Many conversational habits can torpedo your friendships and alienate people. You can slip into them easily; next thing you know, you’re wondering why the people at work don’t want to go to lunch anymore and your buddies stopped returning your calls. Worse yet, once a bad habit becomes customary it can linger like a bad smell for years, ruining relationships and leaving otherwise wonderful people wondering why they can’t make any of their friendships work. Rather than tiptoeing around the elephant corpse rotting in the living room, now’s the time we set our sights on these killers hunting down people’s social lives
1) Bad manners: In one of my favorite scenes from Season 2 of The Walking Dead, a couple of sketchy guys try to convince Rick to take them back to his camp. After talking a bit, one of them goes over to the corner of the abandoned bar, urinates, and makes a comment about “c**ch.” After their bad manners reveal both men as trash, the boring nice guy Rick shoots both of them to death. There is a lesson here. Don’t be crude. Don’t treat maids or waiters rudely. Don’t make an ass of yourself. Because even if it’s not aimed at them this time around, other people in your presence will assume it says something about your character and think, “Next time, that might be me.”
2) Being depressing: Everyone has tragedy come into his life at some point or another and so it’s okay to be sad sometimes. That’s part of life. However, when depression becomes a long-term thing, it’s a problem. First off, if you’re not on your death bed and you’ve been depressed for months over just about anything, you should be consulting a psychologist. It may FEEL normal and natural to you to be depressed long term, but that’s not so. Human beings are not supposed to walk around in a semi-permanent funk for any reason and if it’s happening to you, you need to get it taken care of, just like you would a broken arm. There’s no shame in it — this is a medical problem like any other.
Getting beyond that, most people are fairly understanding about someone being down in the dumps. Why wouldn’t they be? It has happened to them, too; so they can easily relate. However, when it becomes a regular thing and you’re always a downer to be around and you’re making no effort to improve… people start to pull back. That’s because if you hang around depressing people, it depresses you and drains your energy. Who wants to be depressed? Again, if your hand is up, go see a psychologist already.
3) Race, religion, politics: I’m a conservative Christian and you might very well guess that if you talk to me for awhile, but I generally don’t bring up race, religion, or politics first with people I don’t know well. Those can be emotional subjects and people don’t like to have unpleasant conversations about emotional topics. So, you’re always rolling the dice if you dip your toe into those three areas.
Some people, however, take it to the next level and torture everyone around them by obsessively focusing on one of the big three. You can’t have a ten minute conversation with these people without ’em touching on some race they don’t like, wondering how you can possibly like Person X from the political party they hate, or finding a reason to quote scripture. Even if you agree with someone like that, it’s still tedious to hear him raise his leg and spew his tired opinion all over you like a dog with a bladder control problem. Spare us the blather.
4) Arguing about everything: There are some things that aren’t worth an argument. Let me rephrase that: most things aren’t worth an arument. That’s why people say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Still, there are some folks who just HAVE TO BE right about everything. If they think you’re wrong about something, they feel compelled to mix it up with you until you admit that they’re right about whatever pointless topic they’re discussing. Listen, if a woman argues that she can’t get pregnant if she stands on her head right after she has unprotected sex or that she’s perfectly fine to drive after her 6th Long Island Iced Tea, sure, go ahead and fight the good fight. But otherwise, put your overwhelming desire to be right about everything on hold and stop irritating everyone around you.
5) Talking without listening: Ultimately, no matter who you are, the person you’re talking with is more interested in himself than you. So when you continually pay scant attention to what he’s saying because you’re planning out whatever bilious bullflop you want to spew the moment he stops talking for a second, it makes you trite. Genuinely listening to another human being and asking him interesting questions about what he’s saying will be far more fascinating than anything you can come up with; so close your mouth and open your ears.
6) Complaining: “Are we there yet?” “It’s hot and I’m tired!” “My neck hurts and I wish I’d never gone on this trip!” We’re not even on a trip or in a car together and you’re probably already annoyed. That’s because people don’t want to hear you kvetch, and in the unlikely event that they do, they’ll ask. Life is hard for everybody and nobody cares about the play-by-play of why things aren’t as perfect for you right now as they are in the imaginary dream world you inhabit.
It’s also worth noting that even though complaining is seldom welcomed, it’s that much more grating when other people are experiencing the exact same struggles you are and they’re keeping it to themselves. If you’re out camping with a half dozen friends and you’re b*tching about being bitten by mosquitoes or you’re telling all the other waitresses that your feet hurt at the end of the long day, then just shut your mouth and remember: everybody else is in the same situation as you, so stop whining!
7) Being dull: Even TV shows written by teams of talented scriptwriters tend to sometimes get dull, so it’s no surprise the rest of us can bore on occasion. That being said, have you ever considered whether what you’re saying is actually interesting to other people? Seriously, have you ever thought, “If I were listening to this, would I care?” If the answer to that question is “no” and you don’t have any friends, it’s probably because you’re boring. There’s a time and place to talk about everything from Star Wars to tax law to quantum physics, but if you don’t know when that time and place is, it may be punishing to be around you. The worst habit of all along these lines may just be recounting what you did today in way too much detail. Have you ever had this conversation?
“Yeah, I was kind of sleepy this morning, but I got up, had some eggs — and ooh, they were really good. I made myself a Florentine omelet. It was delicious. Then, I went to work and traffic was just awful. I don’t know why they don’t lay the roads out better. So, I get to work 5 minutes late and my boss is yelling. It’s not like I’m the only one who gets to work late. Then, that witch from Accounting was complaining about my expense reports again. She said it was supposed to be form 1, but I used form 2 and…”
Do you know what the other person who hears that conversation is thinking? Here’s a visualization to help explain: Imagine you’re a bear. Your leg is caught in a trap. If you don’t gnaw it off, you’re going to die. Now you understand.