Crucial Conversations QA

How to Tell Someone They Talk Too Much

Dear Joseph,

I have a dear male friend. We are romantically involved in a long-distance relationship across different time zones. Our main means of communication are texting and phone, or video talking. We usually talk one to two hours a day—late at night for him, and after work for me. However, our conversations often turn into monologues because my dear friend likes to talk. A lot! While he talks about interesting things, he has a tendency to give multiple examples to illustrate what he means or to rephrase his ideas even though I understood what he meant the first time. I often lose interest in the conversation. I’m also frustrated because it feels like a waste of time when he elaborates on the same thing over and over again. I have given him gentle cues a number of times, but the other day I snapped. How do I deal with it gently and effectively?

Repeatedly Repetitive

Dear Repeatedly Repetitive,

You need to make a decision. Your recent outburst is evidence you haven’t made one.

You’ve got only two ultimate options, and you’re trying to invent a third. You’re trying to make “tolerance” an option. To me, tolerance means “putting up with.” It means holding judgments in your mind but trying to pretend you aren’t. It is a thin veil that dissipates when you’re tired or when his behavior comes in a concentrated dose that exceeds your acting abilities. Tolerance is an attempt to manufacture a middle ground between the two legitimate ways of approaching others.

In my mind, there are two healthy ways of relating to imperfect people.

Option 1: Accept him as he is. This means true acceptance. It means realizing he, like everyone, is a mixed bag of attributes, some of which you cherish and some of which you don’t. But when you decided to get involved with him you chose the whole package. It’s disingenuous to act as though you want a relationship with someone then reveal later that it was contingent on them becoming someone they aren’t. Acceptance means that you surrender any agenda of changing him and come to see his foibles as charming idiosyncrasies rather than unbearable irritants.

Option 2: Influence him. If you want to ask him to change something in an ethical way, you must abide by three principles:

  1. Be honest. Don’t try to change him through subterfuge. This turns him into a project, not a person. And it impedes true intimacy by substituting manipulation for authenticity. There’s nothing wrong with wishing he handles something differently. We’ve all got weaknesses. As evidence of that, re-read your question to me. Ironically, you made reference to him repeating himself twice. Three times if you add the reference to paraphrase. I sympathize with you because I am a covert communication critic in conversations at times as well. When I allow myself to slide into entitlement, I can go mad when someone takes 14 minutes to finish a point I understood after 11 seconds. With all that said, if you think asking him to change is preferable to working on patience and generosity, have at it. But be up front.
  2. Make failure an option. Don’t come into the conversation expecting him to change. Prepare yourself for the possibility that this may be part of his cognitive style. Or it may be something he doesn’t care to make a priority. If you come in with expectations, you’ll be putting conditions on your affection.
  3. Start with curiosity. Start the conversation with something like this: “I’m curious about something. Frequently when we’re talking, you’ll elaborate on a point three or more times. I notice it happening often enough that I started wondering about it. Please know that I love our conversations. Talking with you is a highlight of my day. However, there are times I check out. And I’ve realized I am being dishonest when I do that. I’m pretending rather than being real. That’s not what I want with you. So I’m wondering if I’m giving you signals that I don’t understand something. Or maybe that I’ve checked out so you are restating things for emphasis. If on the other hand, this is just how you sort through your thoughts, I don’t want you feel like you need to do it any differently. This is my issue, not yours. I struggle with impatience and that’s my stuff. But if there is something in this dynamic that I am part of, I want to find out. Do you notice this as well?”

As you read my suggested approach, you might feel a tightness in your chest. If so, that’s a good tightness. It’s called vulnerability. It’s what the risk of honesty feels like. I have come to believe two things:

  1. The measure of my soul is my capacity to love imperfect people. People just like me. Relationships are the soul-stretching calisthenics of life.
  2. All lasting happiness in life is a function of our capacity for truth, love, and connection. You can only connect with others if you are willing to be transparent with them. Real love doesn’t compromise truth. And the depth of our connection with others can never be greater than our emotional honesty.

I hope some of what I shared helps you find a way to an even richer relationship with this imperfect man.

With every best wish,

How Do I Say That Category

How to Respond to Strong Opinions with Grace and Boundaries

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of Crucial Conversations, shares tips for responding to strong opinions. Learn to gracefully and politely draw boundaries for the conversation.

