Musings on a Captain Awkward Post: Conversation Styles and Politeness

#648: “On dates, I feel like I am making all the conversational efforts.”

Oh. My. GOSH.

Things I just did not know. This is one of the reasons I love Captain Awkward. Such as good discussion going on about conversation styles and differences of opinion in what counts as “polite”.

So many thoughts on this!

Mainly that I have a similar conversation style to the Letter Writer. I do the polite thing of taking an interest in the other person and I do this through asking qusetions. Not ones that I consider overly nosey or that can lead to difficult topics of conversation. I might volunteer some stuff about myself but that so depends on how much I trust them, and I tend to hold off on trusting folk because you don’t know if they’ll reject you or not.

Apparently there is a whole style of conversation based on you initiating by offering up tidbits about yourself. Like, eek, what the hell? Beyond the politeness of “what did you do at the weekend? I did x.”

Usually if I try and join in agroup conversation by offering up one of my own stories, I get the feeling that I’ve butted in and broken the flow between the people who are already friends. Like, they’ll listen and then they’ll go back to whatever it was they were talking abouot, even if my story was related. :-/

Also the idea that asking questions can seem too prying and invasive?

But, but, but, if the person doesn’t ask you a question, doesn’t that mean they’re not interested in what you have to say? If they were, they’d ask, right?

Apparently not always.


I had no idea.

But it does explain why my Squisher can go for a good few mins of rambling about his day without pausing to ask how my day was when we’re talking on the phone. Which results in me feeling pissed off.

Staying with him at his parents’ house the other weekend was an eye-opener. They are just SO LOUD as a group. Talking all over each other, voices raised, usually in laughter but they’re not afraid of a verbal disagreement or squable.

I’m left standing there feeling like, how are you supposed to get a word in edgeways?

I asked him this later, and his repsonse was, “Well just butt in! If you don’t say something, they’ll just keep talking. You have to talk loud else you won’t get heard.”

How does anybody actually listen to what the other person is saying in that situation? Jeeesh.

It is just the complete opposite of how we communicate in my family. We take turns to speak for the most part. Someone tells a story, another person tells another, similar one, and it goes round like that.We’re perfectly happy to sit in silence and for there to be lulls in the conversation.

Similarly, if it’s a one-on-one conversation, we take it turns and you’re allowed to ramble for quite a while. The other person responds and offers their thoughts on what you’ve said. And then they ramble about what they want to say. You acknowledge you’re listening in this situation with all the small fillers:  hmmm, mm, yes, yeah, I see, oh, then what? wow, okay, bloody hell etc etc. With the occassional question if there’s something else you feel you need to know that adds to their telling.

I’d say it’s because my family is a family of introverts – we have our close, small-ish groups of friends and an even smaller inner circle – but Squisher is also an introvert who is terrified of most new group social situations. I don’t know his family outside of family gatherings so I don’t know as far as the rest of them are concerned. I on the otherhand am often okay at those things. If it’s a group of people where most people are new and there’s no established dynamics, I’m fine, I can make small talk all day if I go in mentally prepared for that. Intermediate gatherings where most poeple already know each other are much more difficult for me and I’ll feel more unsure of myself, but alcohol helps in those situations if it’s socially acceptable in that situation.

Anyway, I won’t be changing my conversation style overnight but I will be bearing these revelations of conversational style in mind, especially if I start to feel talked over or left out. It’s that old chestnut of not assuming the worst about the other person’s intentions based on limited evidence.



6 thoughts on “Musings on a Captain Awkward Post: Conversation Styles and Politeness

  1. OMG yes ,learning about conversation styles is a major life-changer. One of the other major things that can cause problems is the amount of silence people are comfortable leaving in conversations. Some people become uncomfortable very quickly, and feel the need to fill silences as quickly as possible when they occur, while other people feel the need to wait a good few seconds after everyone stops talking until they feel it is polite for them to speak. And obviously these two approaches result in the first person dominating conversations. So many things!

    • Huh, yep, makes sense.
      That was the thing that most blew my mind in the comments on the post – just how many people have completely opposite ideas about what’s considered polite.

  2. I can see some of the differences you talk about just between my spouse and myself. I am also like Captain Awkward’s letter writer — I ask questions, sometimes to the point of feeling like I am interviewing people. I often find it difficult to just jump in with volunteering things from my own life. Even in situations where I am extremely comfortable (like talking to my mom or sister on the phone), even if I have something of my own I really want to talk about, I still usually will start the conversation off with, “So what’s happening with you?” Does this make me a wonderful listener and wonderful person in general? Sadly, not as much as I would like. I totally do that thing sometimes, when I have something I really really want to say about something in my life, and I sit on it, squirming, only half listening to the other person until that moment when I can tell my story. But in general, particularly with people who are not intimate family members, I tend to focus on getting others to talk rather than talking a lot, myself. In group settings this often results in other people taking all the focus of attention, and I often feel like people don’t find me all that interesting.

    My spouse, J, on the other hand, is NOT a question-asker. She is a talker. (Who is also an introvert. These things are definitely not mutually exclusive traits!) It does irritate me sometimes when she puts the focus on herself, but mostly I look at her and see how effective her approach can be. She will usually start a conversation by talking about whatever is most interesting to her at the time. It puts other people at their ease, and they enjoy her enthusiasm. I enjoy her enthusiasm! It’s one of the reasons why I was attracted to her in the first place.

    J has another thing going for her, which is that, in group situations, she likes playing the jokester. That as much as her enthusiasm about whatever is currently going on in her life has a lot to do with why people like her and open up to her. I myself will never be jokey or funny — It’s just not in my personality makeup! But as regards J’s general conversational style, there’s a lot I can learn from her.

    • I’m friends with a couple of people similar to J. that and yeah, it’s both mildly frustrating and fun to be around.
      My brother’s got the knack of telling really funny stories – the pacing is always spot on. Myself, not so much. Ah well, can’t be good at everything. 🙂

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