How To Do Better In Loud, Crazy Group Conversations
Ah, the bane of my reserved existence for so many years: the loud, chaotic group conversation. I think most people can do fine in a more orderly group discussion, one where people stick to a topic, let each other finish their points, listen respectfully, and add their own input to further enlighten everyone else. But put a less social person in a more crazy conversation and they're likely to shut down. That's what I did. Everyone else would be talking over each other and I'd just sit there and stew.
Loud, crazy group conversations usually have these characteristics:
- There's a hectic, impatient, excitable vibe in the air as everyone wants to get their two cents in
- Several people are often talking at once
- Interruptions are common
- Everyone is talking loudly, and the volume gradually increases as people try to talk over each other to get their point across
- The conversation doesn't stay on one topic for all that long
- Conversational threads can easily be get derailed
- Immaturity, stupid jokes, and showing off are fairly common
Of course, there's also a middle ground between a totally loud, insane, free-for-all, and a completely calm, orderly discussion. Some of what I talk about in this article could apply to this area as well. Here's my advice on how to get more out of these situations:
Accept these types of conversations for what they are and what they aren't
Reflecting on all the times I've been irritated by these chaotic, boisterous conversations, I think what bothered me most is that they could have been something else, but they weren't. They could have been more polite and organized, but they weren't. They could have been more intellectual and stimulating, but they weren't. They could have been quiet and easy to follow, but they weren't. The other people could have let me get a word in edgewise, but they didn't.
But that's not what these conversations are like. They're technically on the same continuum as more restrained, sophisticated conversation, but they're their own animal. By nature they're loud, scattered, inconsiderate, and 'dog eat dog'. I realized there was no point in getting pouty over them because they weren't what I wanted them to be.
Conversations like this are more for fun, cheap laughs, light entertainment, socializing for its own sake, and enjoying the company and 'essence' of all your friends at once. There's also aspects of them that can be an acquired taste. Being in the middle of the vortex of noise and chaos can be energizing and stimulating, and it can be something of a cheap thrill to try to hold your own in it.
Accept you're not going to have an in-depth, logical discussion
Just to emphasize the point above. Don't go into these types of conversations expecting them to be a certain way and you won't be disappointed. Sometimes the conversation will be a discussion of a certain issue, but because everyone is chomping at the bit to talk, they're only going to be so orderly. People will raise their voices. People will talk over each other. People will cut you off to make a counterpoint, etc. At other times these conversations are going to be more random jokes and stories than anything. The more people in the mix, the more scattered they're going to be.
Try your best to tolerate the inherent annoyances of the situation
These conversations are usually loud. They can create a maddening din as everyone talks at once. It can be confusing and frustrating to try and follow every sub-discussion at once. One or more people may be derailing every tangent with retarded jokes. Faced with these things in the past, I became annoyed and exasperated. I often just gave up and shut down. "God these people are irritating..." That was easier than, say, trying to make out what two people were saying as five other people were squawking at the same time. I still kind of wince in pain when faced with the sound of a table of people all talking together.
This isn't some scientific statement, but I'd guess some less naturally social people are more sensitive to the discomfort and irritations of this situation. Still, the first step to doing better in these conversations is to suck it up and try to tolerate all the noise and stimulation so you can make something out of it. No matter how frustrating and hard it seems to keep focused, try your best to pay attention and follow the madness. Going back to the first and second points, don't feel resentful because everyone isn't being more keyed-down. That's just the way these things are.
Realize if you want to get your speech time in, you pretty much have to grab it for yourself
These conversations are more cut throat. Nobody owes you anything in them. Not that they're purposely heartless, it's just that everyone is excited and wants to talk, and they'd rather it be them than you. If you want to say something you've got to fight to get your share of the air space. Waiting patiently for the others to recognize you have something to say may not work. Trying to get your rightful time in the spotlight can be part of the fun though:
- Interrupting someone or cutting them off
- Raising your voice to be heard over the din
- Making it obvious with your body language that you want to talk after the current speaker is finished
- Talking quickly to get your point out before someone cuts you off
- Using gestures to indicate to other people that you're not done talking yet and not to cut you off
- Being the first one out of the gate when one person finishes talking and you and several others want to jump in with their contributions
- When you and several other people want to start talking at once, raising your voice to overpower them
- Making a statement such as, "I want to say something after him."
