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How to stop having one sided conversations?


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Hi everyone,

 

I need some help on how to have better conversations with people. A bit of background: I moved to different countries alot throughout my life due to various factors incl my parent's jobs, studying abroad, and being in a long-term relationship with someone from another country. Even when I have stayed within the same country, I've moved cities alot as well. As a result I haven't had many long-term friendships. In the last couple years I found it "easier" to not have friends, maybe to avoid the disappointment of losing them when I move away? I try to keep in touch, but it never seems to work out very well.

 

In any case I recently decided to put more effort into reconnecting with previous friends and making new friends. In the spirit of that, I had a video call with 3 of my high school friends yesterday. But the conversation was decidedly one sided. I do have a tendency to talk alot when I am nervous, or when other people are not talking because I feel uncomfortable with the silence. Although I am aware of this problem, I don't know how to change my behaviour? As a result the call was disappointing because alot of it was me talking at them, with them kind of interacting but not really. I did try to engage with them by asking them questions like: where are you living now? with who? what is your job like? how is your family? I received a fairly tepid response, and I did try to ask more but I also didn't want to pry into their lives if they didn't want to talk about it.

 

I spoke to my partner about being disappointed after the call because I still don't really know much about what my high school friends are up to, and he said that he thinks that: 1) I would do better talking to them one on one than in a group so I don't verbal diahrrea as much and 2) I need to figure out a way to talk less by being more to the point with what I say.

 

I would be really grateful for any tips you guys could give me, because it feels really isolating to want to connect with people but doing it wrong and not knowing how.

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Great tips, start there. Ask more open ended rather than nosy sounding questions, LISTEN. That's it.

1) I would do better talking to them one on one than in a group so I don't verbal diahrrea as much and

 

2) I need to figure out a way to talk less by being more to the point with what I say.

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Thanks. I guess I'm just scared that if I don't say anything that it will be silent and no one will say anything. And then if that happens maybe they won't want to talk to me again because we have nothing to say.

 

But then I guess alienating people by talking too much isn't any better.

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It's ok. I do the same thing sometimes and sometimes that's just the natural end to a conversation. I think you're being very hard on yourself too. This is the first time in how long that you've spoken with these people? They may also be thinking - gee, how lame was I there and felt like the cat got my tongue and I should really take lessons how to communicate better.

 

You placed a lot of pressure on yourself to reconnect. Let go of that. It sounds very nice of all of you to even be present for a video call! The second conversation or third conversation may go better.

 

When you say their responses seemed tepid did you read any facial cues also? Did they seem blank or distracted with kids in the background or other things going on?

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I would try pausing and counting to 7. Some people do have a lot of anxiety around silences. So as Rose said, you are being too hard on yourself.

 

Maybe your questions are too pointed and not what the others really wanted to talk about or it feels more like an interview... You know explainging one's life, is not alway a quick answer.

 

Maybe ask more open questions. Like:

1. What you been interested in lately?

 

2. Reference your shared connection or history in a question. Have you been back to our old school?

 

3. Remember you are not responsible for the entire conversation. If you ask a few questions, pause to let them think and answer, you're holding up your end... Let them contribute, too.

 

4. Focus on listening when they are talking, not on your response. That is the real key to a good conversationalist. They listen and follow the natural flow of the conversation.

 

5. When you do respond ask open ended questions... How, what, why.... Not questions that require only yes or no answers.

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It's ok. I do the same thing sometimes and sometimes that's just the natural end to a conversation. I think you're being very hard on yourself too. This is the first time in how long that you've spoken with these people? They may also be thinking - gee, how lame was I there and felt like the cat got my tongue and I should really take lessons how to communicate better.

 

You placed a lot of pressure on yourself to reconnect. Let go of that. It sounds very nice of all of you to even be present for a video call! The second conversation or third conversation may go better.

 

When you say their responses seemed tepid did you read any facial cues also? Did they seem blank or distracted with kids in the background or other things going on?

