Less than 2% of conversations end at a point when both people want them to. GASP.
Only about 10% of the time did both people wish the conversation had lasted longer. OY.
The difference between what people wanted and what they got was, “on average, about half the length of the conversation itself” (Psychology Today,July/August 2021, p.5).
Seriously, this makes me never want to have a conversation again. I don’t know about you, but the thought of talking to anyone who is wishing I would stop talking is really uncomfortable.
And naturally, right this second, I’m feeling like I should keep this short. On the other hand, my SEO recommends at least 600 words per post. So there’s that.
Truth is, according to researchers, even though the average conversation lasted about 30 minutes, no one really knows how long a conversation should last.
No wonder we are all getting it so wrong so much of the time. Why is this happening?
Why Are We So Off?
PROJECTION: For one thing, we project. If we want to stay in the conversation, we may think the other person does too. Likewise, if we want to go, we may think they’re finished with us too.
In fact, 10% of participants left the conversation because both participants imagined the other want to go. Low self-esteem? Why would anyone want to talk to him or her?
SELF-WORTH: Self-worth does appear to be commonly tied up with interpretations of conversation length. Just this morning, it was so sad to hear someone whose consulting practice had been waning carrying on about his 2.5-hour lunch with the CEO., as if the length of the meeting itself restored his sense of self.
Of course, it is not at all clear that an equally good time was had by all. For all we know, that CEO wished their business had been conducted more succinctly, as the research might suggest. Time is money after all.
POLITENESS: I have written many times before on the pain of social rejection:
Humans are social animals; being rejected from our tribe or social group in our pre-civilized past would have meant losing access to food, protection, and mating partners, making it extremely difficult to survive. Being ostracized would have been akin to receiving a death sentence. Because the consequences of ostracism were so extreme, our brains developed an early-warning system to alert us when we were at risk for being “voted off the island” by triggering sharp pain whenever we experienced even a hint of social rejection.
And, right up there with being ignored has got to be being cut short. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you? Yeh so, just let them talk.
But this is not good. Conversations that go on too long, even if well intended, are a colossal waste of time, with massive opportunity costs when you add them up over time. They are also boring, which then interferes with the quality of our relationships you are trying to protect, given how we grow to feel about the person we let bore us to death. At work, at home, wherever we may roam, it matters.
What Can We Do?
How can we end conversations well? Help is on the way. Vanessa Van Edwards from The Science of People,gives us “62 Ways to Politely End a Conversation In ANY Situation,” including some ways to tell when it’s time to end it:
- You are bored.
- They look bored.
- Someone or something interrupts.
- You have run out of things to say.
- You (or they) are starting to repeat themselves.
- You need a break.
Like I said…bored is a good indicator right there. The author is explicit with exactly what you can say in a variety of circumstances. But there are 62 of them, so let me just say here that the ones I prefer seem to center on the time.
Probably this is because I prefer making it about something other than the person. In fact, I really do believe that if we fix the time problem it’ll help us like the person more.
So, for example, “I can’t take another minute of you droning on about nothing” becomes something more like, “Wow, I just noticed the time…it looks like we covered everything for now, let’s catch up again soon.”
Or something else you may devise, like pointing your feet toward the door. The author includes that too. Practice, practice, practice…see what happens, and let us know.
Photo: Unsplash Charles Deluvio