How to Deal with Conversation Stealers

Without looking ‘fragile’

✨ Bridget Webber
4 min readJul 18, 2019

Conversation thieves gain confidence-boosting attention by taking over discussions. Mention the funniest incident in your repertoire and they’ll interrupt to tell you theirs. Talk about how you’d love to travel and they will interject, letting you know what fun they had traveling around the world.

You can’t believe your spouse, boss, friend, associate — — fill in the blank, is at it again. They butt in when you are in mid-flow. All eyes shift from you — even though you thought people were engrossed — and it’s as though you don’t exist.

You feel tiny like an ant while everybody else, your once attentive audience and the interloper, rise as sun-giants. You gulp with indignation and shame (since you must be unworthy or boring for this to happen) and look at people’s faces.

They watch the intruder who hogs center stage. Does this mean your words are less significant? That the interloper is smarter, more charming and intelligent than you?

No, it doesn’t.

Does it mean the impostor is foul? Unkind?

Probability not, although it’s easy to jump to conclusions.

Why people interrupt

Have you ever interrupted someone? Not on purpose, of course, but on autopilot?

Yes, you have. Me too.

You didn’t mean to, and nor did I. We never meant to grab someone’s audience (unless, like Skippy the kangaroo, we had to raise awareness about a pal who had fallen into a disused mine-shaft and required help).

Everybody butts in occasionally. If they are self-aware though, their inner voice says “oops! Didn’t mean to do that. How embarrassing. I’ll try not to do it again.”

Serial interrupters practice conversation sabotage. They mean to steal the show. Often, they are oblivious to the hurt feelings of those they speak over.

Don’t be fooled by their bravado, though. Many suffer from low self-esteem. They need to be the center of attention or they feel small. Sound familiar? Everyone looks bigger than them through their spectacles. Only when all eyes are on them do they imagine they grow in stature.

Serial interlopers show you how they feel by making you feel similarly. So when you mentally shrink as they talk over you, that’s how they usually perceive themselves.

Small.

Conversation thieves gain confidence-boosting attention by taking over discussions. Mention the funniest incident in your repertoire and they’ll interrupt to tell you theirs. Talk about how you’d love to travel and they will interject, letting you know what fun they had traveling around the world.

All communication circles back to them, and as it does, their self-esteem improves. Soon, they feel bigger. With a full stomach after a conversation-fest, they are satiated. It’s a shame they butt in, but what can you do?

Conversation interlopers in business

Limelight-stealers exist in every corner of life, including business. How you react at work can influence your career. Let an interloper cut short your talk about a new project, for instance, or allow them to pinch your idea before you’ve discussed it with your employer, and you lose.

Show it upsets you, though, and you also lose.

Your boss and colleagues will not respect you if you ignore the situation, get angry, cry, or flee from a meeting when someone butts in and talks over you.

Here’s what to do instead.

As soon as someone butts in, hold up your hand, palm facing the individual (though not in their face) as you say:

“I want to hear what you say, but I must continue with my point first.”

If they interrupt again later, raise your hand and say:

“Your time to speak will come, thank you for giving me mine.”

Only, if the interloper is your boss, handle the situation differently. Let the thief speak, (don’t raise your hand) then say:

“Point taken. It would mean a lot to me if you had time to hear my ideas.”

Casual discussion stealers

A friend, family member, or new acquaintance might also want to talk over you. If letting it go feels okay, there’s no need to make a big deal out of the situation.

Then again, allow people to talk over you regularly and your self-esteem will dip. Plus, you’ll never get to say what you want.

Try the following.

Do the hand raise, palm facing the individual, yet not in their face, and say:

“My point can wait if yours can’t. I don’t want to stop you if it’s important to you.”

Nine times out of ten, what the individual wants to say won’t be more important than what you were saying, and they will apologize and let you talk. If the data they impart really is necessary, well, hey, perhaps it’s because someone’s fallen down a mine-shaft.

People who butt in are a pain. Sometimes, yikes, it’s us. Serial conversation intruders, though, cramp our style and ruin our flow. Sometimes, teaching them how to engage in a conversational exchange (me talk, you talk) will do them a favor, so don’t be afraid to step back in politely.

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✨ Bridget Webber

Freelance writer, avid tea-drinking meditator, and former therapist interested in spiritual growth, compassion, mindfulness, creativity, and psychology.