Power of Persuasion: Conversation Monopolizer? Check Your Plate.

April 17th, 2008 by Frank Damelio

At a dinner event, I’m watching interaction take place at a table directly across from me.  Three men and two women are talking about business and their common friends.  I notice one of the men, Bob, is a good storyteller.  He captures everyone’s interest and keeps it with a very amusing story.  Everyone laughs at the finale; then one of the women brings up her daughter who is applying to Brown University.  Bob immediately chimes in, “Great institution, you guys remember Jane? Her son got a full ride.  Jack, what was her son’s name?”  Bob continues with an admittedly interesting story about Jane’s son.  The woman who initiated the conversation never brings up her daughter again.  This pattern type continues for a while until Bob excuses himself.  Then, I watch for reaction.  One woman mouths to the group “I’m sorry”.  I’m not sure what the dynamics were there, but I am confident that nobody was happy with Bob’s monopolizing.

 Can you relate to this?  Have you spent time with “Bob” before?  Chances are that Bob would be embarrassed if he understood the reaction he created.  He appeared to be an affable and very intelligent person.  If 100 people are reading this blog, about 20 of you are unknowingly the “Bob” in your group. 

 The challenge:  Not even your best friend is going to tell you that you monopolize.

 The solution:  If nobody will tell you, how can you know?

 1)    From this point on, whenever you have a conversation, have an internal awareness of whether you are sharing airtime.

 2)    After a conversation, make a mental list of what you’ve learned about the other people and what they have learned about you.  Is there balance?

 3)    The dinner test:  If Bob had only looked at his plate he would have noticed his was full and the others were empty.  This is a great tip whenever dining with others.  Look at the dishes to find the monopolizers.  You may be surprised to find it is you.

 If you are a monopolizer then you are losing your persuasive edge.  The good news is that you are probably a great storyteller and very sociable.  Just being aware that you are a monopolizer can be a cure for the problem.  Also, you might ask your good friends to let you know when you are dominating the conversation.  With a bit of practice you will be well on your way to sharing airtime and being interesting by being interested.

 If you are in the company of a monopolizer, click into your segue mode.  Take responsibility for channeling the conversation away from the monopolizer and towards others.  It is very easy to do this in a group because you are not seeking airtime for yourself, you are simply asking someone else in the group a question.  In my anecdote above, the woman who mouthed “I’m sorry” to the group could have simply redirected the conversation to the other woman whose daughter was looking into Brown.  “Tell us more about why your daughter is choosing Brown.” Everyone at the table would have appreciated this redirection, and they would have appreciated her even more for doing it. She would have sharpened her persuasive edge in this case.

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8 Responses to “Power of Persuasion: Conversation Monopolizer? Check Your Plate.”

  1. Mike Says:

    This is definitely something everyone should be aware of.

    In high school, I remember we had a couple of friends who fit this description perfectly – they would always monopolize the conversation, and they never realized it – but the rest of us sure did. They were good people, though, and so even their closest friends never gave them a heads up about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they still had a tendency to monopolize even now.

    Increasing your awareness of how you converse can be tricky — these tips are a great way to start gaining some insight.

  2. Chris Says:

    You mentioned this in passing in an economics class I took my senior year. I’ve tried to be conscious of my airtime, especially with people I have just recently met, in every conversation I’ve had since 2005.

  3. Heidi Says:

    When you mentioned this situation in your presentaiton this morning (without giving us all the info, thus compelling me to look up your blog ) I had a feeling that you were talking about a monopilizer. I have an older sister who does this all the time. Prior to going out with her we, as a group, have to agreed to shift the conversation back to the person who started it whenever my sister starts to “take over.” It’s exasperating. I might just tell her in hopes that she’ll realize the next time she’s doing it and stop herself.

  4. fdamelio Says:

    Heidi, I’m glad you were compelled to check out the blog entry. Very much appreciate your comment. I understand the issue with your sister. Depending on your relationship with her it may make sense to tell her. Wouldn’t you want to know? This is something even a good friend might not be able to say because it could be too painful for the other person to hear. If you have a strong enough bond with your sister and you articulate in a way to soften the blow, I think everyone might be better off. Best of luck and feel free to communicate what you decide to do and how it goes so that we can help and learn.

  5. Krishna Boppana Says:

    This is great Frank. When I was in B-school, we have these workshops, where the class is split into several groups based on their choices for a solution, gather in a corner for sharing the ideas and come up with a solution. This is part of the boot camp in the beginning of the program for cohort building. So, in our group, there is this one person totally dominated the discussion. I realized it immediately and pointed out to him right there, telling him that you should let other people talk and accommodate their opinions rather than influence everybody with your opinion. He was so surprised, he did not even realize he was doing that.

    My question is, are there different kind of people, who are insecure, like to talk a lot and leave quickly?

    Of course there are naturals like “Bob” !!

  6. fdamelio Says:


    I commend you for educating the monopolizer – talk about being forthright! Yes there are people who tend to run on when they are insecure. They feel awkward with any pause in the conversation; so they keep filling it before anyone can get in a word. However, the majority of the monoplizers are “I” centered. It’s just boggling, though, how everyone else sees it, except for the one doing it.

  7. BNox Says:

    This was good advice. I have a friend who does this on the phone. She talks the entire conversation, every conversation. Although, she doesn’t do this in person. Do you have any ideas of why this is?

  8. fdamelio Says:

    Bella Nox,

    This is a great question. While many beleive the phone is a less personal way to communicate as compered with face-to-face, in one sense it can be more intimate. The simple exchange of words and focus on voice without any visual distraction can often bring people closer than would an in-person meeting. With respect to your friend, it may be that you are serving her theraputic needs through those phone conversations. People NEED to be heard, and perhaps you do just that for her. When you “hang out” together, she is probably expressing a differnt need – to be social, which entails two-way interaction. While you recognize this, she is probably completely unaware. If it bothers you, it may be wise to gently let her know by simply asking: “Does it seem like when we talk on the phone it can be a bit of a one-way conversation, but when we spend time together, it’s more two-way?” You could also put this a positve light by saying “I love to hear your opinion on some things that are going on in my life, and I would like more of that in our phone conversations”. I would only say that if it were true.

    Bella Knox, I hope this helps, and I appreciate your response to my blog.

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