How to Stop Monopolizing Conversations (and Stop Others, Too)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Better Small Talk" by Patrick King. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you a conversation monopolizer? Or, do you fall victim to this and hardly get a word in edgewise?

One-sided conversations aren’t really conversations; they’re monologues. Good conversationalists give each other space to talk. This requires both skill and thoughtfulness. Social interaction specialist Patrick King shows you how to cultivate these traits in his book Better Small Talk.

Continue reading to learn how to stop monopolizing conversations and keep others from doing the same.

Stop Yourself & Others From Monopolizing Conversations

One of the most important ways to take care of your conversation partners is to give them room to contribute by listening well to them and not monopolizing conversations. Many people view conversations as simply a way to state their own opinion or tell their own story, and they feel no obligation to listen to the other person, writes King. This makes for an unrewarding experience for the other person, who feels unimportant and unheard.

(Shortform note: Statistics reveal the optimal division of talking time between speakers: People enjoy conversations most when speaking time is split equally. This holds in conversations between strangers, acquaintances, and close friends, as well as when the speakers are extroverts or introverts. As soon as someone begins speaking more or less than 50% of the time, both participants’ enjoyment of the conversation decreases drastically.)

To listen well and share the conversational space, King recommends the following: 

  1. Don’t craft your response while the other person is still talking. Listen actively with an open mind and only formulate your response once they’ve finished. 
  2. Show the other person that you’re listening. You can do this through engaged facial expressions, verbalizations, and body language. 
  3. Don’t stick to your point or story if the other person takes the conversation in another direction. Be willing to let go of what you wanted to say. 
  4. In general, try to talk less. People probably aren’t as interested in your life as you are and don’t care to hear about it endlessly. 
How to Deal With Bad Listeners and Conversation Monopolizers

What do you do if your conversation partner doesn’t extend the same courtesies King outlines to you? A conversation can quickly become unrewarding if you’re trying to be a good listener but the other person doesn’t listen to you, cuts you off, and monopolizes the conversation. 

One way to deal with such people is to ask them if there’s a better way for them to engage in conversation with you. It’s possible that, for instance, sitting in a café makes the other person restless and that they’d be a better listener if you chatted during a walk. 

If you want to decrease the chances of being interrupted or not heard when you have important information to convey, you might signal to the other person at the beginning of the conversation that you need to talk about something and that you want their input when you’re done. For instance, if you want to talk about a rough break-up you’ve just gone through, you might say something like, “I’m so glad you could meet to talk. I really need to talk to someone and get some advice.” This might alert the other person that they need to listen to you. 

Finally, you might even gently call out the other person for not sharing the conversational space. The best way to do this is by showing empathetic concern: If the other person keeps redirecting the conversation back to a specific topic, is obviously just thinking of their next response while you’re talking, or is showing signs of being distracted through body language or facial expressions, you might compassionately ask, “It seems like something is on your mind and might be distracting you from our current conversation. Do you want to talk about whatever’s bothering you?” If the other person is simply doing a poor job of listening, this hopefully will act as a signal to them. But more importantly, if the other person really does have something distracting on their mind, you give them the chance to address it.
How to Stop Monopolizing Conversations (and Stop Others, Too)

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Patrick King's "Better Small Talk" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Better Small Talk summary:

  • Why small talk is a critical part of any conversation
  • How mastering small talk can help you have more meaningful conversations
  • How to become a better conversationalist, storyteller, and listener

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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