Social intelligence – post #2 – Be sensitive to how long you talk in conversations

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I recently came back from a vacation. Several friends at the church asked me how the trip went. My response was too lengthy. They were just being kind…they weren’t that interested in the details of my trip.  

I recently had a phone conversation with a friend from the past. I asked him to give me an update on his life. Soon, I put the phone down on my desk and continued to work. His answer was just too detailed and much of the detail was irrelevant.

I recently asked a friend about his medical condition. Ten minutes later he was still telling me. (I exaggerate.) 

On the other extreme, my eight-year-old grandson tends to speak in monosyllables. “Ben, how was your day?” —“Good.” “What did you do” “Played” I’m teaching him to talk more. 

Let’s analyze this together. What’s happening in each of these situations?

First, we need to understand the purpose of polite conversation starters. When someone asks “how are you doing” they’re being courteous; they probably just want to gently start a conversation. They may want to know, sort of, how you’re doing, but not too much information. A short, two or three sentence response is adequate, then reciprocate by asking “how are you doing?”

Secondly, I think we often overestimate how much detail people want or need to hear. If I ask about your surgery, I don’t need to know what the hospital food was like, just tell me if the surgery was successful.

There are times when longer and more detailed responses are appropriate. If I’m having lunch with a friend and we have an hour to talk, we can go deep on some topics. Though, even in this setting, I’d rather hear a little about many aspects of his life than too much about a few areas. 

The other extreme is to not talk enough. My wife calls me the king of brevity. I am a person of few words; sometimes I need to talk more.

I want to train myself to quickly assess the purpose and parameters of conversations. I want to learn to give short, concise responses that tell enough but not too much. I want to balance my conversations so that each person involved gets equal time to talk. And at times, I need to talk more.

I want to exhibit social intelligence in my conversations. 

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14 Replies to “Social intelligence – post #2 – Be sensitive to how long you talk in conversations”

  1. Don, I know I talk too much and give too much detail. I’m working on it. Thanks for the reminder.
    Thanks for all you do!

    1. Bill, thank for being transparent. We all on a learning-journey regarding appropriate and effective communication. Keep at it.
      Take care, Don.

  2. I concur! Now my question is, “How to we ask the long-winded answer who will be offended or get angry if you try to interrupt them?” I find myself in this situation daily and it robs me of my time working. (not a family member)

    1. Hi Keith. Thanks for responding. With long-winded people, I try to find a time to interrupt and take the conversation in a different direction. It’s hard to due, and often abrupt, but it works. Take care, Don.

  3. I suspect Americans may be more talkative than Brits. Here you can ask someone how they are and they will say “Fine”. However, you have to detect tone as actually this may be far from the truth but it’s easier than having to explain.
    Don, your friends might be of an older generation and, therefore, find their health is deteriorating and this can become the focus of their lives. Their week can become taken up with medical appointments. Rather than bore people, I tend to say that I am as well as other people my age. If they really want to know, they can ask more. A good way of checking back with them is to say “How long have you got?”
    Be thankful you are still so engaged with the world and can interest your listeners and readers.

    1. Angela, as always, your comments are appropriate and insightful.
      Yes, as I age, medical issues are more present. I love your phrase “I am as well as other people my age.”
      I hope you are well. Are you retired yet?

      1. Beginning to enjoy retirement. My paid working life ended on 30th March 2023 and, praise God, two very competent colleagues were able to change roles to cover my retirement and I could go knowing the job was in safe hands. I have since taken on a volunteer role using some of the skills I acquired in my work life and it has kept my brain ticking along, learning a couple of new software systems and interacting with a whole host of new people. I now feel ready to face winter with many new avenues to explore.

        1. Angela, I’m so happy for you and proud of you for completing a meaningful professional life and now entering retirement. You deserve this season of life. I like the thought “live ’till you die” and you’re on that path. Stay curious, keep learning, be active. I hope someday we can meet.

    1. Casey, thanks for taking the time to respond. I do hope my posts are beneficial. How and what are you doing these days? Don

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