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I find myself on occasion in a conversation with someone who really likes to talk and rarely stops to listen. This lends itself to me listening almost the whole time. Occasionally I have things I want to share but have no opportunity to do so. One family member, in particular, is very challenging for me. They are quite domineering in conversations and tend to do the following things:

  1. If I have a chance to share a story, he rarely stops to acknowledge my story. Instead he jumps straight to a loosely related story of his own. Usually his story is an attempt to one up my story.
  2. He rarely asks questions.
  3. He's quite good at carrying on one-sided conversations about things which I don't have a lot of interest in...guns, Nascar, motocycles (and accessories), cooking, etc. I can show interest and make it through about 5 minutes in these topics before getting left behind in the conversation.

In conversations with people like this, I usually check out of the conversation after a while. I hate doing this because it is disrespectful to them and draining for me. Is there a good way to actively engage in a conversation with someone who is not good at listening or sharing the conversation?

  • If you have an answer, write an answer using the "Your Answer" section. Please don't use the comments to write answers. – Catija Dec 20 '17 at 22:38
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My partner can be a conversation hog sometimes. He'll talk for entire minutes at a time, such that by the time he's even remotely close to finishing, I'll be starting to zone out and wouldn't remember any of the points I wanted to make. This is especially infuriating when he interrupts what I'm saying to interject with his opinions, and then continues on for so long that what I was initially saying isn't even relevant anymore.

The trouble with these kind of people is that it's just the way they're used to having conversations - they don't notice they're doing anything wrong. Even if you pull him aside and ask him to change and he agrees, it's very likely that the next time you two have a conversation, you'll be listening to Nascar for 15 minutes straight again. Even if he wants to change, it won't be easy for him - hogging is just his default conversation mode.

While pulling them aside and attempting to teach them basic conversational politeness is a good place to start, it's not guaranteed to work. If it doesn't, I'd suggest you start interjecting immediately when he's hogging. If he interrupts you, you can respond with something similar to:

Hey Bob, I wasn't quite done yet, could you hold that point for a sec while I finish?

If he's going on forever about topics you're not interested in, actively change the topic. One way to do this is to acknowledge what they're saying, then tie it into something else.

Cooking is definitely a great skill to have... I can't wait for Aunt Sally's roast this Christmas Eve. Say, this holiday break I'm actually heading off to ...

If it's getting really bad and you're having trouble interjecting, one thing I do is excuse myself to the bathroom or kitchen for a minute to create a stop in the conversation, then once I'm back, I immediately bring up a new topic.

Of course, this all involves being a bit of a rumbustious jerk sometimes, which is a good skill to have if you want to maintain a relationship with a hog.

Generally, if asking him to listen more like the other answers suggest doesn't work and you still want to maintain a relationship with this person, you need to get louder yourself. Personally, unless you're very close to this person and know they're open to criticism, I'd forego asking him to listen better entirely.

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    +1, but if politeness and fair negotiation for equal access doesn't sink in I'd be more blunt and explain that you'll need to schedule time to hear a one-sided conversation, and it's not going to be anytime soon. If they're insistent then it's your turn to yak at length and for them to sit in silence. It's certain to be OK, it's not like you can tell them that they've used up this and next month's quota, not to call for a few months. -- You should probably look at other parts of your friendship outside of this aspect alone, are there many other things that are one sided ... – Rob Dec 22 '17 at 9:49
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    I appreciate this perspective. My default is to sit down with someone and work it out intellectually. This wouldn't be easy with this person...and like you said, I doubt it would make a huge change. Thanks for practical ways to be louder myself. – danjuggler Dec 22 '17 at 16:57
  • @danjuggler, as a bit of a conversation hog myself, I will just say that I sometimes know that I'm doing it but often don't, so it's likely that the person will keep doing it without being able to realize. Also, when I do see it happening, I'm about 50/50 on being able to make myself stop. For the OP, you'll just probably need to be a little more forceful in changing the subject and excusing yourself. If it continues to be a problem, you'll have to start wriggling out earlier and earlier just to set some boundaries. Good luck. – kmc Feb 2 '18 at 17:31
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I'd suggest one of two options.

