Donald Trump may be a caricature-like and extreme example of someone who can’t help but steal centre stage, but such people lurk everywhere. We have all worked on a team or sat in a room where someone dominated the conversation to such an extent everyone else started to fade into the background. Maybe you are that someone, holding the room hostage while you wax poetic.
How to tell if you are a scene-stealer
If you have an effusive, dominant personality you probably know it. It showed up in your grade-school report card (“Janet needs to learn to talk less and listen more”) and likely still appears on your performance review. If you aren’t sure, or you aren’t sure how bad it is, pay attention to how much airtime you take relative to others.
The upside with being a scene-stealer
One of the key advantages of being someone not afraid to speak up is that your ideas get heard. You are probably someone who has a lot of thoughts and ideas bubbling around inside, and some of these will be awesome. You have the potential to add real value to a conversation, an idea, a strategy, a plan.
The downside of being a scene-stealer
I once had lunch with someone who wanted to ‘pick my brain’ and then talked at me for 90 minutes straight. I left shaking my head, wondering what purpose it served for me or for him. The next time I get his invitation, I’ll decline.
Consequences of dominating a conversation include:
- People may avoid including you or seeking your input, thereby diminishing your opportunity to contribute
- You miss the opportunity to hear other ideas or important information that may improve or shift your own thinking
- You implicitly send the message ‘what you think is not as important as what I have to say’.
How to moderate being a scene-stealer
You are, and always will be, an expressive person. The intent here is not to change who you are, but to help you monitor and manage that behaviour when it is working against you. It starts by understanding a bit about why you dominate the room. Is it born of natural enthusiasm and an inability to contain yourself? Do you want to be seen as someone who has great ideas? Do you need to be the centre of attention? Does it just take you a lot of words to express yourself? Are you afraid of being misunderstood?
If your dominance is the result of enthusiasm, recognize when you are overwhelming people rather than energizing them. If it is driven by a desire to have people value and appreciate what you have to contribute, recognize that people stop listening after one or two compelling thoughts. If you need to be the centre of attention, find other outlets to get that need met more productively. If it takes you a long time to get your ideas out, practice being more concise. Hemingway is the master of packing a punch in short sentences. Finally, if you are afraid of being misunderstood, recognize that providing every possible detail robs people of the opportunity to ask questions to get inside your head.
Hold yourself more accountable
We often resort to teasing a conversation dominator as a way to highlight and shift their behaviour. In my experience this rarely works and a scene-stealer often joins in the fun: “I know my husband thinks I talk too much, but let me just tell you . . .” This is an example of someone acknowledging bad behaviour and then giving themselves permission to engage in it. This is the worst possible way to manage your interpersonal dominance. The message it sends is, ‘I know you find this annoying but I don’t care.’ I don’t think that is the message most of us want to send. So be more honest with yourself and take more responsibility for your behaviour. When you hear yourself start to justify, stop talking. Just stop. “My husband thinks I talk too much . . . so I am going to stop here and let someone else contribute.”
Finally, if you’ve tried everything and nothing works, follow Donald Trump’s example and at least be interesting.
Rebecca Schalm, PhD, is founder and CEO of Strategic Talent Advisors Inc., a consultancy that provides organizations with advice and talent management solutions.
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