Are your conversational habits costing you dates?

by Dating Goddess on June 29, 2009

I vet potential dates via the phone before meeting. Why? Because if I don’t enjoy the conversation on the phone, it’s pretty much guaranteed I won’t enjoy the face-to-face. I know some people are uncomfortable on the phone, but in this day and age, if you can’t converse comfortably whether on the phone or in person, you’re not for me. In the last week I’ve had four potential suitors call me. Only one received an invitation for a repeat conversation.

Being a conscious conversationalist is critical to a long-term relationship — at least for me. Since I’ve encountered so many people who are conversationally challenged, I’m assuming it is as much of an issue for women as it is for the men I vet. Since it is doubtful your friends will volunteer that you are an inept conversationalist, as a public service I thought I’d delineate some of the most common conversational culprits.

  • Taking most of the air time. A conscious conversationalist will be aware of approximately how much of the talk time she is taking and when it begins to feel like they’ve monopolized the conversation, turn the focus on the other person. If you don’t know much about the other person, you can simply say, “I’ve been talking non stop, and I really want to know about you. Tell me something that’s new or exciting in your life.”
  • Repeating yourself. If you aren’t paying enough attention to what you are saying that you repeat yourself, how much do you think the other person will feel you’re listening to them?
  • Turning the focus back to you. Last night a new potential suitor called. He regularly turned the conversation to himself. We were talking about the world’s awareness of US affairs. Since I hadn’t  shared much by this point, I said “When I was in Malaysia last summer, I was amazed at how many of my contacts watched the Democratic convention on CNN.” His next line was not, “What did you make of that?” or “What did they think of US politics?” or “What were you doing in Malaysia?” No. It was, “A friend has a manufacturing plant in Malaysia that makes dolls. He wants to hire me to do some work for him. Look it up at www.XXXXX.com.”
  • Not asking relevant follow-up questions. This same caller said he thought I was fascinating. Which I found odd because I had said barely 10 sentences after 30 minutes into the call. He could have found out about me by asking relevant follow-up questions to my comments, as I illustrated above. If both parties merely jump into a conversation with their own stories or thoughts, it’s as if two people are having sequential monologues. To really get to know someone’s thoughts, values, and opinions, you have to dig deeper into what they share.
  • Delving into unimportant details. Your conversation partner doesn’t need to know every detail of your story. Try to keep it pithy but still include relevant information. Most people could cut their chatter by half, if not 2/3 if they focused on just key elements to get their thought across. If someone wants more detail they’ll ask. Better to error on the side of pithiness.
  • Interrupting. When someone is talking, let them finish their story or thought. Of course, this is a challenge if they are going on and on and on about something of no interest to you. If you need to interrupt to clarify something, do so with, “I need to interrupt before you go on because I’m confused about…” You are interrupting to better understand what they are sharing, not to change the subject or focus the conversation back on you.
  • Not letting the other person answer your questions. If you ask a question and as soon as your conversation partner starts sharing, you interject, “That happened to me, too! Let me tell you about it…” you are showing you don’t really care to know about them.
  • Too many non sequiturs. If you can’t stay with the thread of the conversation and are continually changing the subject (often back to focusing on you), it is difficult to have an in-depth discussion. Yes, we all get reminded of something that is a little off the subject, and if you find your stream of consciousness takes you far afield, you can acknowledge that, “This is a tad off topic, but your comment reminded me of….” Or if you have more to share on the topic but your partner has gone on a tangent, simply say, “I had another thought I wanted to share on xxx….”
  • Short or curt answers. While I believe in being pithy, curt or short answers are not attractive. If you don’t want to talk about something, simply say, “I’d rather not go there right now.” or “I’ll tell you about that after we’ve gotten to know each other a bit better.”
  • Being unaware of what might be of interest to the listener. If you babble about things your listener probably doesn’t care about, then they lose interest not only in the conversation, but with developing a relationship with you. If your side of the dialog is filled with information about your children, grandchildren, first job, high school, your friends (and your friends’ children and grandchildren), you’ll soon lose your listener. Try to edit in your mind before spewing out whatever crosses your thoughts. Think, “Would this likely interest my listener?” and delete anything that you can’t say yes to, no matter how much interest it holds for you. Once someone knows and cares about you, they are more interested in the broader spectrum of your life. But not at first.
  • Boasting. If you are the hero of every story, it gets tedious to listen to you. If you are proud of something, you can start off with, “I’m so excited…” But to keep interjecting stories where you are the champion will earn you the title of bore.
  • Name dropping incessantly. This same caller told me how he had put up a Facebook page and a bunch of politicians had asked to be his friend. He named the politicians, none of whom I recognized. If you have to name drop regularly to show how important you are, you’re really telegraphing your insecurities.