- Repeating the start of your statement several times until you're given the floor.
All these things are much more acceptable in loud group conversations than others. You can still go overboard with interrupting people or drowning them out, but if you don't do it too obnoxiously it's accepted as part of the package. No one takes it too personally if you do stuff like this in the heat of the moment.
All these things can make these conversations more like a game than other types. You don't just need something you want to talk about, you have to figure out how to get it out there. Often there are some people who are louder and more dominating in the conversation than others. If you want to talk you have to 'beat' them. I'll admit it's a twisted sort of internal logic, but just play along.
Alter your communication to be more effective for these interactions
You can't talk the way you normally would in these conversations. If you do you'll likely get cut off. You've got to make your messages quicker and more to the point. Once you've gotten the spotlight you've only got so much time before someone else will want it, so don't ramble on too much. Figure out what you want to say then get it out succinctly. And say it with enough volume and force that no one will cut you off. It also helps to zest up your statements to make them more entertaining, so people will be likely to want to hear them.
A mistake quieter, or less game, people make is they won't actively try to jump into the conversation, but eventually everyone will see they have something they want to say and give them a chance to contribute. People usually aren't total jackasses in this situation after all. "Ah, I finally have my chance", the quiet person thinks and proceeds to launch into a meandering three minute dissertation. Unless that person is really venerated, someone is going to get antsy and cut them off. Giving the quieter person a break is one thing, but they don't get a free pass to babble on forever. These conversations aren't the place for long bouts of patient, respectful listening.
Don't get too attached to your own agenda and put the good of the conversation as a whole first
Any time lots of people are talking, you have to accept that the conversation may veer away from where you'd like it to go. If you'd like it to be about x, but it's gone off on a tangent about j, then go with it. Don't try to shoehorn it back towards x. If you had something you really wanted to say about x, but the two last people who talked changed the subject, then when it's your turn to speak, abandon your old thread and contribute to the new topic. It's usually not the best idea to try to go all the way back to x just because you want to get your clever point out.
Often, when I'd go into a conversation I'd have an agenda like, "I would like to talk a lot and show people how smart and knowledgeable I am" or "I would like to talk about this particular topic because I just read a book about it and want to discuss it." I still do that, it's only natural really. Still, I think the better play is to go with the flow and do what makes the conversation the best for everyone involved. To get all abstract, the conversation has a life of its own beyond your own wants and needs. Contribute things that make it entertaining and interesting for the others as a whole. Say things that move it into good territory. Not that everyone else will be doing this, but I think it's preferable to trying to make it all about you.
Start a side conversation if you can
Sometimes a group conversation will obviously involve everyone talking together. At other times it's more that many people are gathered in the same area, but it's okay if little side conversations break off. If you're at a table of six people, and four of them are talking about something you're not interested in, you can try starting a new conversation with the one other person. Don't worry about talking as others are speaking, that's fine is it's apparent you're chatting to someone on the side.
The other side: Scoring points by controlling the madness
As you've just read, these conversations can get a bit hairy and out of control at times. To a point you have to go along with their unwritten rules, but you can also demonstrate good social skills by not getting too carried away and helping other people along:
- Help the quieter or less eager people in the group get a chance to talk by signaling to the others that they something they'd like to say.
- If you can tell someone really wants to make a point, restrain that sometimes irresistible urge to interrupt.
- If a less forceful person makes a point and it's falling on deaf ears because other people are distracted, direct the conversation towards them (e.g., "Sorry, what's that Derek? You were talking about...")
- If you're good at getting your speech time, then don't be selfish and ease off a bit to give other people a chance to talk.
And those are my tips. I have a feeling some of the readers out there are even less keen than before to tackle this kind of discussion. Yeah, it really is an acquired taste. Once you get past the initial, "Holy crap this is annoying" barrier and get a handle on how they work, you can start to enjoy them on their own terms.