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How you respond to others determines your depth of conversation and connection. If you want your partner, business associate, or date to be honest, vulnerable, and direct with you, you must respond correctly. What does that mean? You have to show interest, be present, and have the skills to keep others open and sharing. Often, the opposite happens. If you had a bad day, are uncomfortable with the subject matter, or never learned how to react appropriately, you may inadvertently silence your partner with the wrong response. Conversation stoppers are not only going to shut down communication, but will also make further attempts at connecting less likely.

Most people don’t try to intentionally stop others from communicating and telling their story. So when they realize how their behaviors are affecting others, they can usually change their reactions to better support others in conversation. Although the following conversation stoppers may be uncomfortable to examine, try to honestly evaluate yourself. Once you recognize that you may be doing them, you may find it easier to change.

Conversation Stopper #1 – Blaming your partner for the problem

When a person is hurt, has a problem, or talks about something embarrassing, they are usually looking for understanding and support. That doesn’t necessarily mean you must agree with what they are feeling, but you must be willing to listen and encourage them in a judgment-free zone.

Conversation Stopper #2 – Erasing

It doesn’t matter how you “erase” someone, but the effect is the same – the other person will feel that you’re just not interested. You might stop their sharing by being completely silent, showing no emotion or reaction, offering a quick fix response, or not stopping what you’re doing to listen. Another method of erasing is by changing the subject without recognizing what they are saying.

Conversation Stopper #3 – Shock

Similar to blaming, shock or outrage responses are exaggerated, negative, and/or challenging reactions to what the other person is sharing. The responder’s goal is to shut down the other’s real or imagined emotional hyper-reactivity by outdoing it. Instead of giving emotional support, the responding partner becomes outraged, shocked, or surprised and, by doing so, communicates that the issue is ridiculous.

Conversation Stopper #4 – Making it about you

This is self explanatory. This scenario is when a person constantly turns the conversation back on them when another person is sharing their story. A once famous therapist, Virginia Satir, used to call this the famous Quarterback-Sneak.

Conversation Stopper #5 – Superior Judge

Many people have strong opinions about the way dilemmas should be handled and/or feel the need to correct others. Even if you do know more or think the presented situation should be handled differently or a person mispronounced or stated something insignificant incorrectly, you should not be ready to teach, disdain, criticize, or condemn them. The criticized partner might argue, resist, or counter-criticize, but will eventually leave the congregation if you keep up the preaching. Superior knowledge or experience may have value, but only when sought out. When another person is sharing a story or looking for comfort and support, he or she will probably not accept your critique without feeling invalidated by it. Unsolicited advice is not a good response to any problem.

How to keep the conversation going…

1. Ask questions and listen.

2. When others need support, listen carefully without criticizing, invalidating, preaching, showing anger, directing, erasing, blaming, irritation, correcting, judging, or making it about you.

3. Before reacting, ask what you can do to help and to clarify what they are communicating, if unsure.

4. Always take the other’s concerns seriously and express your interest and support, even if you have reservations at the time.

5. Know that most people eventually solve their own problems when they have someone who respects their point of view.

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