We all know at least one. It’s that guy who only asks how you’re doing so he can jump in and tell you how he’s doing. It’s that gal who has to let you know all about the great things her son is doing, but never asks about even ONE of your kids. I call them Stage Hogs. If you’re more polite than me, you can refer to them as “Conversation Dominators.”
I was at lunch with a friend recently who was lamenting that she seemed to be a magnet for these people. She related several examples; from being cornered in a grocery store aisle to mistakenly sitting down next to one at a sporting event. Her biggest question was how to make it stop.
There are a couple of ways to deal with Stage Hogs. The method you choose will depend on your willingness to be assertive and your goals for the situation. If the Stage Hog is a close friend, you might choose differently than if the Stage Hog was a person you didn’t like and with whom you had no interest in continuing a relationship. Here are the options:
1. Let the Stage Hog know you want some of the spotlight. If I wanted a continued relationship with the Stage Hog, I would say,
“Amy, I enjoy our friendship and our conversations. There are times though, when I feel like I’m doing most of the listening and I don’t get to share with you what’s going on in my life. I don’t mean to criticize, but I wanted you to know how I felt because I value our friendship.”
Then I’d see where the conversation went from there. I’d also be prepared to let the other person know what I wanted, such as telling her directly that I’d appreciate being asked about my kids and for her to really listen. I might also use a little humor and say, “Would it be okay if I let you know when I’d like to have my turn to talk?”
2. Turn the tables on the Stage Hog. A more passive approach, possibly bordering on passive aggression, would be to become a mini Stage Hog yourself. For example, when the Stage Hog takes a breath to tell you about the next accomplishment on her kid’s list of accomplishments, use the opportunity to jump in and say, That’s so awesome, my daughter Kelsey just. . .” and then take over the conversation. Although not as assertive or direct as option 1 above, it can sometimes get the job done. Stage Hogs don’t like to converse with other Stage Hogs because they don’t like to compete for “air time.”
3. Communicate your disinterest nonverbally. If you’re not willing to take a more assertive approach, another passive approach would be to subtly disengage in the conversation. Stop saying, “uh, huh,” break eye contact and look elsewhere, or start doing something else. If you’ve been trapped by a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn sideways from him or her and look intently at all your rice options. If you do continue to converse, longer pauses between your comments, such as “uh (pause) huh,” will cause a disconnect in the conversation and will likely make the Stage Hog uncomfortable. Although it breaks all the rules of politeness, it will likely result in the Stage Hog moving on to something or someone else.
4. Tell the Stage Hog that you don’t have time to talk. Take an opportunity when the Stage Hog pauses to take a breath and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I need to go, I’ve got to be home by 3.” Then just say good bye and walk away. If you don’t really have somewhere else to be, you can still say you need to go. Everyone has something they could be doing that’s probably more important than being hogtied by a Stage Hog. If you have trouble lying, try this. Think of something you’d rather be doing. Got something? Now that’s your reason to leave.
5. Avoid the Stage Hog altogether. When all else fails, limit your exposure to Stage Hogs. Don’t accept her lunch invitation or sit by him at your kid’s sporting event; even if it means he has to sit by himself. If you see a Stage Hog in the grocery store aisle, turn around and skip that aisle for now. Although I’m not a big advocate of avoidance, it is an option in some situations.
Finally, a special appeal to Stage Hogs: As a professional speaker, I have no problem taking the stage. I have to fight the urge sometime to dominate the conversation. I literally have to bite my tongue. However, seeing the negative impact just one Stage Hog can have on a conversation, and experiencing the disengagement of everyone in a group when a Stage Hog takes over, I find it a lot easier to keep my mouth shut. Instead of being the one talking all the time, make a concerted effort to engage others by asking them open-ended questions and really listening to their responses. Don’t interrupt, or try to “one up” people, just acknowledge them and then ask another question. Your stage-hogging tendencies can be curbed with a little bit of effort and some basic courtesy and concern for others. You’ll also gain the benefit of better relationships as people learn how much you really care.