If you recognize a clash of "conversational styles" in your intimate relationships, what can you do?
The first and most important step, says Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University professor of linguistics, is to "become aware of others' conversational styles -- and get to know your own." To accomplish that, Tannen offers these tips:
*To gain a better sense of your own conversational style, tape record a few of your conversations. Listen to yourself. What effect do you have on others when you speak? Do you dominate the conversation or are you continually cut off?
*Try altering your style slightly at times when you are feeling uncomfortable with a conversation. If someone is asking too many questions, try asking more yourself. If you get cut out of the conversation, speed up your talking pace a bit. If you think you're doing all the talking, make your pauses longer than normal. Pay attention to how your changes alter the style of those you're talking to.
*If "small adjustments in your style" aren't effective in clearing up a conversation, try talking about communication. For instance, you might say something like, "Slow down . . . give me a chance to say something," or "I feel as if we're having a shouting match," or "What did you expect me to say?"
*Another method is to "reframe" the conversation by defining the context and limitations for the participants. A timely "But that's not what we're talking about here" can redirect a conversation quickly -- though occasionally is seen as rude.
The key to solving conversational style problems, writes Tannen, is the ability to "step back and observe interaction rather than accepting emotional reactions as inevitable and unavoidable."