Thursday 23rd October, 2014

How do I avoid rambling in conversation?

If the person you are talking to walks away or appears to have ‘zoned out’ when you’re speaking to them in one-to-one conversation it may be helpful to ask yourself a few questions about why this has happened.

1. Is it all about you? If you are nervous they you may not have noticed that you are dominating the conversation. How to fix it: Notice when you have been talking for more than sixty seconds and take this as a cue to turn the spotlight into the other person in the conversation. When they turn the spotlight back onto you shine it back onto them as soon as you can. Everyone loves attention, but resist the temptation to keep it all to yourself.

2. Why do you need attention? A conversation is a two-way street. You may want to get something off your chest but think about what the other person in the conversation may need. Avoid launching into a 10-minute speech. It is very tiring to listen to and frustrating when you can’t get a word in edgeways.

3. Are you speaking to the right person? If the person you are speaking to seems not to be listening consider whether you are talking to the right person. It may be that you are assuming a level of privilege that the other person feels uncomfortable with. If you pick up signals that the other person is uncomfortable, switch the spotlight back onto them and give them a change to speak. They may wish to change the conversation or may have something on their minds that they would like to share.

4. Have they heard this one before? Are you guilty of off-loading the same old moans and groans onto your friends? They may listen to the same story or complaint two or three times out of politeness, but you can hardly blame them for disengaging if you continue to repeat yourself like a broken record. Change that record for a new one!

5. Can they fix it? If you have a problem, be it personal or professional, you may find it comforting to share it with someone. However, some people become very frustrated if they can’t help you fix the problem. If you sense the other person isn’t comfortable, wind up the conversation, switch the spotlight onto them or change the subject.

6. Are you listening? Are you hearing what the other person is saying and are you reading their body language and non-verbal cues. If someone has walked away from the conversation, chances are they were trying to give you a range of signals to tell you that they felt uncomfortable long before they took the drastic decision to walk away. Be alert to these signals and as soon as you spot them give the other person the opportunity to speak.

Think about the last disappointing or frustrating conversation you had. Write down when you felt the conversation begin to go wrong and how you felt. Ask yourself, were there verbal or non-verbal clues that I missed? Could I have been a better listener? What actions might I have taken to ensure a better outcome for both of us?

Next time you are in a conversation with this person, make a special effort to shine the spotlight of attention on them more frequently, keep an eye on their body language and if they seem uncomfortable allow them to close the conversation down or change the subject. Conversations need to be two-way. Work on bringing balance to your conversations and you will both benefit.

Learn more from this video…

Thumbnail image for video

Categories: Article, Attention, How to


  1. REPLY
  2. Julie Howell says:

    You’re most welcome. I also recommend a great book called ‘Blamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How to Fix Them’ by Rob Kendall. Great advice on how to manage what comes out your mouth!

  3. Susie says:

    Dear Julie

    Your blog is simply fantastic!

    I would like to ask you about behaviour during a job interview.

    Would you be able to advise me – how does one think on their feet and give a credible and structured answer to a wholly unexpected question? No mental rehearsal possible, the question’s totally out of the blue! Such a scenario makes me ramble without fail.

    Many-many thanks,

  4. Julie Howell says:

    Thank you, Susie. :)

    It’s my belief that you will conquer this concern as you come to realise that unexpected questions can be answered just as well as expected ones.

    I’ll explain what I mean by that…

    There are two types of questions.
    Type 1, is the type of question you’re asked a lot, such as ‘what is your name’ and ‘how are you’, etc. You never struggle to find the answer to this type of question because your answers are ‘at the front of your mind’. You answer them a lot so your brain has learned (rather, you’ve trained it!) to grab an answer very quickly from the front of your mind like the proverbial ‘low hanging fruit’. So the answer comes to you very quickly and feels easy. However, answering in this way can lead you to make mistakes at interview. Sometimes, your brain will ‘mis-hear’ or ‘misinterpret’ a question and give a ‘type 1′ (“without thinking”) answer because your brain will naturally grab what’s closest and easiest. So be wary of answering *any* question too quickly at interview. Take a breath and give your brain a moment to process the ‘easy question’ more thoroughly.

    Type 2, is the type of question you can answer given sufficient time. I doubt very much you are ever asked questions in interview that you *can’t* answer. More likely, you get in a bit of a brain panic because the answer doesn’t drop into your head as readily and easily as the ‘Type 1′ questions’ answers. An unexpected question is only difficult because your brain isn’t used to answering it. That’s not to say the answer isn’t lurking in your brain somewhere.

    So what should you do?

    Firstly, understand that such questions are set to discover what happens when you’re asked a ‘type 2′ question. It’s less about the answer, more about ‘how’ you answer.

    Can you answer a ‘type 2′ question well? I believe you can. The key is practice.

    Get some questions (or get someone else to come up with questions) that demand from you deeper thought. Practice answering them as fully as you can (without giving up midway – whatever happens, keep going). If the answer isn’t coming, close your mouth and breathe. This gives your clever brain a few moments to scan itself for some useful information. Practice speaking slowly and clearly – not only does this give your brain more moments to scan itself for information, you’ll hear yourself giving your answer as you give it and this will also give your brain something to work with. If you speak too quickly in this situation, you’ll run out of words very quickly and this will add to your sense of stress.

    1. Practice answering such questions so your brain gets more practice at ‘type 2′ thinking.
    2. Speak slowly (don’t rush). Your brain processes information extremely quickly, so really benefits for a millisecond of extra time.
    3. Breathe.

    You know your subject. The knowledge is in your brain. Your task is to get it out. Practice. Practice. Practice.

    The more you practice this the more your confidence will grow. You’ll eventually be able to speak spontaneously and coherently about anything. It’s just a matter of being aware of how your brain works and training it, and remembering in interview to take your time.

    There’s a brilliant book by Daniel Kahneman called ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ that explains the science of this in greater detail and I highly recommend it.

    Watch this video. At 1:38 see how Daniel deals with a question he wasn’t expecting:

    Good luck at interview!


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