Do you suffer from verbal diarrhea?

I had two dates recently with successful, nice, intelligent, educated men. However, I noticed something that I find extremely common in dating — they both had no idea they were droning on in great detail about people or stories that held nearly no interest for their listener (me!).

I work to be a generous listener, asking questions about people’s lives and stories that show I’m interested. My questions are designed to uncover their values and interests. I am not perfect at it, of course. I realize some people are put off by too many questions, so it’s important to interject tidbits from one’s life as well.

However, the monologue disguised as conversation is such a rampant issue, it’s been suggested that I lead a seminar on how to be a conscious conversationalist. I’ve started outlining one in my mind, but I’d need a singles group to sponsor it.

So allow me to share some ideas that I’d include in this seminar, in hopes that these suggestions might be useful to those who want to increase their conversational prowess — thus increasing the likelihood of more dates with similar people.
  • Practice with a friend.
If you’re serious about improving your conversational skill, do what you’d do with any skill you want to improve — practice and get feedback. Find a pal who also wants to improve and practice together.

If you were in my workshop, I’d put you in pairs to find out about each other. I’d give each pair a stopwatch and ask you to track each other’s speaking time. So if you and I are partners, when you started to talk I’d hit the stopwatch and stop it when you asked me a question. Then you’d start the stopwatch when I started talking.

If either of you went over 5 minutes without the other talking, the listener would say “stop.” Then the talker could be aware that they are droning.

In this exercise you’d pause between turns to log the time each spent talking. At the end of the exercise you’d show each other the numbers. If one of you continually talked up to 5 minutes, then s/he needs to be more conscious of their monopolizing the time.

The goal of this exercise is not to “win” by having the lowest cumulative time. In fact, you could be a jerk and  answer the other’s questions with one- or two-word responses. That gets tiresome quickly. I recently stopped communicating with someone who asked me to text him and then he only responded with one-word answers. It was too much work to try to have a conversation. So I dropped it — and him.
  • Ask a question at the end of your sharing.
I do that a lot in this blog — I ask you something at the end of nearly all entries. Many of you respond. It helps us have a bit of a conversation.

In emails, on the phone, or in person, work to end your comments with a question, even it’s just mirroring back their question.

Person A: “Where were you born?”
Person B: “I was born in XXXX. Where did you grow up?”

A: What do you love about your job?”
B: “That’s a good question. I love the flexibility, variety, good compensation and ability to see the world. What’s your favorite part of your job?”

A: “Why are you divorced?”
B: “We realized we wanted different things in the future. What precipitated your break up?”

A: “Do you have kids?”
B: “Yes, I have 3 kids, all grown and out of the house. What about you?”

A: “What do you like to do for fun?”
B: “I like a variety of activities, including biking, hiking, dancing, theater, concerts, movies, trying new restaurants, cooking, gardening, reading and listening to NPR. What are some of your favorite recreational activities?”

If you already know his answer to the question he asked you, you can use this to either dig deeper into the question or switch topics.

As much as possible, try to avoid a preponderance of “reporting questions,” e.g., “How was work?” “What did you have for lunch?” “Did you talk to your mom today?” unless there are extenuating circumstances that would make that question important (e.g., his mom recently moved to a nursing home and he’d shared his concern about her adjusting).
  • Get the other person to share equally.
In our workshop, you’d do an exercise I use in my sales seminars. I give each pair a potato — yes, really! This is a version of hot potato in that the goal is to get rid of the (pretend) very hot potato quickly. But you can only give it to the other person if you ask them a question.

So you want to make your answers pithy, without being curt, and ask them a question to pass on the potato to them with your question.

In the advanced version, we’d cover open-ended vs. closed-ended or limited-answer questions and how to avoid the latter. Why? Because closed-ended (generally beginning with who, what, where, when or how) get people to answer too briefly to get to know much about them. By asking open-ended questions/statements (tell me about, share with me, elaborate on, help me understand, as well as some how, what and even why questions), you get more information about the person.
  • Admit if you feel you’ve hogged the air time.
Simply say, “I’ve been talking nearly non-stop. I’d like to know more about you. Tell me, what do you love about your life?”

By practicing these ideas with a pal you can give each other feedback and kudos. Don’t be afraid you’ll feel stupid — when you’re learning or improving any skill, you will, no doubt, do it poorly at first. Allow yourself to not be perfect, and just listen to the feedback and practice some more.

Here are some other postings I’ve written on this topic:
So, how have you learned to better your conversational skills? What do you know you could still improve on? (You knew I’d have to ask!)
Want other ideas on what you can do to turn more first dates into seconds? Get your copy of First-Rate First Dates: Increase the Chance of a Second Date.


