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The Art of Conversation Part 7: The Loudmouth Trap

Beware of the loudmouth trap.

Around this time last year (Nov, 2007), I was in Connecticut for a mental health conference. I arrived for lunch late, grabbed some cold roast beef and bread and salad from the buffet, and joined a group of people at one of the tables.

The Presidential primary season was just around the corner. All over the country, people were expressing their fascination over the very real prospect of the next President being either African-American or a woman. Even those not interested in politics were talking about politics.

I settled in just as someone we'll call Yorick was sounding forth. Yorick was fairly articulate, but it was clear from his mannerisms that he was struggling with the challenges of his illness. My guess was that Yorick was used to socializing in a cloistered setting, such as a club house. The group at the table represented something closer to the real world.

Naturally, I wanted to make Yorick feel welcome. I responded in a way that signaled I was interested in what he was saying. Big mistake.

It turned out Yorick had anointed himself as the table's master of ceremonies, with himself as the featured speaker. Someone would say something, say about Hillary. This was Yorick's cue to jump in before anyone else had a chance to respond and pontificate in a loud voice about something totally unrelated to Hillary. Someone else would say something. Yorick would jump in with something completely different.

I looked around the table at rolling eyes and nervous titters. It was clear to everyone that Yorick was breaking up the party.

Everyone, that is, except Yorick. Yorick probably thought he was doing great. Here he was, out in the real world, the center of attention, holding court. Then, out of nowhere:

"When are they going to abolish the electoral college?"

By now, people were scooping up their plates and making for the exits.

***

First, let me congratulate Yorick for the considerable stretch he made that day. We endure long periods of isolation. We lose our self-confidence. Our social skills grow rusty. We finally summon up the courage to venture out in public, only to freeze up, caught in our fear and anxiety.

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