Group talk

Sometimes if I’m in a group and someone else makes a statement or asks a question, the responder will direct their answer to me, as in looking right at my face and not at the initiator. It happens regularly. Maybe it’s because I am an attentive listener or appear interested – I’m not sure exactly. It can mess me up occasionally, if I wasn’t really paying all that much attention to the previous remarks.  Now I’ve got to look lively.

Once I’m being directly addressed, it seems polite to maintain eye contact and listen (unless the speaker is talking nonsense and/or show no sign of letting up), in part because at that point I feel less like an individual and more like a representative of the group. It’s still weird though, because the best I can offer in return are “Mmmm” sounds or vague “I see’s”. I feel bad for the person who actually started the topic too, because now they’re being sort of ignored. I’m not going to pretend I initiated the discussion, though, and continue to engage the speaker once they wind down.  And I can’t bring myself to bluntly say, “Why are you telling me? He’s the one who asked you.”

31 thoughts on “Group talk

  1. Angie Mc

    I’ve never thought of this, Colette, and now I realize that people often look at me in the same manner while in a group. But I don’t look back at them, I keep looking at the person who asked the question which tends to shift the attention back to the questioner eventually.

    I got into this habit with my kids. When in a group, my shier kids would always want to look at me as their comfort zone when others would ask them a question, but I was trying to remind them to keep eye contact with the person who asked the question.

    So, I agree with other who have noted that you must have a comfortable and approachable presence in a group. That’s a high compliment!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks Angie. At first when I read your words, I was thinking it would take a huge force of will to re-direct your gaze back to the initial speaker, but then, I can totally understand how having kids – and wanting them to develop socially – would be enough of an incentive. I think I’d feel awkward to try this on an adult; instead I try to be a stand-in or surrogate. I figure at least the original speaker can hear what they wanted even if they are left standing there, twiddling their thumbs while I have “listening” duty!

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      1. Angie Mc

        I’m sure that your courtesy is greatly appreciated…which leaves me wondering if my habit may appear rude! I look forward to catching myself, and really paying attention to these interesting dynamics the next time I’m in this situation.

        Hey, I just thought of another example. When my husband and I were shopping for my latest car, Dave would ask the salesman an objective question and the salesman would look at me to avoid answering it, trying to answer at me with subjective and emotional answers, which basically added up to “That doesn’t matter because the blue is perfect for you and don’t you just love this car?!” No can do. I just kept staring at Dave until the salesman looked back to him and answered the objective questions.

        We got the car. The blue is perfect for me 😀

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          I really doubt you appear rude. And probably the talker is only taking note of it subconsciously anyway, because they’re thinking about what they’re saying. It IS interesting. That you redirected the salesman back to Dave and weren’t tricked or guilted into answering irrelevant comments is perfect! I have an old habit of answering people no matter what and I have been working to correct it. It’s all about control; who is going to control the direction of the interaction.

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          1. Angie Mc

            Oh my yes. I, too, have needed to stop answering questions just because they are asked. Especially when I’m confident that the intent of the question is…questionable.

            Have a great weekend, Colette! This has been fun.

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  2. vanbytheriver

    It seems they wanted to ask you directly, but use another person as a less aggressive approach ?? Or maybe, they just know you will be the one with the most interesting response. Or the friendliest. Maybe, not really sure. It does happen to me a lot, and I try to redirect back to that other person. ☺ Van

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I am not certain, Van. There are things I’d ask/say one-on-one that I let go in a group setting (at least one that is situational and not recurring). You’ve reminded me that once in awhile I will throw cues back to the original speaker – “As Jane said…” – but usually it’s as if the person talking to me has forgotten entirely who initiated the topic.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          I make a lot of eye contact and hold gazes and think about what’s being said, it’s true. That said, these same qualities may intimidate or put off another person in a different scenario.

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