How To Do Better In Loud, Hectic Group Conversations
Ah, the bane of so many reserved people, the loud, chaotic group conversation. I think most people can do fine in a more orderly discussion, where everyone sticks to a topic, lets each other finish their points, listens respectfully, and adds their own input when appropriate. But put a less-social person in a more rowdy conversation at a party or lively meal and they're likely to shut down, sit there, and stew.
Noisy, rambunctious group conversations usually have these characteristics:
- There's a hectic, impatient, excitable vibe in the air as everyone wants to get their two cents in
- Several people are often talking at once
- Interruptions are common
- Everyone is talking loudly, and the volume gradually increases as people try to talk over each other to get their point across
- The conversation doesn't stay on one topic for all that long
- Conversational threads easily get derailed
- Immaturity, stupid jokes, and showing off are fairly common
Of course, there's also a middle ground between a totally loud, insane free for all, and a completely calm, well-mannered discussion. Some of what I talk about in this article could apply to this area as well. Here's my advice on how to get more out of these situations:
Accept these types of conversations for what they are and what they aren't
I think what sometimes bothers people about chaotic, boisterous group conversations is that they believe they could have been something else, but they weren't. They could have been polite and organized, but they weren't. They could have been intellectual and stimulating, but they weren't. They could have been quiet and easy to follow, but they weren't. Everyone could have let you get a word in edgewise, but they didn't.
That's just not what these conversations are like. It can help to take them for what they are, not what they could have been. They're technically on the same continuum as more restrained, sophisticated conversation, but they're their own animal. By nature they're raucous, scattered, inconsiderate, and "dog eat dog".
Conversations like this are more for fun, cheap laughs, spirited debate, light entertainment, socializing for its own sake, and enjoying the company and "essence" of all your friends at once. There's also aspects of them that can be an acquired taste. Being in the middle of the vortex of noise and chaos can be energizing and stimulating, and it can be something of a cheap thrill to try to hold your own in it.
Accept you're not going to have an in-depth, logical discussion
Just to emphasize the point above, don't go into these types of conversations expecting them to be a certain way and you won't be as disappointed. Sometimes the conversation will be a discussion of a particular issue, but since everyone is chomping at the bit to talk, they won't act very orderly. People will raise their voices in the spirit of "Louder = Right". They'll talk over each other. They'll cut you off to make a counterpoint, etc. At other times these conversations are more random jokes and stories than anything. The more people in the mix, the more scattered they tend to be.
Try your best to tolerate the inherent annoyances of the situation
These conversations can create a maddening din as everyone talks at once. If the group is big enough there may be several sub-discussions, and it can be confusing and overwhelming to try to follow them all. One or more people may derail every tangent with idiotic jokes. Faced with these factors it's easy to become and annoyed and exasperated, or just give up and shut down.
Even the thought of several voices talking at once can make some people wince. Still, the first step to doing better in these conversations is to try to tolerate all the noise and stimulation so you can make something out of it. No matter how frustrating and hard it seems to keep focused, try your best to pay attention and follow the madness. Going back to the first and second points, try not to feel resentful because everyone isn't more toned down. That's just the way these things are.
(Of course, it's a different story if you have a true sensory processing difference that makes loud environments difficult to deal with. The above assumes you can handle a noisy discussion, even if it feels grating.)
Realize if you want to get your speech time in, you pretty much have to grab it for yourself
These conversations are more "everyone for themselves". It's not that they're purposely heartless. It's just that everyone is excited and wants to talk, and they'd rather it be them than you. If you want to say something you've got to fight to get your share of the air space. Waiting patiently for the others to recognize you have something to say may not work. Trying to get your rightful time in the spotlight can be part of the fun though. You could try:
- Raising your voice to be heard over the din
- Making it really obvious with your body language that you want to talk after the current speaker is finished
- Interrupting someone or cutting them off after they've spoken for a bit
- Talking quickly to get your point out before someone cuts you off
- Using gestures to indicate to other people that you're not done talking yet and not to cut you off
- Being the first one out of the gate when one person finishes talking and you and several others want to jump in with your contributions
- When you and several other people want to start talking at once, raising your voice to overpower them
- Making a statement such as, "I've got something to say to that after he's done"
- Repeating the beginning of your statement several times until you're given the floor
All these things are much more acceptable in loud group conversations than others. You can still go overboard with interrupting people or drowning them out, but if you don't do it too obnoxiously it's accepted as part of the package. No one takes it too personally if you do stuff like this in the heat of the moment.
All these things can make these conversations more like a game than other types. You don't just need something you want to talk about, you have to figure out how to get it out there. Often there are some people who are louder and more dominating in the conversation than others. If you want to talk you have to "beat" them. I'll admit it's a twisted sort of logic, but you can play along.
This article covers some of the same points as the list above, but goes into more detail about how not to get spoken over:How Not To Get Talked Over Or Ignored In Group Conversations
Alter your communication to be more effective for these interactions
You can't talk the way you normally would in these conversations. If you do you'll likely get cut off. You've got to make your messages quicker and more to the point. Once you've gotten the spotlight you've only got so much time before someone else will want it, so you can't ramble on. Figure out what you want to say then get it out succinctly. And say it with enough volume and force that no one will start talking over you. It also helps to zest up your statements to make them more entertaining, so people will be likelier to want to hear them.
A mistake quieter, or less game, people make is they won't actively try to jump into the conversation, but eventually everyone will see they have something they want to say and give them a chance to contribute (there can still be moments of civility among all the wrestling for attention). "Ah, I finally have my chance", the up-until-now-drowned-out person thinks and proceeds to launch into a meandering three minute dissertation. Unless that person is really respected, someone is going to get antsy and interrupt them. Giving a quieter person a break is one thing, but they won't get a free pass to have the floor forever. These conversations aren't the place for long bouts of patient, respectful listening.
Start a side conversation if you can
Sometimes a group discussion will obviously involve everyone talking together. At other times it's more that many people are gathered in the same area, but it's okay if little side conversations break off. If you're at a table of six people, and four of them are obnoxiously talking about something you're not interested in, you can try starting a new conversation with the one other person. Don't worry about talking as others are speaking, that's fine as it's apparent you're chatting to someone on the side.
The other side: Scoring points by controlling the madness
As you've just read, these conversations can get hairy and out of control. To a point you have to go along with their unwritten rules, but you can also demonstrate good social skills by not getting too carried away and assisting other people:
- Help the quieter or less eager people in the group get a chance to talk by signaling to the others that they have something they'd like to say.
- If you can tell someone really wants to finish a point, restrain that sometimes irresistible urge to interrupt them.
- If a less forceful person makes a point and it's falling on deaf ears, because everyone else is distracted, direct the conversation towards them (e.g., "Sorry, what's that Derek? You were talking about...")
- If you're good at getting your speech time, then don't be selfish and ease off a bit to give other people a chance to talk.
And those are my thoughts. I have a feeling some readers are even less keen than before to tackle this kind of discussion. It really is an acquired taste. Once you get past the initial, "Holy crap, this is annoying" barrier and get a handle on how they work, you may start to enjoy them on their own terms.