The Most Irritating Conversation Habit and How to Change It

The quickest way to strangle interaction in a conversation

Fingers marked up to look like people quarelling
There are many conversation habits that can inhibit or even stop others from wanting to interact with you. When you constantly interrupt, listen to point out more errors than good points, or fiddle with your jewelry, keys, or parts of your body while someone is talking readily come to mind.

The worst habit of all is assuming the person or group you are speaking to doesn’t know what you are talking about.

Recently the word “mansplaining” has become popular. This occurs when a man mistakenly assumes a woman does not have the knowledge to understand the concepts presented and then explains in painstaking detail. Although the frequency of this happening depends on the culture, many studies have found woman and minorities are often interrupted, ignored, and talked down to, whether the actions are intentional or unconscious. Men can mansplain to men as well.

I have known women who have “womansplained” both men and women, too. Anytime your tone or actions feel condescending or patronizing, you trigger bad feelings and miscommunication.

You may have done this when you had a legitimate desire to share the foundational or circumstantial information that prove your point. However, if the people you are talking to have been exposed to similar material or have had experiences in line with yours, your explanations will bore them, anger them, or cause them to disconnect with you.

Whether you believe people need the backstory or their lack of experiences will limit their perspective, you are wasting time that could be spent on having a meaningful discussion on the topic.

If you want a decision made in a meeting, it is good practice to give people a write up they can read before you meet. Then when face to face, you can engage by answering their questions instead of reading every bullet point.

Starting a conversation

Don’t start by telling people why you need to explain something or providing unsolicited data. Start with defining the outcome you want to achieve. Do you want a decision made? Do you want them to consider a particular point of view? Do you want them to understand why you have made specific choices? Let them know what you want them to do with the information you are about to provide.

Then, before you launch into your points, plans, and stories, ask people what they need to hear from you to provide you with the outcome you requested. They will be more open to your ideas if you speak in response to their needs instead of giving them information before they ask for it. The steps are:

1. Here is what I want from our time together (your desired outcome)…
2. What do you want or need to know?

Then, be curious when they tell you what they need so your information emerges as a two-way discussion.

Having the right answers is more effective than being the one who knows what is right before the questions are asked.

Moving the Conversation to a Desired Result

If the conversation is in process and you have a strong opinion, inserting yourself as the expert who must be heard can cause resistance to your ideas. When you feel the urge to explain your position, follow these steps:

1. Ask permission to share your thoughts (which means you recognize when your thoughts aren’t welcome)
2. Summarize your main points
3. Provide details if asked

Being the smartest one in the room is exhausting to you and everyone else.

Effective communication does not mean you delivered your ideas well. To be effective, your words must be received and understood. If you turn people off, they won’t hear what you say or they will interpret your words through a negative filter.

To achieve your results, it is better to assume people know what you are talking about and then ask, with caring curiosity, what they want explained. Coming across as considerate will help them feel comfortable enough to admit they lack information. Then they might be curious to hear what you know.

If you would like to talk about leadership skills training and coaching focused on improving emotional connection and having meaningful conversations, please reach out to me at

Marcia Reynolds


2 thoughts on “The Most Irritating Conversation Habit and How to Change It”

  1. This is so perfect, Marcia. I wonder how I can translate this to the more casual. social conversations where I am not so focused on an outcome but just interested in having a balanced, back and forth, engaging and interesting conversation. I’ll be thinking about that!

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