For example, this type of conversation might sound familiar:
You: I feel like you aren’t interested in what I have to say. You never ask me questions after I make statements.
Not you: I am interested in what you have to say.
You: But you never ask me questions after I make statements.
Not you: If you want to tell me more, tell me more. I’m interested.
You: But I want you to ask me questions. If you don’t, I feel like you aren’t interested.
Not you: I am interested. Just tell me what you want me to know.
You: But I want you to ask – if you don’t ask, I don’t know that you are interested.
Not you: I just said I was interested.
Now, if you are anything like me, you were having this conversation and watching it with awe from above completely aware that you were repeating yourself. You couldn’t stop yourself from saying the same thing over and over. I know. I do it, too.
And during all that watching and repeating, you know what we aren’t doing? Listening. Because Not You answered the question:
Q: Are you interested?
So why were we still talking about it? Because we often aren’t saying what we mean.
In this case, we wanted Not You to agree that asking questions equaled obvious interest. But Not You didn’t. Because we didn’t ask that question.
Deborah Tannen’s That’s Not What I Meant: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships. One of the chapters is called: “Why Don’t We Say What We Mean?” Great question! The reality is that we don’t always know in the moment what exactly we are thinking or feeling. And we’re often afraid to say what we really think, feel, want. But for some reason, once we start yapping, we can't stop and admit we're a bit conversationally lost. And we should.
I tried it recently and it worked. I stopped mid-sentence and admitted that I wasn't really sure what my point was anymore. And instead of arguing, we laughed. Because we've all been there and it's bloody refreshing to hear someone say it out loud.
So the next time you’re in a conversation that’s going in circles, stop and ask: what do you want out of this conversation? What are you trying to say? And if you don’t know, that’s okay. Take a break rather than start a war (right?). And if you do know what you are trying to say, then say what you mean.