Performance Communication , Workplace Communication

How to Get a Word In Edgewise With a Conversation Dominator

How to Get a Word In Edgewise With a Conversation Dominator

conversation dominator

Conversation Dominators. We all know at least one. It’s the woman at work who only asks how you’re doing so she can jump in and tell you how she’s doing. It’s that guy next door who has to let you know all about his son’s great accomplishments in sports, but never asks about even ONE of your kids.

There are several ways to deal with Conversation Dominators. The method you choose will depend on your willingness to be assertive and your goals for the situation. If the Conversation Dominator is a close friend, you might choose differently than if the Conversation Dominator was a person you didn’t like and with whom you had no interest in continuing a relationship.

Let the Conversation DOMINATOR know you (or others) need some of the spotlight.

If you want to be assertive and direct in dealing with a Conversation Dominator, you could 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.”

If the Conversation Dominator is in a meeting or other group setting, you could address the issue on-the-spot by saying, “Amy, you have some really great ideas on how we can fund the project. Thank you for sharing them. I want to be sure we explore all our options, so (turning to the group) what other ideas does anyone have?”

Stand up for yourself when a Conversation Dominator interrupts you.

Even if a Conversation Dominator agrees to try not to dominate conversations, we have to realize that the behavior isn’t something that began overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight. Therefore, we need to be prepared to stop the behavior as or before it occurs. If a Conversation Dominator interrupts you to take over a conversation, you could say, “Excuse me. I’d like to finish explaining my idea and then I’d be happy to listen to yours.” The key to this approach is consistency. You have to step up every time a Conversation Dominator interrupts you. If you only say something one out of 10 times, the “correction” isn’t effective and won’t help change behavior.

Become a Conversation Dominator yourself.

A less direct approach would be to become a mini Conversation Dominator yourself. For example, when the Conversation Dominator takes a breath to tell you about the next accomplishment on his kid’s list of accomplishments, use the opportunity to jump in and say, That’s so awesome, my daughter Kelsey just. . .” and then grab your fair share of the conversation. Although not as assertive or direct as option 1 above, it can sometimes get the job done. The result will likely be one of two things. The Conversation Dominator may get the hint and allow you some “air time,” or the Conversation Dominator will get annoyed because he or she can’t share the stage and will move on to talking to others who allow the domination to occur.

Disengage from the conversation.

If you’re not willing to take a more assertive approach, another passive approach would be to subtly disengage from the conversation. Stop saying, “uh, huh,” break eye contact and look elsewhere, or start doing something else. If you’ve been trapped by a Conversation Dominator in the hallway or a meeting room, turn sideways from him or her and look intently in the direction you’d like to be going. You can also try taking longer pauses between your comments, such as “uh (pause) huh.” This will cause a disconnect in the conversation and may make the Conversation Dominator uncomfortable.

You could also be more direct by jumping in when the Conversation Dominator pauses to take a breath, or interrupt politely and say, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have to head to my 10 o’clock meeting,” or “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’ve got to get back to my desk to finish a report,” Then just say good bye and walk away.

Finally, a special appeal to Conversation Dominators: If you want to build and maintain balanced and happy work and personal relationships, set a goal of letting others have the stage in conversations. 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 domination 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.


If you’d like to learn more about being a more assertive communicator with Conversation Dominators and others, check out my book, Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done. 

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