 

It's simple but not easy -you're aware of the issue so change your habit -develop a new habit where you handle the pause, the silence -without chatting to fill it in. Understand this will be hard and be ready to accept the challenge and put in the effort. I am copying Rose's quote because I think zoom is hard and on top of that it had been a long time. And ask yourself with blunt honesty -are you really interested in hearing about what they've been up to or do you just think you "should" be interested?

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Also-- not that it's at all a bad idea to reflect on your communication style-- remember that being high school friends doesn't necessarily mean you're all gonna be chummy and eager to have prolonged conversations in the present year. People change a lot. Nostalgia can only carry a lack of present-day chemistry so far.

 

As far as any tips go, while you of course need to throw in an ice breaker somewhere, try building a conversation based on something they answer with and which you're picking up any level of enthusiasm from them on. A lot of people get bored quick when people keep too strongly to the spirit of "catching up" as a principle. They may not want to tediously paint a detailed picture of everything their life is now vs. then for you. So try to avoid going from question to question. If nobody's finding anything of mutual interest to talk about from the dialogue itself, you simply may not have enough in common anymore. But easing up on the talking too much and giving them an opportunity to present themselves only gives you more fuel to pick up on their actual interests. If they're not talking much, maybe they see it as more of a forced reunion and a chore.

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In the spirit of that, I had a video call with 3 of my high school friends yesterday. But the conversation was decidedly one sided. I do have a tendency to talk alot when I am nervous, or when other people are not talking because I feel uncomfortable with the silence.

 

Do these friends have their own relationships with each other? If so, they will probably fill the silence with their own banter back and forth.

 

You just need to allow yourself to sit back and let them gab.

 

I rely on this a lot with my own friends, in person or on zoom meetings!

 

However, if this was an impromptu reunion after years of radio silence, I can see how the silences would be awkward, and how you might need to take leadership of the situation.

 

If this last scenario is the case, then I like what your partner said about talking with each of them one-on-one. Not a big huge investment, just a quick "hello" and an update here and there.

 

They may never develop strong relationships with each other on a virtual platform.

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People love to talk about themselves, so ask questions about what they have been doing, where they live, whatever things you want to know about. Allow them time to answer and from their answers you can find more questions to ask or things to discuss.

 

Yes this is true and I find it's overused. I love to hear other people's stories and anecdotes and what makes them tick. i talk to myself all the time lol.Yes I used this tactic a lot -what you suggested - in professional settings - when I didn't want to reveal too much of my own personal information.

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Some additional food for thought:

 

This is not a job interview, so keep it light-hearted. People enjoy being with whoever is fun and interested in them. Thus, show you're interested in something they do or like, give them an honest compliment and be the best version of yourself.

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I actually agree with your partner. 1:1 friendships are the best. Also, keep in mind that it takes time to cultivate, nurture and maintain friendships.

 

Sometimes, it requires money, too if you're local. For example, activities, meeting for meals, tickets and the like cost money if friends are into social type entertainment.

 

As for reconnecting with your high school friends, it is difficult especially if everyone went their separate ways and there were so many changes to their adult lives. You're strangers all over again and have to start fresh which isn't instantaneous. Don't have expectations. Let friendships unfold on their own without great effort. It either happens or it wasn't meant to be.

 

And don't take rejection or loss of interest personally. In some ways, I am the same way. Granted in the past, I had my 'social butterfly' years but lately, I've since whittled down my socializing to only a select few friends in my life. I don't yearn nor crave a lot of friends. I only have a local BFF (from ever since I was 9 years old) and a few friends who are not BFF types. I'm busy with work, a husband, sons, local relatives and in-laws. I guess that's why. My scheduled days are packed and hectic.

