When Everyone Is Talking About A Topic You Can't Contribute To
You normally want to be in the mix in group conversations. Some people are naturally less talkative than others, and it's fine if you're on the quieter side, but you probably want to chip in at least sometimes. One situation where it's hard to contribute is when everyone else is talking at length about a topic you can't really add anything to. Some common examples are:
- They're filling each other in on news about friends or family they share, and who you've never met
- They're "talking shop" about a shared job
- They're going on about a shared hobby, in a ton of impenetrable, jargon filled detail
Here are some options to handle it:
Sit back, don't put too much pressure on yourself to say something, and wait for the subject to change
It's good if you can chime in to group conversations, but sometimes you just have nothing you can add. That's okay. It happens to everybody. A longer group conversation will go over many topics, and maybe in a while you'll be part of an insider discussion and someone else will be on the sidelines. If everyone else is enjoying the subject it's even somewhat rude and selfish to try to steer them off it.
Sit back, relax, and take in what everyone else is saying. It's not awkward to be silent, because it's not your fault you can't pitch in. You can't contribute, but you might still learn something interesting. In fact, a nugget of information you hear in this conversation may help you add to another one down the road ("Oh, you're talking about Andre again? Did he end up enrolling in those classes?")
While hanging back, listening, and waiting may work for a while, if everyone is really into the topic it may not change for quite some time. There are other things you can try:
Ask questions about the topic from the perspective of someone who's unfamiliar with it
For example, if everyone is talking about a video game using incomprehensible terms, you could adopt an interested, curious stance and ask everyone to teach you about it - "So what's this game? What genre is it? So you all play it pretty seriously? What's this strategy you're debating?" The group may be thrilled to get to explain the subject to someone who's interested in it. This approach doesn't always work though. They may want to talk in-depth with people who are as familiar with the topic as they are, not get a beginner up to speed.
If everyone's been on one topic for a longer time, try to change the subject
If everyone has happily been discussing something for only a few minutes, it's impolite to want the conversation to always cater to you, and to try to get them to talk about something else. However, past a certain point it's the others who are committing the faux pas. It's inconsiderate to be talking with several people, and knowingly leave one of them out for a longer stretch. Even if they're not doing it on purpose, and are just caught up in the discussion, it's still thoughtless.
Either way, once the group has been stuck on one topic for too long, you've got permission to try to change the subject. You could subtly try to take something they've said and jump to a new topic, e.g., if they've been talking about their shared jobs, ask what they're doing for the upcoming holidays, then try to transition into chatting about travel and vacations. You could also wait for a quick lull, then try to change direction a little more abruptly ("Yeah, the project you're all working on sounds busy... So what's everyone up to this weekend?). Group conversations often switch topics suddenly like this, so it shouldn't seem too random or jarring.
Again, if the group is really in love with their exclusionary topic, they may brush off your attempts to shift gears. At least you tried.
If you're on good terms with everybody, flat out jokingly tell them you'd like to talk about something else
This method is bolder and won't work if you barely know everyone. If they're your good friends, give them a few minutes to chat among themselves, then tell them you're bored and want to change the subject. Friends should be able to ask that of each other. For example, "Ha ha, okay guys, I have no idea who all these hometown friends you're gabbing about are. Uh, so did anyone go to see Amir's play last week?" You could also make a joke, say about how lonely and left out you are. As long as you speak up in a friendly, casual way you should get a good response. They'll realize they were unintentionally leaving you out and happily move on to something else.
If it's an option, leave the conversation and join another one
If you're at a party and you can't add to the conversation you're currently in, you can politely excuse yourself and find a more interesting one to join. People do that at parties all the time. Similarly, if you're out with many friends at a pub, and there are a couple of conversations going on along the length of the table, you could move your chair and jump to a different one.
If you constantly feel left out of your friend's conversations you could get up to speed on those topics, or maybe think about whether the group is the best fit for you
Everyone has times where they can't add to a group interaction. That's especially likely to happen if it's with a bunch of strangers you've just met, or your co-workers you don't have a ton in common with. With our friends it can still happen, but it shouldn't be that often.
If your friends are constantly talking about topics you can't say anything about, one longer-term option is to learn more about them. Like if they keep talking about the latest developments in a TV show, and it's something you'd watch, you could take a week or two and see all the episodes yourself. Once more, this won't always work. Maybe they share a hobby you know you'll never care about.
A second, less fun, option is to examine whether they're the best social circle for you. You may not have enough in common with them, or they might be largely indifferent to whether you're feeling included or not. It's discouraging to admit you may need to move on, but if you have so little common ground that you can't be in the mix and have enjoyable conversations, it's probably for the best. There are groups out there who are a better match.