  • If you are close enough to express 'feelings' to this person...

    Just be honest during a quiet and private setting between the two of you.

    Hey, I feel like sometimes you don't let me finish what I'm talking about. When you do, it doesn't feel like you're really listening to me, because you start talking about something else right away. I'm really excited to hear your stories but I'd like to share mine, too.

    This approach is better when it's someone you're close enough to that having a heart-to-heart with them won't be awkward. Usually people who do this, myself included, don't realize that they're hogging the conversation or making the things you're sharing feel minimized.

Alternatively:

  • If you are not that close to this person...

    Make it lighthearted. Laugh about it.

    Wow Uncle Bob, you have so many stories that sometimes I feel like I can hardly get a word in edge wise!

    It might not be something that gets picked up on the first iteration, but chances are if you say this a few times over a few interactions with so-and-so, they might start to think about why you keep expressing it. Do I talk too much? Do I ever let anyone else share stories?

My experience is coming from your relatives side of the fence, and both of these are actions that people have used to let me know I'm dominating conversations with them. There are still times I slip up, but I usually remember these in hindsight (after I start rambling) and slow down to let them talk otherwise.

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You've said that you want to actively engage in conversations with him, and that the things he wants to talk about don't interest you. So, more specifically, you're asking how you can get a word in edgewise, talk about things you want to talk about, and get him to at least pretend to care.

We've got somebody like that in my social circle, somebody who loves the sound of her own voice, tells the same stories over and over, turns anything anyone else says to her own conversational benefit, and just will not share. Asking questions about the things she talks about is the wrong approach, I've learned -- she mistakes that for active interest and tells us even more trivia about fountain pens from the 1950s (I kid you not). I've found no conversational technique that gets through to someone like this; somebody who monopolizes conversations like that is, in my experience, not perceptive enough to detect subtle hints. Or even blatant hints; I've actually walked out of conversations with this person mid-ramble and that hasn't gotten through either. (Or maybe she thinks I'm rude; I don't know.)

The only way I've found -- this worked with a friend with a milder case of this problem -- is to have a separate conversation (yeah, I know) about this issue. You set it up by (privately, not in front of other people) saying something like "hey Bob, when you've got some time I'd like to talk with you about a personal matter, ok?". Then when you have the conversation:

  • Express that you value the relationship and are feeling strain that you don't want.

  • Use the "when you do X I feel Y" format.

  • Explain why that bothers you.

  • Ask how the two of you can solve the problem.

  • Thank him for making an effort. (If he does anything better than refusing to change, grant that he's making at least a tiny effort and thank him for it proactively.)

Just as an example (you'll need to customize this), that conversation could start with something like this:

Bob, I'm really glad we get to visit so frequently. There's something that's bothering me, and I'd like your help. When we talk, I want to hear about everything you're doing and I also want to be able to share what I'm doing. When you interrupt me to tell stories of your own, I feel like you don't value what I'm saying. I want to be part of the conversation too, but I don't feel like I get much of a chance. Can we figure out some way to balance this more?

How the conversation proceeds will depend on how he reacts. I can't map out every possible scenario. In the case of the friend where this worked, the person admitted to not being able to read me (so didn't know I was getting frustrated), and we agreed on a signal. With somebody else in my social circle, the answer turned out to be "so, how 'bout that weather?" as an abrupt "change topics" signal.

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What I normally do in this scenario is interrupt their flow by saying something like 'Hey, just a moment, let me complete my story' - that usually shuts them up for a while. When I do this with the same person 2 or 3 times, they kind of get the clue and try to listen (or pretend to).

For people who still keep doing this, I avoid listening to them for a long time and say something like 'Oh, I'm getting late' or 'I need to make a call, excuse me'- anything which helps me avoid listening to them again and again. I'm sure they appreciate a good listener but I don't really love to stay mute in a conversation.

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