talk at me

Dialogues, in which the conversation flows back and forth, create connection between people.

As I was packing up my gear from my tennis lesson today the fellow who had next session came into the court. We’d met before. To be friendly and make a bid for connection, I said to him, “It’s sure great weather for tennis.” He started talking at me about how he had solved the weather question. He kept going on and on about why people should not even bother commenting about the weather. I continued to put my tennis racquet away, thinking to myself – I was just being friendly. I grabbed my jacket and towel, found a moment when he took a breath, then remarked, “That’s how people make bids for connection” (I couldn’t resist even though I didn’t think he would get it.)  He continued to go on mentioning that the French had figured it out. By this time, I no longer knew what he was talking about, nor did I care, because I had tuned him out. It was not the first time that he greeted me with a monologue on a topic that I did not relate to. I thanked my tennis instructor, waved good-bye and left. I thought to myself, I have no interest in connecting to him if he is going to talk AT me.

Earlier, during my tennis lesson, my instructor and I had had a very engaging talk about the rivalry between, Federer and Nadal, the top two men in tennis. Federer had just beaten Nadal in Madrid, and the French Open was just about to start. We were both interested in the topic and what each other thought about it. The conversation went back and forth as we responded to each other and expressed our thoughts. It was an engaging conversation. What a different experience!

Talking AT is a monologue. It is a one-way conversation, even if there is an exchange with others.

When people are talking AT you they are telling you about their opinions, their points of view, what they think you should do or not do, their knowledge and expertise. They want you to hear and believe them. They want to influence you to do, or not do, what they want. They do not want your input – they only want you to ask them about what they think.

How can you tell if someone is talking AT you?

You tend to experience boredom, annoyance or restlessness. You tend to tune out the talker and think your own thoughts about what’s going on. You feel separate and detached from the talker. You easily get distracted. You might want to find an excuse to exit. You might also feel disrespected and put down.

Talking WITH is a dialogue. It is a shared conversational exchange about a topic or situation.

When people are talking WITH you they are sharing a conversation with you. They are open to your response(s) and want your input. They are engaged with you, and the conversation is mutually satisfactory or relevant. This holds true even if the dialogue is difficult.

How do you tell if someone is talking WITH you?

You experience involvement with the other person. You feel a connection to them. You feel paid attention to. You are usually interested in and focused on the topic or situation. You feel your input is wanted and welcomed. You feel respected and valued no matter what age you are.

Do you talk AT people or WITH them?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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