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Response to "Shop talk, and talk, and talk ..."

Posted by Robin Abrahams  June 8, 2012 03:13 PM

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I was surprised that Monday's question was as divisive as it was. About half the commenters felt sorry for the LW, who had friends who regularly harangued her with every detail of their workday, and half felt she was a lousy friend herself. I strongly suspect how folks reacted to the question depends on what scenario in their own life most quickly comes to mind. Have you had that annoying friend who talks your leg off about the smallest change to her weekly TPS reports? Or the kind who throws up her hands and says "I don't get it!" and acts like you're being terribly scholarly the minute you so much as mention your dissertation?

Regardless of who is right or wrong, the LW needs to try being more assertive in conversation, and if that doesn't work, address the problem directly. katemc gave excellent advice: 

It sounds like you have made a couple of very nice and appropriate responses in an attempt to shift the conversation but they may have been too nice--with your reflection of "that sounds tough" and your questioning of "how did it shake out" you may have actually sounded like a very listening ear, which can really draw people out. I have realized about myself that I need to ease off of my curious questions in order to balance conversations--I get intrigued about stuff and ask people lots of questions and it ends up being rather exhausting for them because they're talking a lot, and then for me too, because I end up feeling burnt out from listening, and resentful because they didn't ask me anything! 

You may need to more proactively shift the conversation with very concrete things that you want to talk about--have them in mind before you meet up with your friends, so you can be sure you get your topic on the table. Feel free to be more hoggy about the conversation, with "oh, that's what happened to me this week!" and then be sure to elaborate. In this case, a good defense is a good offense. And if proactive attempts to change the conversational dynamic don't work, then you may just have to be explicit -- "I am so happy that you love your work, but I have to tell you, all of those details wipe me out, and I am dying to talk about X and Y with you!" If you approach this with good humor and clarity, then hopefully that will lay the groundwork that allows you to give your great friends a codeword signal ("argh! drowning! in details!" w/big grin) in the future to wrap it up. 

... as did Just-Another-Bostonian

1) A conversation change does not have to flow directly from the conversation at hand. Example: "Oh wow, that's interesting. Did anyone catch the game last night?" 
2) When the person re-directs the conversation back to the topic s/he wants to discuss, let them speak until they take a breath. Then, ask about something related to him/her but not having to do with that subject. 
3) If a person has a "hot topic" that they like to talk about *a lot* avoid asking about it directly. S/he will bring it up, BUT s/he will be less likely to think that you're interested in hearing about it if you don't ask about it. 
 4) If you've reached the point, where all of your conversations have become one-sided with you listening patiently while the other person speaks about the same thing non-stop, you should bring it up. 

 Regarding #4, Dandibear addressed the question of whether or not this was just a bit of rudeness, or symptomatic of a greater inequality in the friendships: 

I'm concerned about these relationships being one-sided. If you say "I don't want to talk about this anymore" and they say "but I do" and kept talking about it, you're not their friend, you're their audience. Now, once or twice after *really* bad days, that's understandable. But if this happens all the time and you don't feel like they're there for you when you need an ear because they're too busy talking about their own stuff, you might want to reevaluate whether you're getting anything out of the friendship. Maybe you'll need to see them less, or only in groups where there are other people to help move conversation along. 

...  and shiplesp had a good practical solution: 

Those sound like friends you might go to a movie with. Then with drinks after, talk about the show. There are people I meet for conversation; others I plan activities with. It works for me. 

Have a great weekend, readers! Stay dry!
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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