This lesson is so simple people don’t believe it. The title says it all.
You don’t have to talk about what you don’t want to.
People challenge it. I guess I should specify the context: casual conversation between people who don’t have authority over each other. At work or in court under oath may be a different story.
How many times have you been in a boring conversation going nowhere or, worse, a conversation that was actively making you look bad? This lesson applies.
Something like this feels too basic to cover, so schools don’t teach it. They learn higher level concepts, but many people don’t learn this simple stuff.
You’re part of the conversation. You can change the subject. You are not swept along by the conversation. You create it.
In fact, if you don’t change the topic and you keep talking about something you don’t want to, you actively contributed to the problem. You didn’t passively let it happen.
If you ever find yourself in a conversation you don’t like, never again feel or act helpless. Personally, I feel I have the responsibility for my role in the conversation.
You don’t even have to say you don’t want to talk about the subject. You can just start talking about something new.
I’ve talked to clients about this, always concerned about the same thing: “But I don’t know how to transition it to the new topic.” You don’t need to transition! You just need the new topic not to be boring and you have to care about the new topic. People have a hard time getting this. You can just start talking about a new topic. For some reason telling people this doesn’t work as well as just showing them.
It reminds me of a vacation I took to Jamaica. Actually, it was the first and only time I went scuba diving, and I loved it. The peaceful serenity of floating and bright colors of the fish and coral. So I definitely took the time to snorkel in Boracay, in the Philippines, where the colors were even more vibrant and the fish more plentiful.
Are you curious where I’m going to go with the scuba diving? I did with you what I do with clients. I change the topic and as soon as I do, assuming the new topic isn’t boring, you want to follow the new topic. Now I’m back to the original one. Simple as that! Sorry if you wanted to know more about the tropical fish. Actually, I’m not because if you want to know more about scuba diving or, better, you want to tell me about your vacations, you demonstrated my point: changing the topic to something interesting doesn’t jolt people, it interests them in the new topic.
If you doubt it, try doing it. If you don’t think it will work in challenging conversations, try it in a friendly conversation with no consequences if it doesn’t work. Just change the topic to something interesting that you care about and see if the person goes along or complains. Once you get it working there, expand to more challenging situations. I’ve found it works the same.
Are you avoiding the other topic?
People ask, aren’t you avoiding the other topic?
You know, life is short. You can’t talk about everything to everyone. If you don’t change the subject, you could just as well ask if you’re avoiding the potential new topic. It’s up to you to decide what you want in your life.
Even if you want to talk about the topic, you can always come back to it. I’m sure I’ve written about the value of pausing. If not, I cover it in some of my seminars. When people feel compelled to stick with a subject, they tend to feel hyperfocused on it. They feel very aware of themselves, but they aren’t. Just the opposite. They tend to be very aware of this one point of contention while shoving everything else outside of their awareness, like “Do I have to talk about this right now,” “Is this the best approach to this topic,” or “Am I destroying this relationship just to win this one point?”
If you want to return to the topic you can, and the pause will give you time to come to it in a way you want to. In the meantime, you don’t have to talk about what you don’t want to.
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