Why Does She Talk Too Much? – Communication Style Differences That Often Go Unnoticed
Have you ever talked to a person who talks tirelessly without leaving room for you to join the conversation? Have you ever wondered why some people can talk all by themselves as if they were giving a speech instead or having a two-way conversation?
Sarah was such a person I met at a party a few years ago. As soon as she introduced herself, she went on what seemed to be an endless monologue. From what I recall, I didn’t have the chance to utter a single sentence while she was speaking (although my memory could be a bit exaggerated). All I could manage was occasional nods and saying ‘oui’ and ‘je vois’ (she was French), but she seemed to be enjoying talking.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say; I wanted to participate in the conversation because what she was talking about was interesting. I was waiting for her to finish her ‘turn’ so that I could have mine. But her turn was never over.
At the end of the ‘conversation’, she said cheerfully, ‘it was very nice talking with you’.
What struck me was her ability to carry on the conversation all by herself for such a long time. If I had been her, I would have paused after I had spoken for a while so that the other person would have the chance to talk. But clearly that wasn’t how she carried on the conversation.
I was very frustrated. Even though she showed some interest in me and said that she had a good time talking with me, I didn’t have the feeling that we had a good conversation. There was very little contribution on my part. It felt like I missed a good opportunity to get to know her. I wanted to be able to talk to people like her.
Then I remembered something I read many years ago.
One of the best communication tips I’ve ever come across was Chapter 3 of a book called ‘That’s Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships‘ (Affiliate Link) by Deborah Tannen. In that book, the author talks about different ‘conversational signals and devices’ that people use, and that explains exactly what was happening when I was talking to Sarah.
Just like the author said, ‘the problem had to do with expectations about pacing and pausing’.
When I have a conversation with someone and finish talking, I pause and wait for the other person to speak. That’s my signal that my turn is over and I want the other person to speak. I don’t mind a little bit of silence during the conversation. If they don’t say anything for longer than the pause I would expect, I will either ask a question to encourage them to talk or start another conversational thread (or get uncomfortable). This is my natural way of having conversations.
But Sarah was different. Her style was much faster paced. For her, silence should not occur between conversational threads so when she finished what she wanted to say and no one was taking over the conversation she kept talking, and eventually came up with another thing to say. For her, pauses during a conversation were not necessary since she expected the other people to cut in whenever they wanted to say something.
Our conversational styles were quite incompatible. What was happening was that I was expecting a pause that would never come and she was expecting the interruption that would never happen. To me, interrupting while someone is talking was rude, but to her, what I would consider an interruption wasn’t really an interruption at all. Au contraire! That would actually show that you are interested in the conversation.
That was a huge realisation to me.
But that wasn’t all.
Think to talk or talk to think?
I need to think before I say something. I feel compelled to say something interesting to the other people because it will be painful if people get bored while I talk. Therefore, I usually take time to think and make sure that what I am about to say will be interesting. To me, talking and thinking are separate processes.
But people like Sarah are different. They think and talk at the same time. It’s as if they are verbalising their internal conversation. In a way, talking is collaborative thinking to them. They don’t need to construct their thinking in a structured way before they start a conversation, because talking is in itself thinking.
I often find it hard to follow their conversation because of a seeming lack of structure. They seem to move from topic to topic very fast. It seems that when I finally figure out what to say, they have already moved on to another subject. My reaction to that is to listen more carefully so that I can follow them. But it doesn’t work because if I put all my energy into listening, it will leave little room for me to think, and it will be hard for me to come up with things to say.
Again, there was incompatibility of conversational style. To me, it was bad practice to say random things on my mind without taking into consideration whether my thoughts were interesting enough or not. But to Sarah, unleashing your thought was a good gesture and showed that you were willing to participate in the conversation.
That was another important thing I realised.
And there was more.
Ask questions or talk about yourself?
When I am interested in someone, I ask questions about them so that I can learn who they are. When I meet someone new, I think it’s polite to ask a few questions because it shows that you are interested in them. This means that when someone asks me questions, I feel that they are interested in me because that’s what I do.
On the other hand, when somebody talks endlessly without asking questions or waiting for the others to speak up, I think that they are selfish and only care about themselves.
But I am wrong.
Talkative people like Sarah have different ways of showing interest. When talkative people are interested in someone, they talk. Talking is their way of showing interest. Talking means opening up themselves and encouraging other people to talk in turn.
Now I understand why I found it strange that she seemed interested in talking to me, even though all she did was talk about herself; I didn’t understand that talking in itself was her way of showing interest and inviting me into the conversation.
What I should have done
After I remembered the advice in the book and thought it through, it became very clear what I should have done; I shouldn’t have waited for the pause and taken time to figure out what to say. Instead, I should have taken over the conversation and started talking when something popped up in my mind even though I didn’t know what I was going to say exactly.
It was one of those ah-ha moments in my life. Put into words like that, it sounds very simple. But it took me twenty-something years to become fully aware of it.
Now that I realised what I had been missing all of my life, I decided to learn the way talkative people have conversations so that I would be able to communicate better with people like Sarah.
It was easier said than done.
My conversational style is something I’d had for over twenty years, so it was only natural that it wasn’t very easy to change.
First of all, it was very uncomfortable to interrupt someone. It took me a while to get rid of the notion that it was something rude. Also, to start talking before I knew what I was going to say was difficult. It wasn’t (and it still isn’t) easy to overcome the fear that people might not care in the slightest about what I am about to say. Again, to start talking without being asked to is not exactly a piece of cake to me but, fortunately, talkative people always talk so that I don’t have to fill the silence.
Despite that, I am getting better at it. As with many things in life, the more you practise, the better you get.
Even though I didn’t have the chance to meet Sarah again, I’ve met countless hyper-talkative people since then.
Now I have many talkative friends and I enjoy having conversations with them. I wouldn’t say that I talk as much as them, but now I know that it’s OK to take over the conversation and I am much more comfortable doing it. Even though there are times when I cannot keep up with their pace, it’s good to know that it’s not because they don’t care about me but they are having a good time and enjoying my company.
Moreover, I am starting to appreciate their way of having conversations. I find it quite liberating expressing my raw thoughts freely. It’s good for me because I sometimes suppress what I want to say because I am afraid that people won’t like what I say. I also find it exciting taking over the conversation because it creates a very fun, animated conversation. Most of all, I really like the fact that I can communicate with more people, and relate to them, than before.
Perfect example in a film
If you want to check out an example of miscommunication between hyper-talkative people and less talkative ones in action, there’s a perfect film called L’Auberge Espagnole (Pot Luck).
The film is about foreign students who share a flat in Barcelona. There is a scene where the very talkative brother of one of the room-mates visits the flat. When they are having dinner together, he dominates the conversation and the others get bored. Eventually, one of the girls gets very annoyed and leaves the table saying sarcastically, ‘I love your monologues’.
The tension gets lower as they get to know the brother better, and realise that he is not a bad guy after all. But he keeps causing a bit of a rift. Even if his talkativeness were not the only thing that got on other people’s nerves, it is clear that had he talked less and listened more, it would have created a much more harmonious relationship between them.
(It’s a very good film so you should check it out if you haven’t watched it!)
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