Sage Advice: Dealing with the Interrupters
Conversation is a lot less fun when someone else is hogging it
Dear Amy: My wife and I socialize often with my wife’s brother, “Brad,” and his girlfriend, “Shelley.”
Shelley tends to hijack conversations, steering them toward herself and/or her kids.
Lately, I’ve noticed that Brad does the same thing.
In one instance my wife began to talk about a current news event, and he jumped in after a couple of sentences and tried to wrestle the narrative from his sister.
I told him to please let my wife finish her thought and tell it her way, and then we could hear his thoughts. He took exception to this, and engaged his sister in his ire.
Last night we were with Shelley (Brad wasn’t there) and at one point Shelley mentioned that I “don’t like for her to talk.”
She said she was intentionally quiet for the first couple of hours of the visit because of this.
I explained calmly that I never asked anyone not to talk, only that I want her to be respectful of boundaries when others talk.
She got upset, and abruptly left.
I don’t want any friction, and I need to talk to her about this.
How do you suggest I approach this?
– Interrupted Husband
Dear Interrupted: Ideally, you would have offered this correction using “I” statements that reflect your own personal reaction to her behavior, rather than tell her directly what you “want” her to do differently. Telling someone directly how to behave is bound to make them defensive. And when they’re busy being defensive, they don’t listen to the point you’re trying to make, because they are distracted by planning their mental, emotional, or physical escape.
Here’s an example of how you might express your frustration: “Shelley, I don’t mean to silence you. That’s a terrible feeling. But I get very frustrated when I’m engaged in listening to someone and then that person is interrupted. Then that person is being silenced, and I feel this throws conversations off track. I hope you can understand my reaction. I’m trying hard to enjoy what everyone has to say.”
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068
© 2019 by Amy Dickinson