How can I tell someone something without confronting her? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Nicole Gravagna, Neuroscientist, author of MindSET Your Manners:
When it comes to conversationalist types, think about the world as a collection of three kinds of people, question askers, open sharers, and people who can do both.
Question askers navigate conversations by asking questions, getting responses, asking more questions, and hoping that they will get a question in return so that they can talk about themselves a little too. They will listen to openly shared stories, but they won't openly share their own stories.
Open sharers will choose topics about their own lives to share, and hope that the other person will do the same. They will answer questions, but won't ask them.
Both the question askers and the open sharers are stuck in their own ways. They each learned to communicate in a way that limits their ability to navigate conversations with the other kind of conversationalist.
When worlds collide
Consider an open sharer and a question asker in conversation. Here's the internal conversation that's going on in their heads:
Sharer: OMG, I feel like I'm being interrogated. Is she ever going to tell a story about her own life?
Question asker: OMG I've been asking all the questions. Is she even remotely interested in me?
As a reformed sharer, I can tell you that I had a problem with questions for a long time. I felt uncomfortable asking about family, work, or any general topic until the other person broached the subject. Then, once they did broach a topic I felt like it was an invitation to discuss that topic. But hardcore question askers simply won't talk about anything they haven't been directly asked so they will never broach the subject. It becomes a standoff - each person holding tight to their conversation style even though the conversation is failing.
I felt uncomfortable when people asked me questions just as much as I felt uncomfortable asking them myself. My favorite conversations were with other sharers. I'd share a story. They'd share a story. I'd share a related story. They'd share a related story. It was great! No pointed questions. No feelings of prying. Just story telling.
I had to get comfortable with question asking for a family member. My step mother is an obligate question asker. For years, I never liked taking to her because, to me, the conversation was just this barrage of interrogative questions. I felt the bare lightbulb swinging over my head each time we chatted. It was awful. Then, we got into a fight about it. I was tired of being treated that way.
She blurted out, "I never want to hear you talk about yourself ever again." That's when it became clear to me. She thinks it's bad manners to talk about yourself. She was just as uncomfortable with open sharing as I was with question asking! Aha!
I had a talk with myself. If I could steele myself to ask her a few questions each time we talked, then she'll feel comfortable talking about herself and the pressure will be off me forever!
So I did. And it worked. My interrogator, when asked pointed questions about herself, happily chatted away about her week. And now, we both get what we want. I don't have to talk about myself and she gets the invitation she needs to share!
It took some bravery for me to ask the first question. I'm not gonna lie. My heart raced, my hand holding the phone got slippery with sweat. And I ventured where I'd never gone before, into question asker territory.
Like I said, there are people who can do both sharing and asking, and they simply don't have this problem. I'm now one of those. I know when I'm talking to a question asker and I can use questions. Similarly, when I run into a sharer, I can share. The majority of people do actually use both sharing and asking, so if you find yourself squarely in one conversational camp, join the crowd! Learn another side of being conversational. It's way better to learn both conversation skills so you don't get trapped I'm conversations with someone from the other camp. Become ambi-conversational. It's much more fun.