“Stealing” is when your conversation partner says something, but then you find something in your own life that relates to their words and change the conversation to tell your own story. Your partner does the same. Each steals the conversation into their own arena. For example:
Partner: I went to New York City this weekend — it was great!
You: Oh, I went to NYC 2 years ago, we had a great meal in China Town
Partner: My friend lived in China for three years and has learned to cook superb Chinese dishes.
You: My sister was so good at cooking that she gave up her teaching position, graduated from a Culinary school and now has her own restaurant.
Partner: My God, speaking of starting your own business, I am still working on my plans for opening that Yoga school.
When your partner says something, you pursue her/his conversation by asking a few questions to really understand or explore what they are trying to share. Keep the conversation in their arena for a while. For example:
Partner: We went to New York this weekend — it was great!
You: What are some of the places you visited?
Partner: We visited my son’s sound studio in the Bronx first.
You: Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you son did that sort of work. How long has he done it?
Partner: For about 3 years now — he specializes in recording Jazz artists.c
You: Does he play instruments himself?
Partner: He is a drummer and often accompanies some of the artists.
You: That is amazing. Did your son then show you some more places in town?
Most conversations are, of course, a mix of these two styles but my experience is that most conversations use the Stealing Style 90% of the time: each person grabs the conversation into their own court and only occasionally asks a follow-up question. These people are not really listening, but waiting to get on about themselves. No one really explores their conversation partner to any depth. Even when people do go into the Exploring Style, they rarely go more that 2 to 3 questions deep in the exploration before they get into self-talk.
Even when I was in High School, I was cynical about people’s superficial conversations and that was only amplified when, in 11th grade, I read “Ego Speak: Why No One Listens to You” by Edmond Addeo and Robert Burger. I just found the book on-line and will be re-reading it to see if I am impressed again and maybe share it with my son. I do wager that Conversation Stealing is mentioned in the book as one of the biggest types of Ego Speak.
Am I Biased?
Wait, what if I am being snobbish in my judgement of the “Stealing Style” conversations. Here are some self-doubt what-if’s:
- What if instead of “Stealing Style” I less-pejoratively called it “Sharing Style” — would that change your perception?
- What if the people in the conversation don’t want to be explored too deeply?
- What if the listener doesn’t want to be perceived as nosey or pushy?
- What if the “Sharing Style” is more like a fun ping-pong game to some people. Maybe they aesthetically prefer that style.
- What if the “Sharing Style” is less threatening and more interesting to most people?
So you can see in this post that I am resisting (a bit) valorizing my own temperament. I highly value Exploring Style conversations, but I think that may be largely temperament. In this post I talked about the danger of valorizing the Skepticism temperament. I am trying to be skeptical of my conversation tendency but not too skeptical. In this post, I discuss “The Juggernaut of Habit”, and here I am questioning my habit of conversation. So, please introspect in the comments on your conversation temperament and habits.
Question to Readers: What percentages of styles do you use most commonly?