 

I digress, sorry. Back to you. I agree with your partner. It's difficult to have group chats because there isn't enough time and attention for one or two people. Everyone is competing for dialogue and the conversation gets either watered down or it's all over the place with various superficial chit chat. After a while, it gets really boring really fast! :upset:

 

Since you've humbly admitted that you engage in one sided conversations, change yourself. With practice, you will master the art of conversing. Btw, my MIL (mother-in-law), mother and a friend always monopolize every conversation. They never come up for air! :eek: I can never get a word in edgewise which is maddening! I tend to avoid them because they're too self absorbed, selfish and so boring. My eyes glaze over and I cannot wait to make my exit!

 

Try 1:1 conversations instead of group chats. Develop 1:1 friendships and treat each person as individuals instead of lumping friends into groups. You did the right thing by asking questions about their lives. In the future, ask those questions and since they're 1:1 from now on, they'll feel less self conscious. Most people don't wish to share their lives with so many witnesses abound. They prefer private chats with you.

 

Know the person whom you're chatting with. Instead of generic questions, find out through your questions and past knowledge, what their interests are. It could be intellectual pursuits, books, sports, hobbies, excursions, outings, cooking, recipes, their career or the like. Dig deeper. Try to avoid personal questions such as family because often times there is personal pain which they don't wish to divulge. You were correct by not prying. People love great listeners so listen more and talk less.

 

I agree with greendots. Give sincere compliments. You'll make fast friends this way! Remain gracious, humble, modest, quiet, NEVER interrupt them and make it all about them. I've practiced these traits during conversation and you'll become their new best friend!

 

Most of all, remain patient AND realistic. Don't rely heavily on only electronic correspondence and communication. Once it is permissible, try developing real life, in person friendships and meet them once a week or several times a month. Something gets lost in translation whenever friendships are exclusively text, email, messages, voice mails, phone conversations, Internet video chats, etc. Good old-fashioned "let's get together" socializing trumps all else.

 

Accept that everyone has different personalities and characters. Not everyone meshes well. Not everyone is compatible. Not everyone is habitually kind, well mannered, respectful, considerate and reciprocal. If there are blips in their personalities and characters which bother you, those types of friends are not for you nor will they endure. It's okay to become very picky and choosy. It's better to have one or two high quality friends than a bunch of acquaintance type friends whom you're not particularly fond of. Quality vs. quantity. Remember that.

 

Pre-COVID-19, I'd invite friends or our married couple friends over for dinner and game night. Other times, we'd host a potluck party and game night. It's so enjoyable and doesn't break the bank. A lot of times friendships, don't have to be just talk talk talk. Share meal times together and game nights. Do enjoyable activities.

 

Meet at a park and have a picnic. Throw a frisbee. Do something fun even with social distancing.

 

I'm sorry about moving around a lot. Even though friends can be temporary, try making friends anyway. I've had friends in my past, we moved, changed jobs and drifted apart. However, I enjoyed those past friendships anyway.

 

Since you have a partner, perhaps your partner and you can develop couples type friends. This is what my friends and us have been doing: We bring our own food or bring take out meals, meet at a parking lot or park which isn't too deserted nor crowded either. Then we set up our chairs all 6 ft apart in a big circle, eat and converse. It's very enjoyable, share laughter, enjoy good eats and have a change of scenery.

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I think you're being very hard on yourself too.

 

Probably, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder so I tend to be pretty harsh to myself when I feel like I've done something wrong. It's something I'm tring to work on, but thanks for the reminder to be a bit more compassionate to myself.

 

This is the first time in how long that you've spoken with these people?

 

5 years for two of them, and incidentally it was those two it was most awkward with (maybe that should tell me something). I speak to the third one more reguarly.

 

When you say their responses seemed tepid did you read any facial cues also? Did they seem blank or distracted with kids in the background or other things going on?

 

There wasn't much going on in the background, but I would say their expressions were fairly blank. One of them actually messaged me yesterday to explain that she was upset about something, and that's why she was kind of weird on the call.

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I would try pausing and counting to 7. Some people do have a lot of anxiety around silences. So as Rose said, you are being too hard on yourself.

 

Thanks, I will definitely try that.

 

Maybe your questions are too pointed and not what the others really wanted to talk about or it feels more like an interview... You know explainging one's life, is not alway a quick answer.

