Identifying—and Using—Your Conversational Style

It’s fun to take online quizzes, learn our personality type, figure out what your true calling is, who your friends should be, even learn where your Meyers-Briggs type would be happiest living. Now, if only there were a quiz for identifying conversational style.

The way we use conversation, just how much we value it and use it is unique to us. Just as everyone has different senses of humor, unique fears and one-of-a-kind fascinations, we all use “talk” differently. A pause for one person may feel like an awkward silence to another. Rapid-fire dialogue is fun for some; others feel steamrolled by it. The differences in how we talk and express ourselves—and our expectations for how others should respond—have a huge impact on our lives. The different styles of communication can make the difference between coming across as supportive or annoying or even downright rude.

This week I sat down with renowned professor, author and expert Dr. Deborah Tannen. She is the University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University and author of many books and articles about how the language of everyday conversation affects relationships, best known for You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly four years. This month we’ll be taking a deep dive into Dr. want to be asked work and what makes it so incisive and unique.

Awareness is Step One

Dr. Tannen suggests just asking. Since people send different messages, it’s important to be clear that you want to talk about talking. If you feel comfortable, you can even start a conversation on the topic of conversational styles, then try to define yours. Hearing that information might be all a friend or relative needs to adjust their own behavior.

Asking Questions

The act of asking is usually the first step in starting a conversation—“how are you”, “what’s new”. But sometimes, we, especially if we are experiencing something as emotional as a divorce, don’t want to answer—or even be asked. That’s why when we’re the listeners, it’s important to understand what the other person’s style is. If they don’t answer, avoid you or immediately change the subject, they likely don’t want to be asked.

Activities vs. Talk

Sometimes friends just need to “be” there. That means simply being present, not digesting information, commiserating or giving advice. Simply being. That can look like a hike, a movie, a bike ride, the ballet, a shopping spree. These activities are often “no comment required” which can be perfect if you don’t feel like talking about a difficult situation.

Acknowledge Good Intentions

No one wants to make you feel uncomfortable. After all, these are your friends and family and they want to support you. In fact, hearing that they make you uncomfortable might be not just news to them but also embarrassing. So start with kindness and acknowledge that you know they mean well (they do!) and then let them know how they can help.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.