, this also tends to happen when the group is too big (at least for me).

My solution

One solution I find so far is to try to only talk to a person near me. It's easier to attract the attention of only one person than to attract the attention of the whole group. However, that means that you are going to cut the group in two sub-group and it might not be what you want.

Deciding to talk with only one person near you isn't always possible (for whatever reason) and sometimes the person you choose to talk to might be annoyed because they wanted to listen to the group and not to you.

Choosing the person to talk to

So, when I choose the person I am going to talk to, I first watch their body language:

  • Are they really focus and engage in what the group is saying? If yes, it might be better to choose someone else.

  • Are they likely to notice me if I speak to them? If yes, that's a good start.

  • Do they speak a lot in this conversation group or are they rather quiet? If they are quiet, they might be frustrated by the fact that they can't talk as well.

I also tend to choose someone I had a successful previous interaction with but that mostly because I'm unsure of myself. I believe this can help reduce the "why is this person talking to me?" effect.

What happens after I talk to the person near me?

If everything goes well, the other person will respond to me and start a real conversation with me. Other nearby people might also be attracted to this new conversation.

If things don't go well, the other person won't really respond to me and my conversation attempt will die. In this case, I can always find someone else to talk to next time.

1

I was having difficulties when I started working as a graduate. Mostly everyone in my workplace was quite senior compared to me, very friendly in a way but I tried to stay low in such a situation.

As time passed I learned how to take attention in a group, rather than directly jumping into the topic being discussed try and start speaking in phrases such as following,

"I may have different/similar opinion on XYZ..."

"Speaking of which/ABC I would add XYZ..."

"You know what? ABC reminds me of the time when XYZ happened..."

"Hmm, I’m totally changing the topic now, but I was wondering XYZ" ..."

"Not to go off-topic, but I recently heard that XYZ…"

There's a big list but these are some I remember off the top of my head.

This way you will get their attention without making the point you want to make, once attention is on you, you can continue making the conversation not wasting your point as you did previously.

In addition, there are some tips here if you're interested.

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