Dillan DiGiovanni suggests ways to contribute to a conversation without dominating it.
Tell me if this has happened to you: you’re sitting and having a conversation with someone, exchanging in intellectual wordplay and mutually enjoyable education and suddenly you hear it. The sound is unmistakable. You hear the tone of condescension, the timber, the duration of the “share”. It’s gone from a conversation to a domination.
People talk. They agree, disagree and engage in the normal explanations that organically occur as one defends ones assertions and opinions. Making ourselves clear to assert a point or stance is necessary to make ourselves understood when communicating with another person. Dominating with our opinions or experience and speaking as though they are “the truth” is another thing, entirely.
And in a world where we want men to be awesome, strong, intelligent and confident people–we don’t want them to do it in ways that prevent other people from being just as awesome, strong, intelligent and confident.
I’ll give a few examples. During a recent meeting, an older gentlemen shared a riveting and powerful story of his own past. Everyone was enraptured; he had a captive audience. And then, what began as a powerful testimony of his own experience and awe-inspiring life journey quickly turned into a monologue that went on for about five minutes. And then another five minutes. And it included some lecturing on the identities of other people, identities he didn’t claim himself, and why they identified that way. A few people tried to interject and share their own well-informed opinions or perspectives but he just spoke louder and drowned them out. He was dominating.
Another time, I was discussing my graduate studies with another man. I’m pursuing a self-designed interdisciplinary degree, with a specialization in identity development and change theory. This older man paused for a moment and then proceeded to lecture me at length on the merits and drawbacks of my choice of study. It went on for about 15 minutes. I hadn’t asked his perspective and wasn’t particularly interested in his opinions, but I didn’t have a choice. He was dominating.
Once, while troubleshooting how better to ignite a small campfire, a man “helped” me by explaining the step-by-step process he used to build a fire. When I tried to interject that I’d lived in an apartment with a wood-burning stove in my early 20s and knew quite well what I was doing but just needed a minute to problem-solve, he cut me off and repeated the same instructions–completely ignoring my competency and familiarity with the process. Had he stopped to ask where I was stuck and if I actually needed any help, it would have made a world of difference to our exchange.
Contributing wisdom and perspective is a gift we give of ourselves to share with others. When asked, it’s extremely gratifying to offer support, encouragement and inspiration by sharing stories from our lives and the knowledge we’ve gained along the way. And wow, is it ever helpful when we have an area of expertise that someone desperately needs. Is there a better feeling than being able to jump in with an anecdote, the title of a movie or the solution to a problematic equation? It’s fun to be helpful and know the answer to something.
It’s another thing, entirely, to assume others don’t know or aren’t able to reach the answer themselves. It’s another to assume they actually want to hear what we have to say, simply because we want to say it. This is when we’ve gone from contributing to dominating.
This happens when we begin speaking and don’t consider that the person they are talking to is equally as informed, competent and intelligent. This happens when people forget to pause, ask questions and elicit what others know and need to know. This happens when I dominate a conversation rather than contribute to it.
As I strive to engage in fair and fulfilling exchanges with all people I encounter, I find myself frustrated whenever I experience someone dominating a conversation. It’s frustrating when it happens to me, because I don’t enjoy power struggles in conversation, and it’s even more frustrating when I experience men doing it with other people. Most frustrating of all is when I experience myself doing it.
When I catch myself in a rant, I stop myself and ask the person, “are you finding this helpful?” or “did I actually answer your question?” or even better, “would my input be helpful?” I enjoy the process of asking and allowing the person to decide whether or not my opinion is valuable.
Self-expression is a wonderful thing and essential to our health and happiness. Dominating doesn’t work because it elevates one voice or opinion over others and silences those who typically get less airtime, in general. It leaves the impression that there is “a truth” instead of many truths.
What works best is when we can generate an interaction that allows each person to do it in ways that leaving them feeling empowered, heard and validated. Dominating a conversation leaves a void whereas contributing to a conversation with our opinion is a gift.
—Photo chubby soapbox/Flickr
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