10 responses to “Do you suffer from verbal diarrhea?”

  1. Lila Avatar

    I think the point is to learn to be interested in other people, not to learn how to be a good conversationalist. If you are interested in other people, you will be a good conversationalist.

    I’d rather have self-absorbed people be easily identifiable by their monologues. I don’t want to be tricked by a well-trained date who has learned how to feign interest in me.

  2. Brenda Avatar

    I have found this verbal diarrhea to be very common. I have had a few dates with men who took this to the extreme……………I was literally exhausted after the date and did not go out with them again. Sometimes you can ferret out these big-time talkers on the telephone……..but sometimes not!

    How about a man bringing up information about a past girlfriend that has the potential to hurt you or make you think less of him? I would rather know a little about their past (not in intimate details) and see how he is with me, then to hear chapter and verse about things that I should not be privy to about his relationship with someone else.

    Recently, a man who I have been dating, was going to mention something about a relationship he had had in the recent past – and by his prelude into the conversation, I thought it was something of the verbal diarrhea type so I asked him if he thought this would be something that was important for me to know and whether it would add to or take away from our relationship. He paused and decided that it was something better left unsaid.

    Now admittedly some of this verbosity is good because it does tell you what their values are, but sharing and bouncing the ball back to the other person, as DG described above, is the best way to learn about someone, and even then over time, as opposed to all in one night.

  3. Dating Goddess Avatar

    “I asked him if he thought this would be something that was important for me to know and whether it would add to or take away from our relationship.”

    Brenda — that is brilliant! I will borrow that. 🙂

    When I’ve had men offer to send me “other” pics (nearly always meaning naked pics), I ask “Is this something you’d show me on a first date?” They then pause and say no, so I say, “Then don’t send it to me now as we haven’t even met. I don’t want to see anything in 2D that I haven’t seen in 3D.” That usually causes them to laugh.

    So asking them about the outcome of their “sharing” — whether verbally or pictorially — gets them to step back and *think*! Which is a very good thing.

  4. Mark Avatar

    This happens on both sides of the fence, but if the person, man or woman, is talking and talking and talking and you are bored, it shows a lack of social skills to not notice it.

    Sometimes I think a polite person is an enabler. You don’t want to appear bored. You want to appear interested. All that does is encourage the boorish behavior.

    I like your suggestions, DG. People need to learn. I had an in-law, a very nice woman, who talked non-stop. At some point someone must have told her it was a problem because she changed overnight and became a much better conversationalist. She learned she had a problem and addressed it.

  5. Brenda Avatar

    DG, you made me laugh about the “other photos” request. I have never had anyone try to send me these – but you are so right. It is so inappropriate! Your response made me chuckle 🙂

  6. Mark Avatar

    As a man, I don’t understand the idea of sending nude photos of myself. Do women really enjoy receiving these? I don’t really want to see a nude photo of a woman either. It’s just weird.

    I guess there are people who are looking for nothing more than hookups. I suppose in that case maybe the photos are helpful.

  7. Karen Avatar

    Equally annoying IMO are the dates who….won’t say a darn thing. It’s like they just flat out refuse to exert themselves for a social reason.

    They go out with you to meet your friends for example, and they just sit there like a dead log all evening. Or you go out to dinner somewhere and they just sit there and chew.

    I guess I’ve dated more of these types than the ones who drone on and on…maybe because I like engineers?

    My view is: social skills: if you don’t have them, make an effort to learn them.

  8. Mark Avatar

    With some people you have to figure out where their passions lie before they talk a lot. Men can be interested in things that they feel women don’t want to hear about — sports, Star Trek, the whole nerdy gaming/SF/comic scene, etc.

  9. Lipstick and Playdates Avatar

    I can’t tell you the number of men who have done this to me on dates. They go on and on and on. I’m sorry, no one is that fascinating.

  10. Yvette Francino Avatar

    I do tend to ask a lot of questions… probably too many. I’m naturally inquisitive, but when someone doesn’t know me well, it might seem a little off-putting, so I try and watch out for that…

    When a date is going well, besides equal time talking, there’s also smiling and body language… maybe a good amount of flirting (not too suggestive, but just enough for you both to know that there’s interest.)

    As for wanting to exchange sexy photos… Definite red flag for me. I feel the same way about guys that are too suggestive before we’ve even met. I’m fine with innocent flirtations, but I’m not comfortable with more than PG-13 on initial conversations.