How do you know when you’re being held captive audience? This may sound obvious, but it often takes me a while before I realize the other person is not planning on stopping in the near future. As with most situations in life, I have to notice whether or not I’m present to the conversation. Am I actually interested in what this person has to say? Am I fidgeting, trying to disperse the uncomfortable energy in my body? Am I checking out, daydreaming of anything else, like whale gutting in frozen tundra?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you are probably being held captive audience.
You might be asking right now, “Is that bad? I mean, sure I don’t enjoy it, but isn’t that just part of normal everyday life? Sometimes you have to grin and bear these boring and uncomfortable conversations.”
Being in an uncomfortable conversation is not the same as being held captive audience. True, in certain situations where power dynamics are in play, and/or allowing this conversation to happen to reach another means, such as allowing another person to express themselves in service of resolving a conflict. Captive audience includes the other party being unaware of the fact that you are not interested in what they have to share with you.
So, I’m in a one-sided conversation. What do I do now?
The next step is to consider where you want this relationship to go.
Is this person a casual acquaintance? Maybe the best thing to do is let the person know that you have other things to tend to, and politely leave the conversation.
“Hey, I think it’s great that you’re so passionate about (Reality TV/Politics/Full-Contact Badminton), but I really need to (Finish my shopping/Connect with someone else/Paint my toenails). Take care.”
Is this a person you want to cultivate a deeper connection with? If so, maybe you could consider that letting them know that you’re really not interested could actually be doing them a favor.
“Hey, I’m really glad to have run into you, but I’m not really interested in (your car/who’s having sex with whom/ect..).”
From there, if you like, you can re-direct the conversation, or excuse yourself.
‘However, I remember you telling me about your (whatever you’re actually interested in about this person). How’s that going?”
By doing this, you’re not only ending the conversation that you’re not interested in, you’re also letting that person know what you are interested in, thereby letting them know how to connect with you better. (Which is probably what had them come and talk to you in the first place)
While it might be uncomfortable at first, exercising this aspect of yourself is like working a muscle. It becomes easier with practice. Once you get comfortable with this, you might find yourself cultivating deeper relationships, and building your integrity.