How Does One Politely End A Conversation With Someone Who Refuses To Stop Talking? | When we find ourselves in these situations, it would be nice to have a go-to strategy for getting out. These situations are undoubtedly influenced by the personalities of the people involved, as well as your relationship with them. This makes selecting a strategy difficult, especially if you don’t want to offend someone important to you, such as your boss or aunt.
Carsta Simon of Oslo and Akerhus University and William Baum of UC Davis use Skinnerian conditioning principles to analyze conversational exchanges between communication partners in a new study. The international team decided to investigate how reinforcement patterns create and maintain these uneven patterns in which one person dominates an interaction, viewing communication in terms of “verbal behavior.”
“Humans’ talking occurs as a stream whose functional units vary greatly in duration,” the authors write (p. 259). They believe that because organisms constantly make decisions based on the reinforcement they receive for their choices, it should be possible to “discover lawful relations in people’s communicative exchanges in conversations” (p. 259). In other words, do people dominate conversations because we allow them to? And could we change the reinforcers we give them so they will choose to stop talking?
Normally, organisms, including ourselves, will adapt our behavior to the available reinforcers. Undermatching occurs when they continue to engage in behavior that does not receive reinforcement. Instead, you could “overmatch,” or respond at a faster rate than would be expected in favor of the option that produces the desired result.
Previously, researchers used this approach to investigate how what people said in an experimental setting changed depending on whether they were reinforced (agreed with) by their conversation partners. The data from this study did not consistently follow the matching principle’s predictions.
Nonverbal behavior, as well as verbal behavior, can enter into the equation with human speech. You can express agreement by nodding as well as saying it, and this may influence how the person speaking to you behaves. When your conversation partner is particularly long-winded, you might hope that looking away, shuffling your feet, or moving toward the door (if possible) will send out signals to stop talking. However, you may be unknowingly sustaining the reinforcement in other ways that you are unaware of.
In this study, the international collaborative team tested their model on a group of 9 native German speakers who were paired with two research “confederates,” who pretended to be other participants but were actually part of the experimental design. The confederates were young adult women who resembled each other, and the discussion was led by a “moderator” who was actually the experimenter (a male). The actual participants’ verbal behavior was compared based on whether the confederates agreed with their statements and whether they looked at them while offering supportive responses.
How Does One Politely End A Conversation With Someone Who Refuses To Stop Talking?
The amount of speech uttered by the participant had no relationship to whether the confederates provided reinforcement (i.e. agreement) with or without an accompanying eye gaze, contrary to their prediction. The length of the confederate’s utterances was all that mattered in predicting the length of the participants’ responses. Participants were more concerned with how much the confederates talked than with whether they offered agreement.
“The participant was trying to draw the more taciturn confederate into the conversation, perhaps out of courtesy,” the authors wrote (p. 273). This is the polar opposite of what happens when you wish someone would speak less, not more. It appears that how long you end up speaking matters less than whether you offer agreement just to get the conversation over with or avert your gaze from the other person’s gaze.
Perhaps it occurred to you that, in addition to being somewhat artificial, this experimental setup involved two rather than three people. When you’re trying to get away from a single conversation partner, the dynamics may be different. Furthermore, the situation differs from real life because the confederates were following a script in terms of what they could and could not say (i.e. they could only offer approval or not). You may believe that if you are the quiet one in a group of three, no one will notice whether or not you contribute to the conversation as long as the other two do all of the talking.
Note: How Does One Politely End A Conversation With Someone Who Refuses To Stop Talking?
Given these considerations, there appears to be value in this meticulously controlled approach to studying people’s speech, or “verbal behavior.” Because you undoubtedly want people to like you, such as bosses and beloved family members, it’s unlikely that you’d disagree with them. Fortunately, the findings of this behaviorally based study indicate that this will have no effect on how much they speak. You should also avoid interrupting a lengthy monologue. According to the Simon-Baum study, people will speak less when they notice that others in the conversation are unusually quiet. Resisting the urge to interrupt, even to offer agreement, may be the most effective way of signaling that the other person should leave.
As I mentioned, being able to go with the flow of a conversation is essential for maintaining healthy relationships. You can signal your desire to end the conversation by ceasing your contributions to it if you want to stop the other person’s flow. You can still have a fulfilling relationship with verbose friends and relatives, but the flow will be more evenly balanced.