Stealing vs. Exploring: Conversations Styles

2 Conversation StylesWhat type of conversation style do you use? Stealing or Exploring ?  When talking with someone, what is your primary way of responding to their conversation?


“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?

Valorizing Temperaments

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?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

7 responses to “Stealing vs. Exploring: Conversations Styles

  1. Nathan

    Perhaps the “stealing” style of conversation might better be called the “sharing” style. I think one reason people talk about themselves rather than ask follow up questions is because there’s an implied expectation of reciprocity. If someone shares details about their life, you should share your own life. And after several iterations, each person knows more about the other. In contrast, the exploring conversation style might lead to an asymmetry in knowledge.

  2. @Nathan:

    It sounds like you didn’t make it all the way through my post.

    I think the asymmetry of knowledge is a very good point, though, and will add it to the “Bias” section.

    Nonetheless, since a mix of the two styles allows for this non-asymmetry. The question is, how deep does the listener pursue the other person’s world. My experience: they rarely pursue at all. So sure, there is not asymmetry in Steal-Steal conversations, but there is no depth either.

  3. Jerad

    Also to consider is your familiarity with the person in question. People you don’t know as well could benefit from the stealing/sharing style since your conversation is more likely to be quicker. They’ll walk away from the conversation knowing at least something about who you are.

    The sharing style is most beneficial for people you are close with as the conversation can be explored without the tension that can be associated with someone new.

    So while the stealing style is appropriate for getting to know someone the exploring style can be used for deeper understandings and recreation.

    Of course they’re not mutually exclusive and they both have their benefits for the scenarios I listed. So maybe use 70/30 of both styles, reversing the percentage according to the person. It’s a little bit of an arbitrary percentage but meh on the effort of trying to get it approximate.

    Also, I just used 100 percent stealing so maybe you’re on to something. Though I hope I’m adding rather than losing track like your 1st scenario.

  4. louisediva

    2 styles discussed here both have advantages and disadvantages.
    For example – you go see a professional (any kind). They will need to get as much specific info out of you as possible – they will dig and in whatever direction they feel is approrpriate and give you very little about themsleves – it is not necessary. They can then advise you about what their speciliaty would recommend for you – if you are looking for advice – or leave you to ponder the consequences of your answers. Talking and talking and talking about yourself can be very revealing if not least to yourself. Sometimes this can be disconcerting, embaressing or upsettting. More natural conversations do not have this 1-sided, somewhat interrogatory style – to search for depth in whatever subject has brought to the table.
    When talking to people you don’t know it is highly unusual to either want to spill out anything out in any depth, or to recieve the same.
    I don’t like your term ‘stealing’ – it paints this communication style as wrong. At it’s best however, it can be just as explorative – covering a wide number of subjects in a short time – finding common/contrasting threads between 2 people – in both their way of making associations and in the (kind of) subjects that arise more or less strongly.
    How you address and hold the listener, aswell as how passionately you convey something may also mean that they are more or less inclined to want to know more about what you are saying.
    Thanks for your post – really interesting subject.

  5. @ Jerad,
    True. Good points.

    So, tell us if you feel you explore enough in conversations.

    @ louisediva,
    Great points. Thank you.

    So, tell us if you feel you explore enough in conversations.

  6. I like this post. Good reminder to ask questions and listen, rather than ask to tell. I’m interested in Socratic Method as one way of teaching and learning through questions. I wonder if you have any posts on Socratic Method. I’ll search your blog. Thanks

  7. @SkepticMeds,
    I know the method, of course, I am a teacher — we all know it. No I haven’t written about it.

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