Getting a Word in Edgewise

Getting a Word in Edgewise

It happens without fail - at some point, somewhere, you will encounter someone who talks non-stop and monopolizes the entire conversation.  You don't want to be rude (or if you do, problem solved!), but how long is long enough to listen?  

The solution is to get a word in edgewise.  Much like joining a dovetailed edge in a woodworking project, you find a way to wedge in a word during the monopolizer's breathing pause.

Deciding to Break In

You are at a networking event and you want to move to another person to chat, or you are in a conversation with a good friend who is a little carried away, or your client is talking and you’re trying to determine how you can help her focus.  Or, you are at a family gathering where one person is telling story after story after story!

Assess the situation and what should be accomplished.  For example: 

  • Networking events are for networking, not for meeting one person and having a single conversation for the entire event.
  • Does your friend need advice or help?  Or is she excitedly gossiping about something you have no desire to hear?
  • Client conversations can be friendly, but need to stay on track to be productive. 
  • Is everyone else listening to Uncle Harold's stories as enthused about them as he is?  Or does he have an audience of bored family members?

Once you've assessed the situation as a whole, confirm your decision by looking to other participants.   

If you notice the following things happening, consider it a call to rescue:

  • You notice you are tuning out and not following the monologue.
  • Others participating in the conversation are fidgeting, too.
  • Even the "uh-huhs" have ceased.

Taking the firm stance of breaking in to end or redirect the person talking will be a welcome act of kindness.  Not only for those listening, but for the speaker as well.  Once he realizes what was happening, he'll be relieved that the lengthy discourse was halted.

Edgewise Moves

You've decided an interruption is necessary for someone else or yourself to get a word in.  Now it's time to choose the final outcome.

  • Do you want to stay with this person or group and change the conversation topic?
  • Or do you want to exit the conversation?

Once you have your choice, follow the 3-step Etiquette-ful Edge-in:

  1. Maintain eye contact with the person you're interrupting.
  2. Be courteous when you break in and avoid sarcasm.
  3. Give the person an "out" by building in the next step.

If your decision is to leave the conversation, make a kind closure as you exit.  Even if you're annoyed, try not to let it show. 

When You Get a Word In

You've found a moment at which you can enter and speak.  Now what do you say as you follow the three steps above?

To a friend: 
“Megan, I’m very sorry you keep having to deal with this break-up of Tom, and I want you to keep me up on progress.  There’s something else I want to mention ….”

Acquaintance at a networking event:
“John, thank you for catching me up on your last year of travel.  Could we could move on over to the food table, as there are some people over there I’d like to visit with, too?”

To a client:
"Phil, I have noted these points which you’ve also mentioned in email.  If you were to focus on the one, most important concern you have at this point, what would that be?”

To a family member:
"Jill, you know how much we all love you!  Sometimes you do go on a bit, and that’s great, but let's find out from Aunt June how her new puppy is doing.”

There's no need to feel badly about breaking into someone's uninvited monologue.  Conversation is meant to be a two-way street, with all participants listening and speaking in turn.  Even good listeners do not remain silent.  They ask questions, insert information, and give commentary throughout the journey of the conversation. 

But if a good listener isn't allowed to do her job and keep the conversation moving, it's time to get a word in edgewise.

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