By: Maralee McKee
Today we have a reader’s question about how to make a great impression in a conversation. Specifically, a conversation with multiple topics occurring at once.
Ever been there?
It’s great knowing how to handle multiple conversations at once with skill and ease, because it’s par for the course for our everyday interactions. Each time we enter a conversation and there’s more than one person in our general vicinity, we more often than not find ourselves in the middle of not one, but multiple discussions.
After reading today’s question, see whether you relate to this blog family member as much as I do:
What To Do When More Than One Person at a Time Is Talking
Love your blog!
I have a couple of burning questions about how to handle conversations when you’re in a group of people and multiple topics are swirling around you. For instance, when four or five people are in a car or a small conference room (this happens almost weekly before our manager meetings) and someone begins a conversation and another joins in, how do you handle it when a third person begins a totally different topic, and you’re already involved in the first conversation?
Another situation: place five or more people at a table, and how do you deal with the person on one side of you talking to apparently anyone who will listen (as are some of the others)? You know the type: no real eye contact, just sweeping glances at anyone seated nearby and within hearing range. What if you’re trying to hear and converse with someone a bit down the table and you keep getting interrupted?
I feel I’m invisible when this happens, but I also feel like I’ve hurt people’s feelings when I tell them I can’t talk to them right now. I’d appreciate any tips you have for me.
Katy Lynn P.
It’s clear that you want to make sure no one feels slighted by your lack of attention. That’s gracious and others-centered, Katy Lynn. You’re also very right! It’s impossible to hold more than one conversation at a time.
Here’s what you can say and do to handle multiple conversations with polish and help make sure no one feels left out.
The Top 5 Tips for Handling Multiple Conversations!
Please note: The guidelines dealing with conversations around dining tables are meant more for adult meals or gatherings at your home, not a family dinner.
1. At a table of six or more persons (sometimes even fewer), multiple conversations are to be expected. Focus your conversation mostly with the person directly on your left and right. In the old days, they use to do what they called “turn the table.” The hostess would turn to speak to the person on her right during the first course, then to the person on her left for the second course. Back and forth, everyone would “turn” the conversation to focus on the person sitting on the opposite side with each course. When at a boardroom table, of course, there aren’t any courses served, so you just try to divide your time equally between the persons on either side of you if you can’t bring them both into the same conversation.
2. We’re not nearly as formal of a society anymore. You won’t see “turning the table” put into strict practice. The skill is still a great one. I use it all the time! Why? People love receiving undivided attention, and that’s what this practice gifts your tablemates with.
3. Unless someone at the table asks you a direct question, forget about trying to speak to someone several seats away from you. To do so, the people between you have to bend back in their seat a little to allow you to make eye contact with the person you’re talking to. It’s awkward at best, and in order to hear each other, everyone has to raise their voices. All of a sudden your fun adult gathering shares its decibel level with a sixth-grade lunch room!
4. Anytime someone by you is speaking to everyone and no one in particular, stop them with kindness by inviting them to join your conversation. “Samantha, I know you were asking if anyone saw the new Sandra Bullock movie, and I want to talk about that, too. Janice and I are talking about inexpensive vacations we could plan for our family this summer. Do you know of any?” After your conversation about the vacation ideas runs its course, say something like, “Now, what were you saying about the Sandra Bullock movie?”
You’ve just accomplished three great things.
A) You brought Samantha into your group. Everyone appreciates being invited in!
B) You didn’t interrupt your conversation with Janice.
C) You had the next conversation idea (the Sandra Bullock movie) already in the pipeline.
5. If someone asks you a direct question while you’re talking with someone else, say to the person you’re talking to something like, “I apologize Jackson, Laurel is trying to get my attention.” Then turn your attention to Laurel, give her the gift of your full attention (smile, eye contact, leaning in to hear her even if you don’t need to lean in to hear her) and say nicely, “I apologize, Laurel. Jackson and I are talking. Is it urgent, or can I get back to you? I do want to talk to you!”
If the conversation you’re having with Jackson isn’t private, invite Laurel to join the two of you. Bring her up to speed in a sentence or two, and then when the topic that Jackson and you were having runs its course, the three of you can tackle Laurel’s topic (or Jackson can excuse himself if he chooses).
Give these tips a try, and whether you are at a table, driving a car, in a boardroom, or waiting outside with all the other moms at your children’s third-grade classroom door for pick-up, you’ll earn the reputation of a gracious, inviting leader and friend who shines in any conversation, even the crowded ones!
Until Next Time
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Until next time, keep doing what only you can do. Be a light in the dark by being you…at your best!
Blessings to you and yours,