We all have some poor conversational habits, myself included. The key is to get some honest feedback from those who care about you. Ask them to be candid with you. Show them the above list and ask if you are guilty of any of the items. And engage them to help you increase your awareness by saying something like “TMI (too much information)” if you start to go into unimportant details.

This will yield not only stronger friendships, but more dates with men who appreciate good conversation!

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Assessing Your AssetsWhat are your assets in dating? Is being a good conversationalist one of them? Find out more about how to be clear on your positive attributes in Assessing Your Assets: Why You’re A Great Catch.

Cathy Severson, publisher of RetirementLifeMatters.com and author of 7 Ingredients for a Satisfying Retirement interviewed DG recently for her site. Read the interview. 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha June 29, 2009 at 9:37 pm

I have experienced some of the above. Additionally, there have been a couple of guys who started talking to me as if they’ve known me for a long time with the way they were complaining about things. Come to think of it, there have been approx 4 guys who’ve done this over the years. I sit there dumbfounded, listening to a guy I’ve never met go on about something that was irritating him, without so much as asking me anything. I actually hung up on someone once in mid-sentence. I told my sister what I did and she laughed. I don’t recommend doing that but if I start feeling agony when I’m on the phone with you, you might get hung up on. But, I digress…

I have also been on the phone with the guy who monopolizes the conversation. I start feeling trapped like a caged animal and dont know how to end the conversation. I would like some training on how to get off the phone gracefully after 2 minutes.

Sylvia @ LoveABlackWoman.com June 30, 2009 at 4:35 am

i really enjoyed this article. I had 500 emails in my box and was almost tempted to delete this one because the subject line didn’t really tickle my fancy, but I’m sure glad I didn’t.

I would say I’m the receiver and giver of some of these and boy, do I have interupteeitus (Might have to tell Ms Piggle Wiggle to give me a double dose of her “cure.”)

Samantha June 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

I also think it’s about simply enjoying another person’s company. You just like being around them… that’s another part of it.

Eliza June 30, 2009 at 11:12 am

Thanks Dating Goddess for such a thorough, yet pithy overview of conservation dos and don’ts. This is useful not just for dating, but for enhancing overall communication.

Mitsy June 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I think most of us have experienced some problems in communication with dating. However, what stumps me more is when the conversation flows smoothly and we can spend hours talking and then the guy never calls again. I remember a particularly bad incident about 4-5 years ago. I had not been dating anyone in quite a long time, and my Mom actually set me up with her plumber who I sort of knew and thought was cute. I had called to get my sink fixed and he stayed a long time talking. We got along so well that I asked him if he wanted to come for dinner the following weekend and he said yes. We had a nice dinner, talked more and he mentioned leaving at 10 pm but stayed ANOTHER hour. At this point, I’m thinking that this is going well. Then, at 11:00, he says “this was nice..we’ll have to do it again sometime” and jumps up off the couch and out the door like I was going to grab him and kiss him. I was left yelling out the door….take care..give me a call sometime as I was completely flabbergasted to his behavior. In fact, if I had a videotape, it would have made a good Saturday Night Live skit because he acted like an awkward junior high kid in his escape. I felt like he came for the meal and that was it. I felt sort of used and very confused. After never receiving a bill for the sink repair, I made a couple calls to his place of business and was never able to talk to him. After finally getting the bill (which had been mailed to my “former” address), I go up in person and take the money. He was sitting there like a jackass and sort of mumbled something about not returning my call. I gave him the check and vowed to find someone else if I needed a plumbing or heating/cooling job done. What an A-hole. That is one incident that I never fully got over because I felt so incredibly insulted and disrespected by his behavior. He could have said he was busy if he didn’t want to have dinner with me, which would have been MUCH kinder than me knocking myself out to cook, clean and entertain for a man who was such a mouse.

Dating Goddess June 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Misty — you do have lots of stories of how horrible men have been to you!

My guess is he was probably dating someone and took up your offer on a lark. He might have even told her he’d be by around 10:00 (thus his announce leaving time), but was enjoying himself so stayed longer. Then when he saw he’d stayed an hour longer, he knew he’d have a hard time explaining why he was so late, to leapt out the door. If he wasn’t really serious with her, he’d see no problem enjoying the company of two women, so didn’t hesitate to accept your invitation.

Many men (and women, too) don’t know how to express themselves honestly and openly, so don’t condemn him for his ineptness. Just wish him well and be grateful you didn’t hit it off and you’d have to encounter his poor communication skills later after you’d gotten a bit more attached to him.

Mitsy June 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm

True, and he’s now married to a woman who is about 3 times his size and he’s got a kid with her and is raising her kid from a previous relationship. I think it’s the 2nd time he’s ended up raising someone else’s kid.

