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10 things to avoid when having a conversation

For a human race that loves to engage in conversation, some of us sure are bad at it! Lately, it seems like people are getting even worse.  There are many avenues where we can try to place blame: social networking, text messaging or the increasingly fast-paced society in which we live.  Regardless of whatever or whoever is to blame, there are certain things we should rarely or never do when trying to have a polite conversation.  Here are ten of them.  

1. “I’ll do you one better.”
For some reason, too many people view every conversation as a contest.  They simply cannot listen to a story and allow someone else to enjoy telling it without trumping it with one of their own that they think is even better.  Polite conversation means allowing people to share the spotlight.  If I tell you about how I witnessed a bank robbery yesterday on my lunch break, there is no need for you to tell me the story of how your neighbor’s house got broken into when you were five.

2. “So, my doctor said…”
There is a reason for doctor-patient confidentiality and I am sure it has to do with polite conversation.  There is no reason why I should have to listen to you talk about the growth on your kidney while I’m trying to eat lunch.  Sure, some people relish discussing all of the intricate details of their health and everyone else’s.  Find them and talk to them.  The rest of us are grossed out.

3. “We’ll all be much happier when these bastards are out of office, won’t we?”
The thing with politics is that most people hold their beliefs so strongly that they have a hard time seeing how anyone can logically disagree with them.  This is the biggest reason why we should not talk about politics, especially when we don’t know the political alignment of the company we are in.  There are situations when a conversation can be slowly steered into the political realm, but all parties should be well prepared to change the subject.  It is arrogant to assume that everyone feels the same way as you.  And don’t believe for a second that you’ll change anyone’s mind and make him or her see it your way.  It just won’t happen.  This entry goes for religion as well.  All the same rules apply.

4. “You look like you’ve lost weight!”
Maybe this one is just for the guys because I know many women who love being told this, but I for one hate being told that I look like I’ve lost weight, especially when I know I haven’t lost any!  How terrible did I look last time you saw me?  What kind of compliment is this?  Should I return the compliment by saying, “Thanks!  And you’re not as ugly as you used to be!”?

5. “I should really take this call.”
Nothing stops a nice conversation better than a cell phone.  The problem used to be that a cell phone would disrupt a conversation with an annoying ring, like right when you were getting to the point of the story.  Nowadays, we’re treated to the melody of a Lady Gaga song or something even more obnoxious interrupting us.  Worse than that, there are few things more frustrating than trying to keep up a conversation with someone who insists on glancing down at his cell phone every thirty seconds to make sure someone isn’t trying to contact him via text message, all the while murmuring “yeah…” to pretend they’re paying attention to you.   There is such a thing as polite body language.  It is very nice to at least pretend to be interested in what the person who is actually in front of you is saying, rather than let him know he is playing second fiddle to the one you’d rather be talking to.  Put the phone on silent (not vibrate) and give the person you are with your full attention.

6. “This is what you should have done…”
Sometimes, we don’t need advice; we just need to be heard.  A lot of people have the tendency to want to fix an issue as soon as they hear about it.  The problem is that usually when people are venting about an issue (usually stemming from something that happened at work), they’re not looking for a solution; they just want to be heard.  So when you say something like, “What you should have done was knocked on her office door and refused to leave until she answered your questions,” you’re not helping at all.  Now you’re just making the poor person feel worse about things because now you think he’s handled things badly as well.  The best thing to do is try your best to empathize.  Say something like, “I hate when that stuff happens.”  It also helps to try to sum up the person’s feelings: “You’re frustrated because you feel like you’re not getting the credit you deserve.”  If you want to offer help, wait for the opportunity.  When people want advice, they will ask for it.

7. My space<_____________________>Your space.
Most people would think this one would have gone away after Judge Reinhold immortalized this annoying habit on Seinfeld’s “Close Talker” episode.  Kramer empathized with millions of people when he retreated so quickly that he lost his footing and fell down.  It would be nice if everyone got the message.  However, it must be a hard habit to break because too many people still feel the need to let you know what they had for breakfast…yesterday.  Remember, if you’re leaning so close that you can see your reflection in my corneas, you need to take three good steps back.

8. “Oh, it was nothing, really…”
It is incredible how many people don’t know how to simply accept a compliment.  There are two things people tend to do instead.  They might deny the good thing altogether by saying something like, “I appreciate your saying that, but you really don’t have to.”  They could also try qualifying their success.  They might say, “Well, it wasn’t really my idea.  I had a lot of help from…”  Enough with the false modesty!  When you do these things you are either accusing me of being a liar, having bad judgment, or not having all of the facts.  All of these are insulting and make for awkward conversation.  How should you respond to a compliment?  Smile and say, “Thank you.”  The end.

9. “Okay, well…”
Ending a conversation is like parallel parking.  Some people have it down to a fine art and do it whenever the need arises.  Others simply don’t have a clue.  They drive around the block endlessly, then try to pull in front ways, only to circle many more times, before finally making the job as awkward as possible.  All the while, they are completely ignoring the needs of other drivers. When do you end a conversation?  Usually when the person you’re talking to says something like, “Okay…”  That’s it.  End it now!  When have you gone beyond your allotted time? When the person begins looking at his watch or nodding incessantly for no reason (he’s trying to hurry you along).  When have you crossed the line and become abusive?  That’s when the poor person surrenders, slouches his shoulders and starts looking around at anything that will distract him from what you refuse to stop saying.
This one is simply about body language.  Most of us recognize when we have overstayed our welcome.  However, I have learned that there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry.  I have to go.”  This might hurt the talker’s feelings, but he needs to know.

10. “I don’t mean to be rude, but…”
Anytime we preface a statement by saying something like, “I don’t mean to…” that is a warning that we are about to do that very thing.  “I’ll be honest...” is just another way of saying, “I’m about to offend you.”  Find another way to say it truthfully.  Anytime we hear one of these introductions, we immediately go to the defensive.  When someone says to me, “I don’t mean to offend you but,” I quickly put up a hand and say, “Then don’t.”  The person is completely dumbfounded and often leaves the subject alone.


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