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Context: I'm a student who is in a philosophical discussion group which meets weekly and discusses readings and thoughts about a particular topic. It's hosted by an organization so I don't have control over who is in my group. The group has 4 people and a facilitator, who is also a student. We had our second meeting today.

Problem: There is one person in the group who kind of just ... says nonsense? He will participate frequently in the discussion by giving an extended comment about something. It might take about 30 seconds for him to finish his comment. He talks very confidently and uses a lot of rhetorical questions in his comments, but there is some missing piece. It's not just that I don't understand how his comment connected to the flow of the conversation, but at the end I am left genuinely confused about what he has said.

This makes the conversations a lot less enjoyable for me as he participates a decent amount. It disrupts the flow and after he is finished there is always kind of an awkward pause as no one knows how to build off his comment.

Question: Is there anything you recommend that I do about this? Are there any interpersonal or conversational tricks I can employ to mitigate or deal with the issue? In general, what can I do to cope with this behaviour?

Please help. Thank you

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    In your mind, what does a 'dealt with' situation looks like? Right now, your question is close to just generally asking 'what should I do', because you haven't narrowed down what you want to do yet. For example: Do you want the facilitator to take a bigger role here, do you want to reply to these comments in a way that makes it clear you didn't understand a thing that was said, do you want this student to make clearer, shorter comments? Or do you have any other goal you'd like to achieve but aren't clear on how to do so?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Sep 29 at 7:40
  • +1 to Tinkeringbell's comment about needing a specific goal to be answerable. Also, do you ever talk with him outside of this context? Does he struggle to communicate there too? Could there be a language barrier? What about his body language/facial expression, especially after finishing the comment when everyone is confused - is the confusion unexpected or expected to him?
    – Sarov
    Sep 29 at 13:45
  • My goal is to increase my enjoyment of the discussions in light of the context I described. I don't know what is best to do to achieve that, that's what I am asking. Sep 29 at 18:47
  • I don't talk to him outside of this context, but there is no language barrier. He speaks fluently and confidently and does not appear to notice that people are confused afterward. Sep 29 at 18:48
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    This person is obviously either much more intelligent than you, or a confidence trickster who knows nothing about the subject, or intentionally confusing everyone for his own enjoyment. Best is to ask him to explain what he was saying. That's what I always do in that kind of situation - either I learn something valuable (that's rare) or I expose them.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 1 at 11:13
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Ask them questions

As I see it, there are two potential ways you can increase your enjoyment of the conversation:

  1. Attempt to understand what this one person says
  2. Attempt to limit this one person's (negative?) impact on the overall discussion

In your situation, I would start from the default assumption that this person maybe knows more than me or has done more background reading. They also might be trying to limit their comments so they don't dominate the conversation, but in doing so they end up having the first half of the conversation in their heads and then nobody understands the second half when it is spoken out loud. I find that starting from this point gives me a feeling of curiosity rather than defaulting to impatience and annoyance. It might be that they're not listening to the rest of the conversation and just waiting for their turn to speak, but the crucial thing that you must do is to ask them questions.

While they're making their comment, latch on to something in there that sounds interesting to you. It's ok if it sounds like a term you don't understand. Then, once they're done, regurgitate that term in a question. Something like:

"You've made a good point about <insert thing they mentioned> there, but I am unsure how it relates to <insert previous conversation term>. What are your/our thoughts on how those two relate?"

or

"I've not heard of <unfamiliar term>, could you elaborate? What do I need to read to understand it?"

The advantage of the first one is that it grounds their comment in your conversation and (hopefully) gets the conversation back to a point where everyone can join in. The second one is only applicable if you've established that you do want to hear more of what they have to say.

The key thing with both of these questions is that you don't have to actually deeply understand their full comment in order to ask them. You just have to find something in their comment that you either find interesting or can just parrot back.

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