 

That is spot on, it felt exactly like I was interviewing them. I will work on asking different kinds of questions and respecting the natural flow of the conversation more.

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Are you really interested in hearing about what they've been up to or do you just think you "should" be interested?

 

This is a really interesting question. I did ask myself after the call when I felt like everything had gone all wrong, "what were you hoping to get out of this?".

 

I guess to a certain extent it was nostalgia. I wanted to re-experience some of the easy-going, generally hilarious, friendship we had in high school 10+ years ago. They also had first hand experience of how my home life was, hint: not good, and I feel like that gave us a unique relationship as compared to other friends I've had.

 

I also thought that we maybe had more in common than what we actually do. I am starting to realize that maybe we can't just jump back into our friendship as it was when we left it. I need to get to know them all over again. And it's hard because I think we might have a different perspective on alot of things, which was surprising to me.

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Why not stay in touch via social media. No reason to get on the dreaded Zoom bandwagon. Many people hate video calls and hate group video calls even more. Google Zoom Fatigue. Just keep your social media fresh and interesting as well as commenting positively on friends social media

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Also-- not that it's at all a bad idea to reflect on your communication style-- remember that being high school friends doesn't necessarily mean you're all gonna be chummy and eager to have prolonged conversations in the present year. People change a lot. Nostalgia can only carry a lack of present-day chemistry so far.

 

I think you're right, but I didn't want to accept that yesterday because it made me sad. It was easier to think that it was my fault that it was awkward because I talk too much. When, in reality, yeah I talked alot to fill the silence but the silence was there because we probably don't have that much in common anymore.

 

A lot of people get bored quick when people keep too strongly to the spirit of "catching up" as a principle. They may not want to tediously paint a detailed picture of everything their life is now vs. then for you. So try to avoid going from question to question.

 

It's amazing that you were able to verbalize exactly what I'm guilty of. On reflection, I think it's because I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and when I tell people about it alot of the time they understand it better if I expain how my life was growing up (violent, abusive, unstable). So I've gotten used to being in this weird story teller mode when I talk about my life.

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People love to talk about themselves, so ask questions about what they have been doing, where they live, whatever things you want to know about. Allow them time to answer and from their answers you can find more questions to ask or things to discuss.

 

I agree with this but in retrospect I've realized these people have some special circumstances which make this not applicable. To be less cryptic, we all had really bad home lives. There was alot of physical/emotional abuse, and in a way we were such good friends because we perfectly understood each other's situation. Our friendship was based on alot of avoidance i.e. fun, light hearted, care-free.

 

So, without thinking, I asked them about their personal lives on the video call because we used to know everything about each other. But they were super reluctant and uncomfortable talking about themselves overall. And it felt really weird and superficial to not know anything of substance about where they live and what they're doing but talk about pop culture?

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Do these friends have their own relationships with each other? If so, they will probably fill the silence with their own banter back and forth.

 

Two of them are very close, let's call them Ariana and Beyonce (lol). The other is close to me, let's call her Cher (again lol), and I thought Cher was also close to Ariana.

 

However, yesterday when I was telling Cher that I was frustrated at myself for talking too much during the call she said it wasn't my fault and that she also feels that talking to Ariana is like pulling teeth. It was really surprising because they have always been close, but apparently when Cher asks Ariana about her personal life Ariana shuts down and says that Cher "wouldn't understand".

 

I feel like all of this is too much "drama" for me to be honest. I barely have enough energy to deal with myself, let alone other people. Considering abandoning the idea of reconnecting with Ariana and Beyonce and just continuing my friendship with Cher.

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This is a really interesting question. I did ask myself after the call when I felt like everything had gone all wrong, "what were you hoping to get out of this?".

 

I guess to a certain extent it was nostalgia. I wanted to re-experience some of the easy-going, generally hilarious, friendship we had in high school 10+ years ago. They also had first hand experience of how my home life was, hint: not good, and I feel like that gave us a unique relationship as compared to other friends I've had.

