When we converse, in meetings, in hallways or cramped into those tiny seats in coach class, we sometimes want to change the subject. Or maybe we usually want to change the subject. And sometimes we want to stick to the subject, when someone else doesn't. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics we use to change the subject, and some tactics for preventing the change.
- Ignoring (or pretending not to hear) what your partner said
- When you have the "conversational ball," people assume that you'll continue with the current thread. Pretending to be unaware of the thread frees you to change the subject. This is especially useful when the latest contribution was an uncomfortable question.
- Sometimes, when people haven't yet agreed on the subject, this tactic is actually a way of negotiating the subject. It's also used in reactive mode, to resist the attempts of others to change the subject.
- When the distribution of power among the participants is fairly uniform, you can defeat this tactic by politely but firmly repeating what was apparently missed. Humor helps. But when your partner has a power advantage, resisting can be risky, because your partner almost certainly has more effective tools available.
- Offers of food or drink — one of many distraction tactics — are sometimes used to divert a partner who has targeted a weakness, or to break a partner's momentum. Other useful distractions:
- Pretending to receive a mobile phone call. Most people assume that someone who suddenly answers a mobile phone that wasn't "ringing," is answering a phone that had been set to "vibrate." But that's an assumption. The call might be real — or not.
- Summoning a server. This distraction is useful in restaurants, at parties, waiting for parking attendants, or whenever servers are present.
- If your attention is required by the distraction, as it might be in the case of a summoned waiter, waitress, or wine steward, resisting the distraction can appear to be rude. Nevertheless, try to maintain your hold on the conversational thread. When the distraction ends, steer the conversation back to your topic of choice.
- Mutual agreement
- Sometimes, we seek a change of subject by mutual agreement. This is an important Offers of food or drink
are sometimes nothing
more than diversionspart of orderly discourse. The key phrases to use are permission-seeking: "Can we look at something else for a moment?" or "I have another matter I'd like to discuss…"
- Changing subjects by agreement can be (paradoxically) contentious, especially if the parties have an asymmetric power relationship, when the "agreement" is achieved by implicit coercion.
- But whether or not coercion is involved, it's usually wise to accede to the request — if you ever want others to honor your own requests.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrennsnUkqXaBkrkddSJner@ChacMYvEQqEfmUTSBisioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Dangerous Phrases
- I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text."
It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend
to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
- Coincidences Do Happen
- When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning
to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
- Virtual Communications: I
- Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some
guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are
directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many
organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by
amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this.
What's stopping us?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEFjSBGPrNMJPOHJjner@ChacrNhiIiVENNnZduCCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.