Crucial Conversations QA

How to End a Friendship but Remain Roommates

Dear Emily,

I have been living with my roommate and good friend for a couple of years now. We have had several trust issues in the past but have been able to resolve them after long and emotional conversations. However, recently she broke my trust and I don’t want to fix the friendship. That said, we are signed to a lease for the next 10 months. I don’t want to talk with her, but she deserves to know that the friendship is over. How should I talk with her about ending our friendship but remaining cordial as roommates?

Rifted Roommate

Dear Rifted Roommate,

Your question hits home for me. One of the most challenging times in my life occurred during the four months between when my husband and I decided to get a divorce and when we moved out of our place. Living in a shared space for those four months as we tried to navigate the end of one relationship (our marriage) and the development of a new one (as co-parents) was at times excruciating. Here are a few things I learned from our conversations that I hope will help you with yours.

Start With Heart

Before you can have a productive conversation with someone else about a difficult, painful, or emotional topic, you need to have a productive conversation with yourself. You need to truly understand your intent for wanting to have the conversation and challenge your motives to get clear on what they are. In other words, what is your goal here?

When trust has been broken, when relationships have shifted, when feelings have been hurt, we sometimes feel a deep need to speak our truth so as to honor and affirm our experience and our pain. If you need that closure, I absolutely respect that. But it that’s your aim, please recognize that your goal is about you and your needs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can make it more difficult to have a productive conversation because your underlying intent, and therefore focus, is on you, not them.

It can be helpful to expand your intent by asking yourself:

  • What do I really want here for me? You probably already know this. I am guessing from your question that you want authenticity, honesty, self-respect and clear boundaries.
  • What do I really want for the other person? This is trickier. I would hazard a guess but there is not really anything in your question to go on. I don’t see any indication that you have given thought to what you want for her. I’d suggest you spend some time here. This can be a hard question to answer because often, when faced with difficult conversations, we have strong judgments and emotions about the other person. But here is the thing: you were friends once. The person you were saw something of worth and value in the person she was. Try to see that again. Not to repair the friendship or excuse the breach of trust, but simply to see her as a human being of worth and value. Then, with that in mind, ask yourself: what do I want for this human being?
  • What do I really want for the relationship? You know the relationship you don’t want. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ve spent some time thinking or even ruminating about that. Try spending some time thinking about the relationship you do want for the next ten months. Visualize. What do you want to feel and experience in your home? What will the emotional tenor of your interactions be? Cold indifference? Warm support? Passing acknowledgement?

Taking some time to get clear on your intent for yourself, for her, and for the relationship, will prepare you to hold the conversation.

Make It Safe

How you initiate the conversation can greatly affect how the other person will respond. Most people get defensive when they perceive an attack, whether it be in the form of criticism, judgment, or blame. So, if someone is getting defensive, assume you said or did something that, for them, felt attacking.

You are about to tell a friend that your feelings toward her have changed because of things she has done. That will likely feel like an attack. If it is an attack, then that is on you and you should back away until you are in a better place to hold the conversation. If it’s not an attack, if your intent is truly to create a positive living space for each of you, then you need to communicate that. Consider some of the ways you might do that:

  • Honor the relationship you had in the past and the things you admire about her.
  • Acknowledge that both of you, like all people, have grown and changed over the course of your relationship.
  • Share that, while you see your relationship differently now, you want to create a positive, warm living arrangement going forward. You want something that will work for yourself and her.
  • Be clear and direct. Sugarcoating doesn’t create safety. Candor does. Don’t dodge. Speak directly. The relationship you used to have doesn’t work any longer. And yet, you still want to have a friendly relationship moving forward.

Give Her Time

A change in a close, personal relationship is inevitably emotional. My guess is that you have already done a lot of your own emotional work in processing this change. She probably hasn’t. Be generous and give her the time and space she may need to process this. She will likely be hurt. Hurt people sometimes say unkind things. If she does, forgive her.

This will likely be more than one conversation. It is the rare individual that can process and respond to the end of a friendship within a single conversation. Respect her need to step away from the conversation.

Be Careful

When we become friends, we let down walls. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others. Sometimes the result is friendship. Other times the result is pain. There is pain in this for both of you. Take care of yourself. And be careful with her. She was once a friend.