Steamrollers. In conversation, we all know one. Maybe, sometimes you are one.
Last week I directed my blog post towards people who generally are on the receiving end of a one-sided conversation. This week, I’m addressing the other half.
It’s very likely that if you’re a human steamroller, you may not even read this post and think that it’s about you. Most people who steamroll me, if I happen to gently bring it up later, genuinely don’t realize that they’re doing it.
Since I’m going to be using the word “steamroll” a lot, let’s define it.
steamroll /stim-rol/ (v.): not making room for the input of your talking buddy.
That’s it; that’s really all it is.
If you’re someone who responds to “I’m having a hard day today” by one-upping how difficult your day was, you’re steamrolling. If you’re someone who doesn’t wait for feedback before progressing forward in a conversation, you’re steamrolling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a book or theory explained to me while I expressed no interest in said book or theory whatsoever. Now, while it’s important to listen to people, it’s also important to listen to what people don’t say, too.
Frankly, even I can be a steamroller at times. To help peeople stop steamrolling, I have put together a list of suggestions to steamrollers to follow. Even if you’re not one, read through the suggestions below anyway—they may still be good advice.
1. Consider the ratio of how much each person has spoken so far in the conversation.
Most conversations lean more heavily to one person than another, but dialogues tend to still hover around the 50/50 mark. Maybe you’re in conversations where it’s 55/45, 60/40. But if the ratio is more than 60% in your favour, you’re running into steamroller territory.
Solution? Ask your partner some questions. Get them to open up.
2. Ask your conversing partner thought-provoking questions.
It’s not enough to just tell you to “ask questions”. If your conversing partner is only giving you one-worded answers, this can be indicative of one of two things. 1) They are, by default, deferring to you as the primary speaker in that moment, and not wanting to elaborate on their one-word answers because they feel it’ll take away from what you’re wanting to say, or, 2) They aren’t that invested in the conversation.
Either way, you’re not really talking to a person; you’re talking to a fence post. And by that, I don’t mean that the person you’re talking to has nothing to contribute, but that you’re not letting yourself learn anything new. In that case, what was the point of having a conversation anyway? You could do the same thing alone at home. This leads me to point 3.
3. Consider what your goal of conversation is.
You know that a good conversation is occurring when both people are equally putting in effort, and learning from each other. This should be your goal when meeting new people, or even when just talking to friends and family.
Some people, however, tend to think conversation is meant for the sole purpose of them rehearsing what they already know. Maybe they just want to impress someone. Maybe they’re consolidating new information they learned that day and they’re regurgitating on someone else. If that’s you, you need to remember one thing: the person you’re talking to doesn’t care how much you know, but how you make them feel. And if you’re not really listening to verbal and non-verbal cues, you’re at risk of really making someone feel not listened to. Or worse, trapped.
3. Actually want to hear what the other person has to say.
When you make someone feel free and listened to, they’ll actually want to stick around longer. So how do you do that? You have to actually want to listen.
I know that when you get wrapped up in a topic, sometimes the excitement of expressing yourself and finally sharing your thoughts and opinions with another person can be overwhelmingly thrilling.
But if your talking buddy is giving feedback that differs from yours (and it should, because they’re a different person), you need to listen, examine what they say, and respond back to it. Not just keep rolling through with your pre-planned topic, but adjust to make room for you partner. Learn from your talking partner. It sounds simple, but it works wonders.
4. Give your partner time to think and reflect before they give an answer.
Think about it. When someone asks you a question out of left field, you need some time to think. Likewise, any question you ask will be a new experience for your talking buddy, so they need to process and consider an answer.
Also, if this isn’t obvious, only ask one question at a time. I’ll give an example. I like to read books. I think classic literature is great, but it takes me a long time to pick a “favourite” character. If someone were to ask me a series of questions such as: “Who’s your favourite literary character, ever? Why? Do you relate to them?”, that would be a question that requires a long time to think over. One question at a time. Give us room to think.
5. Don’t pressure yourself to say everything at once.
The venue is closing down, and you still haven’t finished your story? That’s okay. End off at a convenient place and opt to talk another time. This will leave your listener intrigued to hear more. And if they don’t, they at least get a break.
I get it, though. You want to get to the punchline. Sometimes, you don’t need to. Maybe this is a story you need to shorten anyway. Consider how to whittle down your phrases to express your point. Are there too many details?
Consider why you felt the need to share that story. Was it to show your partner your character? In that case, they’ll derive your character from how you speak, not what you say. Was it to share information? Then exchange details to meet up another time. There’s always a solution. But overwhelming your new talking partner is never that solution. Don’t be the guy (or gal) talking at a person. Talk with a person.
I’m always learning new things about people. What’s your conversational style? Steamroller, more on the receiving end, or both?
Maybe this post helped you learn new things about yourself. Hopefully these tips help you in your next conversation, and keep it flowing smoothly.