You're talking with someone about a game you both love. But whatever you say, he contradicts—scoffing, shouting, and rolling his eyes as if you're the world's biggest idiot.
Running into an ex-roommate, you ask how she's been. She replies—in a 20-minute nonstop monologue, never pausing to ask you a single question or let you remark.
When conversations crash and burn, we often blame ourselves or whomever we're talking to—assigning labels such as Naysayer or Snoozefest.
But the social awkwardness that causes pain is often caused by pain. Interactive styles that started, under pressure, as survival strategies transform into conversational habits that others misinterpret as rude, weird, selfish, mean. For instance, someone who was mocked relentlessly in childhood because he lisped or loved breaking into song might adopt chronic near-silence for safety's sake.
What if we reframed awkward conversations as coded distress signals—dispatched from frontlines long ago and far away?
When someone bores or interrupts us, can we pause—before thinking Bad manners! or What a dork!—to wonder why?
Maybe that "bore" learned long ago, the hard way, to make only super-safe remarks? Maybe the interrupter had only two choices, back then: Cut in, or remain unheard?
Such sleuthing could enrich encounters—even awful ones. Empathy can solve mysteries. Here are six classic "conversation killers"—with possible reframings.
Echo chamber. Silent ciphers who resist all efforts to engage, amuse, or include them might feel unworthy of conversing with anyone. Maybe they fear sounding stupid or being judged. Maybe they've been viciously silenced, told repeatedly to STFU because nobody normal could approve of, much less share, their passions or opinions.
Such a bore. Someone whose every comment sounds banal, shallow, trivial, and paper-thin—"Nice weather today!"—might have survived angry, antagonistic relationships in which whatever they said was savaged, challenged, mocked, denied, or penalized. Maybe, for them, dialogue equals danger, so only the blandest near-nothings seem safe.
It's all about YOU. Those who speak only and endlessly about themselves, as if nothing else interests them, might suffer from a personality disorder whose features include a positive or negative fixation on the self. And/or maybe they live such starkly isolated lives that any interaction seems to them a rare relief, a chance to get everything off their chests.
Shouting match. Turning every conversation into an argument—issuing fusillades of contradictions, interruptions, and other aggressions—helps some insecure people boost their self-esteem, exploiting interactive dynamics to feel stronger and smarter. Some lonely people argue in hopes of prolonging dialogues—to keep others engaged, however possible.
Same old song. Someone who returns again and again to the same topic, seemingly unwilling or unable to discuss anything else, might have learned long ago to find solace only in that topic. Maybe lacrosse or orchids were the only things that roused their interest during bouts of anhedonia, and/or served as refuges that welcomed them when nothing else did.
Bad news. A so-called sourpuss who contradicts your happy, hopeful words with nonstop negativity might suffer from such deep fear or depression as to not realize that their pessimistic remarks can wound others. Telling you that candy causes diabetes, that your partner needs deodorant, and that art degrees are worthless might sound to them like sage advice.
Countless other possibilities abound. Yes, some people are just unskilled conversationalists, but... maybe that so-called sourpuss is chuckling inside, cherishing her own brand of gallows humor. Maybe the "bore" truly finds basics such as bricks and pleasant weather effervescent, fascinating. Maybe we should, too.