I’m pretty sure he was not seeing anyone at the time of our awkward dinner date. But, it’s HIS loss. Makes for an interesting story but I was incredibly hurt and dismayed at the time because I saw no reason for his behavior. Just goes to show that courteous and expected behavior cannot be expected when it comes to dating.

Samantha June 30, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I know this off topic, so I apologize and will be brief. Misti, I try to look at new encounters with dates as a time to observe, rather than have any hopes or expectations wrapped up in it. Approach it by thinking you’re the prize and see how it goes and how he behaves. If he doesn’t behave, don’t take that in. A thick skin when doing this dating stuff goes a long way.

Mitsy July 1, 2009 at 8:50 am

True, a thick skin goes a long way, but that’s something I don’t have even after this length of time and why I don’t want to go back to online dating because you sign up for more of this kind of disappointment when things don’t work out.

Mark July 3, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Mitsy, I think when we reach middle age, chances are overwhelmingly against things working out with any individual date, because we are set in our ways and the person we date is set in his or her ways.

We have to really want a permanent relationship, and be willing to compromise on a lot of the deal-breakers we have on our list to make something work.

And I don’t mean to call out Dating Goddess, but with as many dates with as many different men as she’s had, and nothing has worked out so far? Doesn’t it seem likely that she’s at least a significant part of the problem? It’s more like she’s giving advice on how not find someone, how not to have things work out.

Dating Goddess July 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Hi Mark:

Yes, I’ve had a lot of dates in the last 4.5 years. But if you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll know that in the beginning I was not dating to find The One as much as to find me — what I wanted after my 20-year marriage ended.

So when you ask “…has nothing worked out so far?” it depends on your definition of “worked out.” I’ve had several 6-month relationships, the last one broke up with me. Am I a significant part of the problem? As much as anyone who is clear on what they want, what they will compromise on and what they won’t. There have been plenty of men who thought I was The One, but I didn’t return their ardor. Should I have settled for a man who I knew I wouldn’t be happy with? I doubt you’d think that wise.

Am I being too picky? Because at this stage of my life I don’t HAVE to be with a man to be happy, I want to be with a man I will be happy with. If a man is self-absorbed, oafish, immature, or emotionally unavailable, I will be much happier continuing my quest than to be with someone who will drive me crazy — and not in a good way!

You’re right I’m giving advice on how not to find someone. I want my readers to find someone who they can be happy with long-term, not just a warm body with whom to go to the movies or have sex. If that’s all I wanted in a partner, I could have settled on my first post-divorce beau who tried several times to rekindle our relationship, but who had too many deal breakers about things I could not live with. So best to keep looking than to just hook up with someone who I knew I could never love.

Mitsy July 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

I might not have dated as many as Goddess has, but I agree about finding someone just for the sake of having someone to go out with. I’m also not so desperate that I’d settle for someone I truly was not interested in. There has to be “some” chemistry there for it to work. And when it comes to dealbreakers, you need to decide what is a real dealbreaker and what could be negotiated. For me, I had to learn some hard lessons on that. And learning it the first time prevents a second offense from happening again. I had let my dealbreaker list fall out of my consciousness and that allowed for some extreme heartbreak. The one guy, who was in the process of a divorce, left town without even calling me. Dealbreaker you don’t forget: DO NOT get involved with someone who is not totally divorced; in fact, don’t go out with them until they have some time as a single guy under their belt. Don’t be their rebound relationship. My last relationship was with a guy I did love (still do) but he turned out to have an alcohol addiction that proved to be too much for me to deal with. If he sought treatment and had so many months of sobriety under his belt, it MIGHT still work, but until then, I can’t wait for that to happen. My mistake was not learning much sooner that his alcohol use was not just a temporary “phase” and that it was a long-term problem which he refused (and still refuses) to seek treatment for. I don’t have a problem with someone drinking a beer or two, but I typically went for guys who didn’t drink at all (like myself) thinking that was one less obstacle to worry about. I never planned to fall in love with an alcoholic. Life just is not easy and if we never venture out, we never wind up with ANYONE to date. The trick is to filter out the bad apples before they’ve found a place in your heart. As most people know, that’s MUCH easier said than done.

carol July 11, 2009 at 7:08 am

communication is very important in a relationship especially for singles since there’s always a need to express ourselves clearly and put our thoughts in words. I totally agree with getting to know the person first by talking over the phone before finally going out with him or her, it’s a great way to assess the chemistry before proceeding in a relationship.

great post. loved it.

Liz July 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I totally agree with this pre-screening over the phone first and only will meet the person after we have had a phone conversation. You can find out a lot about a person in just a few minutes over the phone.

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