Written by Susan Hanks

Voices

Careful Whisper

Ever found yourself stuck in a one-way conversation? When it comes to getting a word in edgeways, says Susan Hanks, it pays to play it quiet.

Untitled-1I’ve always been a softly spoken person. I don’t like to shout, or be shouted at. I like to think I can be clear and concise without displaying my tonsils. But here’s the thing: when your decibels are dulcet, some people assume that you have nothing of interest to say. They see it as their cue to fill a room with their own stream of consciousness. I have an acquaintance (I can no longer call him a friend as all the give comes from my bank of kindness and is deposited in his with no interest accrued) that speaks with such force and volume that I often doubt he’s addressing just me. I have wondered if he’s been appointed to share every single one of his thwarted thoughts with whoever is in the same building. Or postcode.

Now, I’m aware that by nature, some of our dials will be set higher than others, and I’m not for one minute suggesting that all people who project well are gobshites. My problem is this:

Some folk have forgotten the art of a two-way conversation. They deliver only monologues, leaving no room on stage for any other performers. Just as an actor waits for their co-star to finish before delivering their lines, I sometimes find myself surrounded by non-actors who do the same. You know the type: not really listening to what you or others in a group have to say but simply sitting in wait for an opportunity to butt in. Or worse, butting in anyway.

I’ve wondered if this bullishness is symptomatic of social media; the sort of sites that fill us with self-importance and make us believe that someone is always listening, or waiting to listen to what we have to say. That our opinions are paramount. That every passing thought must be delivered as if it were a party political broadcast. Laborious indeed.

“They deliver only monologues, leaving no room on stage for any other performers”.

Muting such offenders online is easy. But when it comes to “real life”, and responding to a tedious monologist with, “Oh, shut the fridge door” is deemed impolite (apparently), I have found two solutions.

The first is having my own radio show. I decide when I’ve finished talking and I always let myself finish a sentence. I’ll ask you directly what you think and, because I’m a nice person and a good listener (and because of Ofcom regulations), I’ll pay close attention to your answer.

The second way to fix the problem of those who beat your eardrums without style or rhythm has taken me many more years to master than the media training required for the first. It is simply to play to your strengths. Give them the silent treatment. If they start to listen, then you know it has worked. And if they don’t, it has also worked, in that it’s just given you the answer to the question, “Do I want to continue attempting to converse with this person on a regular basis?”

It’s not just boyfriends that can be dumped, you know.

You can put this to the test over a meal. If your “friend’s” plate of food is full and cold when yours is empty and in the process of digestion, the chances are that they have bored on and on about themselves for longer than anyone has the patience to listen to.

An example: I recently went on a date with a man who monologued his way through my glass of red. He opened his speech by informing me of the exact mileage and minutes taken up by his daily commute. Then he voiced his opinion on “annoying chirpy bloody radio people” (eeeek!) to which I interjected with, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t reveal my job at this stage”.

This was his reply, word for word: “You’re gonna tell me now you work in radio. Oh well. You can tell me about that in a bit.”

Truth was, I couldn’t have uttered a single syllable at that moment even if he’d drawn breath and given me a chance to reply. He just considered it more important to our mutual moment in time that I understood precisely how annoying his journey was.

Oh I understood annoying all right.

That night reinforced two things for me. One: the fact that the art of conversation requires creative input from all involved. And two: that mercifully, when I really need to, I can still run in heels.

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Written by Susan Hanks

Presenter on Moorlands Radio 103.7FM Drive Time, weekdays 4-7pm. Join Susan in 'shaking what ya mamma gave ya' for the daily Derriere Dance. Rhythm/leotard not essential.