 

I also thought that we maybe had more in common than what we actually do. I am starting to realize that maybe we can't just jump back into our friendship as it was when we left it. I need to get to know them all over again. And it's hard because I think we might have a different perspective on alot of things, which was surprising to me.

 

So to me that's the main issue -your very specific expectations going into a call with people you hadn't spoken to in years. I can be like that too and had a boyfriend years ago where our communication didn't work well for me -I felt like our conversations were forced especially when out for dinner at nice restaurant. One night we spent hours in a parked car outside his brother's home - because his brother hadn't gotten home yet and we'd forgotten to get the key. Bad weather too lol. We ended up having the best conversation -I distinctly remember part of it was our detailed opinions about pop tarts which is a toaster pastry. The conversation just flowed from topic to topic -some deep like pop tarts others not as (lol). I had no expectations of course other than hoping his brother would come home soon because of the weather conditions! I think your expectations kind of self-sabotaged your enjoyment of the call.

 

As far as them knowing your past - I can totally see where they may not have wanted to bring that up.

 

I highly recommend the book The Girls From Ames. I think you would love it on this sort of topic.

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This is a really interesting question. I did ask myself after the call when I felt like everything had gone all wrong, "what were you hoping to get out of this?".

 

I guess to a certain extent it was nostalgia. I wanted to re-experience some of the easy-going, generally hilarious, friendship we had in high school 10+ years ago. They also had first hand experience of how my home life was, hint: not good, and I feel like that gave us a unique relationship as compared to other friends I've had.

 

I also thought that we maybe had more in common than what we actually do. I am starting to realize that maybe we can't just jump back into our friendship as it was when we left it. I need to get to know them all over again. And it's hard because I think we might have a different perspective on alot of things, which was surprising to me.

 

FairyG.

 

Your realization is correct.

 

No truer saying than this:

 

"The past is a foreign country and they do things differently there."

 

In the intervening ten years so much may have happened in the lives of your school friends, and much of it may not have been that good, so perhaps they might wish to leave the past where it is.

 

Merely a suggestion: maybe set up a new friendship, with people who did not have an appalling "home" life.

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5 years for two of them, and incidentally it was those two it was most awkward with (maybe that should tell me something). I speak to the third one more reguarly.
One of them actually messaged me yesterday to explain that she was upset about something, and that's why she was kind of weird on the call.

 

I hope it makes you feel better to hear this. I think it actually explains a lot!

 

we all had really bad home lives. There was alot of physical/emotional abuse, and in a way we were such good friends because we perfectly understood each other's situation. Our friendship was based on alot of avoidance i.e. fun, light hearted, care-free.

 

I have a group of friends like this. We spent part of our lives growing up together, and coping with difficulties together. I reconnected with them when I joined facebook in 2009, 14 years after we graduated high school. They are among my most cherished friendships, even though a lot has changed over the years and we are at different places in our lives. It's not all smooth sailing. Some of them dislike each other and there is tension between them. But we really know each other, despite those differences. It's nice to be with people who really know you.

 

So, I hope you won't give up on this idea, because it can be very rewarding.

 

So, without thinking, I asked them about their personal lives on the video call because we used to know everything about each other. But they were super reluctant and uncomfortable talking about themselves overall. And it felt really weird and superficial to not know anything of substance about where they live and what they're doing but talk about pop culture?

 

I think that some of the obstacles you're facing are physical distance and Zoom. Zoom puts a lot of pressure on the individual. Your friends were probably feeling that five year communication gap just as you were. Doesn't necessarily mean they weren't open to conversation. It can just seem overwhelming when you have a camera staring you in the face. Reunions like this are easier in a room full of people, where you can move around freely, have private conversations, etc.

 

So, for the time being, you may have to take a different tack. When I hang out with those girlfriends, we don't sit around and rehash the past. We don't even really talk about the present so much (although that does happen, especially with the girls who have families). We just mainly hang out.

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